Feb 132017

March 1 @ 4:30pm-8:30pm
The Bus Stop Theatre Co-op
2203 Gottingen Street, Halifax

Please join us in celebration of African Liberation Month for an art exhibit of six local Black Nova Scotian artists. We will journey through these experiences through narrative performances of the local theater group iMOVe, and be reminded of the resilience through instrumentalists, and vocal performers.

The event is free and everyone is welcome! Locally catered refreshments and free childcare will be provided on site. Cash bar will be open.

This event is a collaboration between CUPE NS and Working While Black. Working While Black is a project of community groups Ujamaa, Solidarity Halifax and the Kwacha House Cafe.

Feb 122017

The Stephen McNeil Liberal government is convening the legislature on the evening of Monday, February 13th to ram through a bill imposing a collective agreement on the teachers. It is an act of both political cowardice and arrogance.

Not previous known for militancy, the teachers voted not once, but three times (the third time by 78.5%) to reject a bargaining settlement negotiated by their union with the province. As in other instances of public service bargaining over the past decade, this is a revolt from below, from the members, spurring the union leadership on.

Teachers’ determination to achieve justice demands the support of the Nova Scotia trade union movement and, indeed, all of us. Other sets of public sector negotiations are pending and we draw inspiration from the example of the teachers.

Teachers are justifiably furious for several reasons.

• The conditions of teaching have become more difficult. Class size, class composition, and non-teaching duties have all changed, making greater demands on teachers. They spend more and more of their time accounting for teaching and less and less time actually teaching. Despite the scoldings of Premier McNeil and Education Minister Karen Casey, teachers point to arbitrary orders from above and changes without consultation.

• To add insult to injury, with a proposal of wage increases of 0%, 0%, 1%, 1.5% and .5% over four years, the government is effectively demanding a cut of at least 4.5% in real wages (if inflation continues to run at about 1.5% per year.)

• On top of that, the government is proposing to freeze accumulation of credits in the long service award for present teachers and eliminate it entirely for new teachers. Not only does that amount to a further real pay cut for teachers, but introduces a toxic intergenerational split among them. Far from a mere perk, the long service award was a negotiated deferment of wages, which has saved the government millions of dollars over the years.

• The government, faced with a legal dilemma, has introduced a desperate raft of legislation that is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of Canada has given Charter protection to the right to bargain collectively and the right to strike. Governments can remove the right to strike ONLY if they substitute binding, unfettered third-party arbitration. But the government wants neither a strike nor arbitration. So it has served an illegal ultimatum on the teachers. And the teachers are pushing back.

• As the saying goes: Teachers’ working conditions are our children’s learning conditions. For years now, governments in Nova Scotia, Canada and North America have been disparaging teachers and other valuable public workers in order to lower taxes to the wealthy and devalue public programs for the rest of us.

Is this austerity necessary? Behind the rhetoric lie the facts: In the past thirty years, Nova Scotia has become over 65% richer in GDP per capita. We should have more money, not less, to pay workers decently and provide good public services and programs. But over the same period, the median real wages of Nova Scotia workers have fallen, and especially those of the lower-paid. And government programs have been cut. Where did the money go? Quite simply, it has gone to the owners of capital, both inside and outside the province.

Having presided over the impoverishment of most workers, the government is now turning on those groups that have managed to (barely) hold their own in compensation – credentialed workers who are unionized, such as teachers, nurses and technologists. The Public Services Sustainability Act (Bill 148) essentially eliminates collective bargaining by legislatively imposing a pay package on workers. This legislation will likely eventually be overturned by the courts, but in the meantime it and similar labour legislation holds a club over the head of the unions and their members.

While the courts can be one venue for contestation, labour law is made in the streets. Only by defying the bully tactics of the government, can teachers and other public sector workers effect real change.

Public-sector labour disputes are a battle for public support as, inevitably, citizens like ourselves and our children must bear the inconvenience of withdrawal of services. But public opinion can cut both ways. Early informal polls revealed that over 85% of the public may be siding with the teachers and less than 9% supporting the government. Two organizations, Students for Teachers and Nova Scotia Parents for Teachers (the latter with nearly 20,000 members in its Facebook group) have been solidified support for the teachers. In British Columbia, teachers went on strike three times in a decade (one of them illegal) and parent support was strong.

Canadians and Nova Scotians are clearly fed up with austerity politics and the erosion of our public services and realize that the right to strike is an essential part of living in a democratic society.

Solidarity Halifax is an anti-capitalist, membership-based organization based in the Halifax Regional Municipality committed to:

 Building alternatives to capitalism

 Democratic, non-sectarian and pluralist politics.

