Today, 9300 Nova Scotia public school teachers, with Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU), will be on strike for the first time in its 122-year history.
The strike will be a one-day walkout. Teachers from across the province will be picketing at the legislature, where Premier Stephen McNeil and his Liberal government are sitting around the clock in an effort to impose a contract on members of the NSTU. The convergence of teachers and their allies on the legislature is set to be one of the largest demonstrations in Nova Scotia’s history.
Our labour movement in Nova Scotia is at an absolutely critical moment, and it is imperative that our organizations make every effort to join teachers at the legislature, and in communities around the province.
The strike mandate itself, and the road the teachers took to get there is itself extraordinary. Their last collective agreement expired in July 2015, and in an unexpected turn of events, the membership voted down a tentative agreement by 61% in December of that year. Since then, there was a change in union leadership, and two more tentative agreements were voted down.
The rejection of three tentative agreements was a clear message to Premier McNeil and the Liberals that rank and file teachers would note accept the take-it-or-leave-it attitude that had long characterized this government’s approach to collective bargaining. If McNeil and education minister Karen Casey would not take teachers’ concerns about classroom conditions and the number of students expected to crowd into a single class, teachers were not going to simply yield to an intransigent government.
In October 2016, NSTU members voted 96% in favour of striking, with virtually all members participating.
Few other unions have enjoyed such a strong strike mandate. At this point in the McNeil Liberals’ time in government, it sends a strong message that Nova Scotian public sector workers are sick of being attacked instead of listened to, of being demonized instead of having their concerns about how public services are suffering under a regime of austerity.
Whether it was cuts to homecare, the undemocratic attempt to reshuffle acute care workers into the unions of the government’s choosing, Bill 37 legislating away the right to strike in healthcare, or the looming threat of having Bill 148 proclaimed in order to eliminate any ability for public sector workers to negotiate wages, every public sector worker has been treated like Nova Scotia’s biggest problem. By extension, this also means that this government is treating students, patients, seniors, chidren in care, and many others like they are a burden instead of people deserving of adequate services.
Sooner rather than later, we will need an honest conversation in the labour movement and in our communities about what it will take to get rid of this government and elect one that works with us to deliver the kind of province we all deserve.
But in the meantime, we need to stick together and stand with the with our striking public school teachers demonstrating outside Province House.