By Robert Devet
Look at it whichever way you want, the decision by the NSTU not to strike was a retreat. Government gave up very little. The pent up anger of 83% of all teachers willing to engage in civil disobedience will remain untapped.
This is not to argue with the NSTU decision not to strike. I don’t know what lawyers told the executive, and I don’t know how ready the membership was to face an unfriendly public and an unfriendly press.
Despite a common press conference by unions with skin in the game, and despite all the talk about solidarity, the fight against Bill 72 was always going to be fought by the NSTU alone.
That should not have been the case. McNeil has hammered workers in this province ever since he gained power in 2013. Well established collective bargaining conventions and workers’ rights were taken away from home care workers, nurses, healthcare workers, provincial civil servants, and teachers. Our minimum wage is the lowest in Canada. Austerity is hurting everybody.
The need for solidarity and a common front is clear to see. Yet in response we have seen some isolated job action, remember the teachers strike, their work to rule, the Capital Health nurses walking out? Other than that Labour’s push back mostly consists of some court challenges that will take years to conclude, and lots of rallies.
Earlier I wrote about the Ontario Days of Action, the rotating strikes in different cities as labour’s response to Mike Harris’ common cents revolution in the nineties. We need something like that here and now in Nova Scotia, I argued. And that takes work. And it takes thought and planning. And it takes cooperation.
In Ontario at the time unions didn’t just wait for their members to wake up to the new realities. Unions in Ontario actively went after their members, many of whom had voted for Harris, to convince them that a one-day walkout was the thing to do. And they pulled it off. It didn’t take care of Harris, but it was immensely helpful.
That’s exactly what we need here in Nova Scotia.
I am not finger pointing at anybody or anyone union here, it’s a collective malaise. Maybe things are happening behind the scenes here in Nova Scotia. I am outside, looking in. But even after five years of McNeil, I don’t hear much talk about the need for collective action. Yet the rubber only hits the road when that conversation starts. So let’s talk.
This article first appeared at The Nova Scotia Advocate