Comments from BCTF representatives on BC Federation of Labour committees:
(BCTF elected representative to the Executive Council, 2003-04, 2004-05, 2005-06)
The Executive Council
According the BC Federation of Labour’s constitution, the Executive Council is the supreme governing body of the BC Federation of Labour between conventions. The council is comprised of 58 seats, allocated to the largest unions, based on their size, and also to representatives from smaller unions, labour councils, and the Federation of Retired Union Members.
According to our policy, the BCTF’s representatives are the president (Jinny Sims, as a member of the Executive Officers), a member of the Executive (currently the first vice-president, Irene Lanzinger), and a member elected by the Spring Rep Assembly (myself).
The Executive Council meets four or five times per year, and meeting agendas usually parallel those of the Executive Officers’ meetings the day before. My observation is that the meetings are more vehicles for information sharing than for significant decision making.
The BC Federation of Labour is currently undergoing a review of its constitution and structure that may result in changes to the composition and function of the Executive Council.
Why I am voting Yes to affiliation:
The reasons I am voting yes to affiliation are endless. To begin with, I believe that the public support that we experienced last fall and continue to experience can be attributed at least in part to the fact that we are affiliated with the BC Federation of Labour and with our local labour councils. Other unions are sharing our message with their members and the level of public understanding of education issues has increased. Furthermore, people are realizing that our goals and our struggles are very much like their own and are their own. The BCTF has benefited from access to the BC Federation of Labour’s networks and health and safety training. We need to participate in a strategy for co-ordinated public sector bargaining, which should be facilitated by membership in the BC Federation of Labour.
Secondly, I believe as teachers, in particular, we have a responsibility to our students and to the broader society to belong to the labour movement. The labour movement has advanced many of the features we value in our society, and we have an obligation to protect and improve these elements of the caring society by contributing the unique skills and resources teachers can offer.
Finally, many of our students come from working class families and/or will graduate into wage employment. Union membership will provide them with fair treatment, decent wages and benefits, and a safe workplace. I believe we should model participation in the labour movement to our students to ensure they have positive perspectives on the work of unions.
Social and Community Action Committee
- This committee has given me a look at the government agenda in a much broader scope than just the teaching profession. Consequently, it does encourage progressive thinking.
- Information is gained as to various methods of political action used by the trade union movement including lobby groups federally, etc. BCTF involvement allows increased teacher activity in social protest on a broader scale and this consequently gives us a voice in a broader spectrum of issues.
- Networking is always valuable and information is passed on to the full-time table officers at the BCTF and our point of view is explained to union leaders at the committee table.
- I learned about other trade union cultures and how they evolved. This creates understanding and a more empathetic view to different approaches. I also endeavour to explain BCTF culture where necessary. This facilitates a better understanding that will be crucial to our continued success as a trade union coalition.
- I think it is possible to become overwhelmed by the negativity of the current political agenda in Canada and BC. By joining together with other like-minded people, one becomes energized and hopefully, by forming a critical mass of people concerned about equity and social justice, we can bring about changes that will continue Canada’s development toward creating a “just society.”
Why I support affiliation with the BC Federation of Labour
- Conservatives have banded together. Surely, we in the labour movement must also band together and increase our voice. If we are to achieve a socially just society, we need to be part of a critical mass demanding to ensure just wages, good working conditions, equal opportunities, fair laws and processes, and the continued development of democratic political traditions.
- Divide and rule has always been a fundamental principal of oppressive regimes and if we allow ourselves to be divided, then we continue to be much less effective.
- We are often involved in similar struggles and might as well work together and plan the most efficient strategies to reach the most people and avoid needless duplication.
- We have an important role to play in educating workers about the difficulties and benefits in achieving an effective public education system.
- We need information on how current governments are undermining our society and being part of the trade union movement provides up-to-the-minute information on current strategies and plans for future developments. This can help us to prepare in advance, so that reactionary trends can be exposed and dealt with.
BC Federation of Labour Women’s Rights Committee
The BC Federation of Labour Women’s Rights Committee includes women from 18 different unions, district labour councils, and the Canadian Labour Congress. There are 30 committee members. The BCTF has 3 representatives. Some of these unions are federal unions—most are provincial. The committee deals with issues and campaigns that are brought forward by the representatives such as pay equity, child care, violence against women, and education. Members of the committee are asked to communicate these campaigns to the members of their union.
The Women’s Rights Committee organizes regional conferences for women in the BC Federation of Labour and women’s community representatives.
BCTF member of the BC Federation of Labour Political Action Committee
Shortly after the BCTF voted to affiliate with the BC Federation of Labour, I was appointed by the BCTF Executive Committee to serve on one of BC Federation of Labour’s Standing Committees—Political Action. At that time the Federation of Labour was the only organized opposition to the Liberal monolith in the Legislative Assembly. Federation affiliates, however, had not given up hope that they could have an impact on the future political direction of British Columbia. To that end they mounted a co-ordinated campaign to restore some semblance of opposition to the legislative balance. That co-ordinated strategy soon began to reap benefits. The first crack in the Liberal fortress came in the Surrey-Panorama by-election, where the handpicked candidate of Gordon Campbell, Mary Polak, was defeated by a political neophyte, Jagrup Brar, of the NDP. Campbell’s post-election press conference included the statement that Mary Polak had been beaten “by the unions.”
Brar’s victory only served to solidify the resolve of BC Federation of Labour affiliates to continue to engage the Campbell government in an aggressive and co-ordinated manner. Through the Federation of Labour, affiliates were supplied with pamphlets, signs, polling data, and staff directed towards the success of the Count-Me-In-Campaign.
Although the BC Federation of Labour cannot claim full credit for the return of 33 members of the opposition to the Legislative Assembly in Victoria, some of the success must be attributed to the willingness of BC Federation of Labour affiliates to roll up their sleeves and act collectively to address the issues of importance to all British Columbians.
Chair, BCTF Health and Safety Advisory Committee
BCTF representative to the BC Federation of Labour Occupational Health and Safety Committee
The BC Federation of Labour Occupational Health and Safety Committee works to increase awareness among affiliates, to lobby the government and WorkSafeBC to make positive, worker-friendly changes to the law, regulation, and policy. It also oversees the Alive Before Five program in which young workers teach high school students about their health and safety rights on the job.
BCTF representative to the BC Federation of Labour Education Committee
The Education Committee’s focus in two-pronged. We work together to promote and defend public education and we exchange ideas for education and training of union members and staff representatives/shop stewards.
Currently, we are presenting three forums, in Kamloops, Prince George, and Nanaimo on the Trades and Skills Shortages. I have especially appreciated the presence of the BC Nurses’ Union on the Education Committee—“teacher” and “nurse” are synonymous titles in terms of student learning conditions and patient care and workload/caseload of both professions.
I am voting Yes for affiliation because as teachers we have a huge audience of working people who are also parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles to share our classroom stories with. In exchange, we hear about the work and challenges of others in the union movement.