The BC Teachers’ strike hit home today, with CUPE picketing in support of the teachers even as some prospect for reconciliation has emerged. Our daughter’s daycare was closed so that staff could respect CUPE’s picket lines.
But I have to admit that despite the challenge of arranging for childcare today, I’m really deeply proud and touched that my daughter is being looked after by people who have collective bargaining rights that allow them to ensure that they have the working conditions to do a good job looking after her. And when she gets to school, I want to have the same knowledge — that teachers have a way to actually have a voice in how they work and look after our kids, and that no government can just take away that voice overnight. But of course I’ve spent a long time in and around union culture, hearing about the struggle and sacrifices people have made to get or keep bargaining rights, so for me, those bargaining rights are right up there with free speech, abortion rights etc as really fundamental and precious.
In fact, I’ve been caught a bit off-guard by the depth of my outrage over the government’s position on this strike. After all, I’ve been relatively disenchanted by the labour movement for years. What do unions have to say to the world of high-skill information workers who typically own their own means of production? Sure, unions mean something when you’re slaving away on a loom or an assembly line owned by some guy in a top hat (am I the only person whose mental picture of labour politics is stuck in the 19th century?), but what if the “means of production” is that shiny laptop sitting on your desk? Who needs a union to stick up for you?
Well, maybe I don’t need a union — myself. But that doesn’t mean I don’t need unions. This strike reminds me that we all DESPERATELY need unions. We need construction workers’ unions to make sure that building conditions — and buildings — are safe for all of us. We need hospital workers’ unions to stand up for patients’ living conditions. (Our last brush with labour action was when I gave birth in a hospital the very week they privatized all their custodial services. Not pretty.) And we need teachers’ unions to stand up for our kids.
So, (top) hats off to the BCTF. Thanks to their stubbornness, commitment and courage, my daughter may yet be educated in a school with small enough classes and large enough budgets to meet her needs. And just as important, educated by people who can offer first-hand lessons in the value of putting your ass on the line to fight for what you believe in.