BC Teachers’ Federation President Susan Lambert and First Vice-President Jim Iker travelled to Madison, Wisconsin, over the weekend to show solidarity with teachers and other public-sector workers whose collective bargaining rights are under attack by Republican Governor Scott Walker.
The BCTF leaders participated in a rally at the State Capitol building and met with Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association, and Betsy Kippers, vice-president. Kippers will speak at the 95th BCTF Annual General Meeting to take place in Victoria from March 19 to 22.
“They told us how our support and solidarity gave them energy and hope,” Lambert said. “At the rally there was a very buoyant, positive feeling. Clearly people feel they are building a movement that will be sustained until workers’ rights and public services are valued and strengthened.”
Lambert emphasized that the movement is important not only for teachers and other public-sector workers in Wisconsin, but throughout North America.
“Madison has become a crucible for resistance, but the deep inequity that sparked these protests exists in Canada too,” Lambert said. “The very elites who caused the global economic crisis still have obscene wealth, while the vast majority of working- and middle-class people are being pitted against one another in a fight for their rights and decent wages. It’s unconscionable.”
In Wisconsin, the government is attacking not only public-sector unions, but public education itself. “Public education is fundamental to democracy because well-educated, well-informed citizens are capable of asserting their rights and organizing for positive social change,” Lambert said.
She characterized the assault on collective bargaining rights as fundamentally anti-democratic. “Collective bargaining is based on the tacit agreement that there is dignity and value in work, and that all workers have the right to be treated with respect.”
Concerned citizens on both sides of the border are planning an international rally at the Peace Arch to be held on Saturday, April 2, 2011, from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. The BC Federation of Labour is working with the Washington State Labour Council and the Oregon AFL-CIO to organize this rally, which will be the first in a week of solidarity events.