 Actively opposing all threats to the sustainability and health of our natural environment.

 Creating a culture of solidarity.

To read more about our campaigns and see upcoming events and actions, visit SolidarityHalifax.ca

Follow us on Facebook at http://Facebook.com/SolidarityHalifax or on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/SolidarityHFX

To contact Solidarity Halifax, email us at Info@SolidarityHalifax.ca

To become a member of Solidarity Halifax, contact the Membership Committee at Membership@SolidarityHalifax.ca

Feb 122017

Larry Haiven is a professor emeritus in the Department of Management at Saint Mary’s University, a member of the Steering Committee and spokes for Nova Scotia Parents For Teachers and a member of Solidarity Halifax. 

Originally published in the Local XPress.


In one of the boldest acts of civil disobedience in the province’s history, Nova Scotia’s teachers, a most unlikely group, voted last week for the third time to reject the government’s public sector bargaining agenda.

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union has been around for over a hundred years and had never had a provincewide strike in its history. Not only the premier and his cabinet, but many other Nova Scotians expected the 9,300 teachers to fold quickly and set a pattern for the other public service workers. It was not to be.

Eager to balance the provincial budget by the end of its first term, the Liberal government has declared war on labour. It introduced a spate of restrictive legislation, beginning by gutting first contract arbitration, then banning a strike by home-care workers, then imposing an essential services regime on 40,000 health and social services workers, then attempting to gerrymander health-care bargaining units (which blew up in the government’s face) and then giving universities the power to declare financial exigency and bypass collective agreement provisions. In December 2015, it introduced Bill 148, giving it the power to impose a strict limit on public-sector pay and forbidding even arbitrators from awarding more. It held and still holds that passed but unproclaimed law over the heads of 75,000 workers.

It now proposes, in a deeply arrogant, cynical and undemocratic act, to impose a collective agreement on the teachers.

Most of the rash of legislation is arguably counter to the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent ruling that collective bargaining and strikes are protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A strike can be forbidden only if unfettered arbitration is allowed in its place. But the Nova Scotia Liberal government wants neither strikes nor arbitration and is willing to defy the courts to get its way – even if only temporarily.

The government’s desire to eliminate the provincial deficit immediately is curious in light of political trends. The provincial Conservatives announced they had balanced the budget during their time in office. But they received ever-dwindling minorities and finally lost in 2009. The subsequent NDP government declared it too had eliminated the deficit, but lost the 2013 election. In 2015, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals swept to a resounding federal victory promising NOT to immediately balance the budget. Nova Scotia’s deficit and debt-to-GDP ratio are well within reasonable boundaries, and declining.

But the ideology of austerity and a visceral hatred of unions has seized the McNeil government and it has thrown caution to the winds.

In addition to doing little to reform the classrooms, to add insult to injury, the government will impose a four-year wage package that would, at even the current low rates of inflation, spell at least 4 ½-per-cent pay cut for teachers.

Moreover, the government wants to eviscerate a long-service award (LSA) paid to teachers upon retirement or death.

The LSA is a package negotiated in lieu of a wage increase some decades ago and is thus deferred wages. By keeping their own money in the government’s bank for these decades, the teachers have in fact saved the taxpayers millions of dollars.

This kind of stubborn labour resistance is not new to Nova Scotia. In 2001, health-care workers similarly rejected settlements negotiated by their unions and threatened to resign en masse before the government came to its senses.

Crown attorneys went on strike illegally in 1998 to obtain the right to bargain collectively.

Why would workers, especially faced with a government wielding a big stick, with angry members of an inconvenienced public yelling for their hides, with their own unions recommending concession, lie down on the tracks and refuse to let the train go through? There is now plenty of experimental evidence showing that not only humans, but also many animals, have a strong drive to fairness and will refuse to go along with perceived injustice even when they themselves will suffer loss and pain.

In what’s called “The Ultimatum Game” people will refuse new money they never had if they think they are being unfairly discriminated against by the game leaders. Capuchin monkeys will refuse to play games with experimenters if they see other players rewarded disproportionately to them. Economists Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis call this principle “strong reciprocity.” In their book A Cooperative Species, they argue that, far from being driven by greed and individualism, human beings will often take desperate measures and engage in deep sacrifice to ensure that the species remains co-operative. This behaviour especially manifests itself when people are backed against a wall and where surrender seems to be the most rational option.

That explains a lot about unions and collective bargaining. But it also explains a lot about our teachers, who after doing one of the most difficult and complex jobs around, are standing up for themselves, their students and all of us.