As teachers in Nova Scotia mull over their bargaining team’s third attempt at a tentative agreement in just over a year, here are a few observations about the dispute, and about teachers’ and workers’ power in general.
1) Teachers have a new idea of what is possible. Many of the issues teachers have raised over the last year – overcrowded classrooms, insufficient supports for students with special needs, excessive amounts of time spent on clerical tasks – have worsened fairly slowly over the past 10-15 years. Change happened gradually enough that opposition to it was weak, and a general sense of resignation slowly set in.
As the contract dispute has progressed, teachers have started to think big. Class sizes of 35-40 are no longer thought of as inevitable. (New Brunswick has class caps of 29 even in upper grades.) Teachers are speaking out against endless “improvement plans” and “accountability” measures that never seem to result in actual improvements or accountability. The impossibility of meeting the growing diversity of classroom needs under constant cost-cutting budgets has become a serious topic of discussion.
Teachers in Ontario found reason to celebrate recently.
In 2012, the Ontario Liberal government passed the “Putting Students First Act,” a bill which imposed contracts on teachers and effectively took away their right to strike.
This April, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that this act (also known as Bill 115), had violated teachers’ constitutional rights. Teachers, like other workers, are guaranteed the right to negotiate the terms of their work collectively and to have these negotiations be meaningful. Bill 115 had made this impossible.
Teachers and many other public-sector workers across the country welcomed the ruling, seeing it as a precedent which protects against current or future governments trying the same kind of legislative trick.
Poverty. Racism. Democracy. Aboriginal rights. Climate change. Many of us explore issues like these in our classrooms. It’s our responsibility as teachers to see that our students become caring, engaged members of society.
In our unions, we also advocate for progressive change on issues like these. One of the my own union’s core beliefs is that promoting quality public education for all requires working for social justice.
The provincial budget was tabled in Nova Scotia earlier this month, with education funding being increased by $18.6 million.
I don’t have time to crunch the numbers here to analyze what they really mean. (e.g. to what extent do they compensate for cuts to the P-12 education budget in recent years? And what year would we use as a benchmark, anyway? 2010? 2001?)
For the moment, teachers seem pleased by the budget announcement (despite the fact that Liberal government had promised $65 million in additional funding for education in the first year of its mandate, not over four years as the budget announcement now says).