Tim Kirkwood

Nov 082016

On Tuesday, October 25, Nova Scotia teachers employed at elementary and secondary public schools voted 96% to strike. They are not the first group of trade unionists to challenge the austerity agenda of the current Liberal provincial government, but a strike would bring matters to a head. And 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.  They will be in an legal position to start their first ever strike on December 3, 2016.

Not known for militancy, the teachers voted not once, but twice (the second time by 70%) 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 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 4% 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 reveal that over 85% of the public may be siding with the teachers and less than 9% supporting the government. Already two groups, Students for Teachers and Nova Scotia Parents for Teachers have been formed. 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.

Nov 022016

On November 2nd, 2016, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS-FCÉÉ), their partners and students across Canada will take to the streets as part of the Student Day of Action. The Day of Action is part of the ongoing fight to reduce economic and social barriers to post secondary education and to oppose the increased cost of tuition in Canada. Solidarity Halifax supports students and the CFS-FCÉÉ in this important struggle.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, tuition has more than doubled from 1994 to 2015, increasing on average from $3,260 to $6,780 in real terms. In consequence, students across the country will owe the federal government a combined $19 billion (an average of $28,000) by the end of 2016. This debt load is a crushing burden for recent graduates.

Accessible education is a corner stone of democracy that reduces inequality and strengthens our society. What’s more, is that having a tuition free post-secondary system is completely affordable. As you can see in the list below, countries with far fewer financial resources than Canada have made university and college a financially viable option to their entire population. This is a matter of deciding whether or not we want to eliminate tuition, rather than a question of whether or not we can.

Countries with no tuition:


1.     Argentina 

2.     Brazil

3.     Cuba

4.     Denmark

5.     Ecuador

6.     Finland

7.     Germany

8.     Iceland

9.     Norway

10.   Sweden

11.   Venezuela


Countries with nominal fees for Post secondary education


1.     Austria

2.     Belgium

3.     France

4.     Luxembourg

5.     Spain

6.     Switzerland

Sep 092016

Dear Friends and Comrades,

Solidarity Halifax decided a year ago to run a candidate in the upcoming elections to the Halifax Regional Council, which will take place on 15 October.  Solidarity Halifax member, Gabriel Enxuga, will be our candidate to represent District 5, Dartmouth Center.

Our decision to run formally in municipal politics was not taken lightly.  As leftists, we insist of the indispensability of building working-class power outside of state structures and are wary of the co-optative pitfalls of elections.

That being said, it is also our position that to be completely divorced from electoral politics is to be completely divorced from the day to day struggles of working, poor and oppressed peoples.   Elections are not an alternative to revolutionary politics but they do provide opportunities to draw people into the struggle.

Solidarity Halifax is running-to-win; this is no name-on-ballot campaign and we are not shying-away from our revolutionary aspirations.  Our candidate, Gabriel Enxuga, is a veteran union organizer who was baptized by fire in the Baristas Rise Up campaign, which ended with the successful organization of Coburg Coffee and Just Us Café but also with his dismissal. Gabriel then went on to work as a tenants’ rights and welfare rights organizer for Nova Scotia ACORN.  He is also an outspoken advocate for trans healthcare and is the first openly trans candidate for elected office in Nova Scotia.

Solidarity Halifax needs your help to put this campaign over the top.  Please consider donating to our campaign.  Whatever amount you can give will help us agitate, educate, and organize.

Three ways to donate;

1.       Go to solidarityhalifax.ca and click on the pay pal button.  Write down “for Gabriel Enxuga’s campaign” in the notes of the donations.

2.       E-transfer money to Solidarity Halifax at finance@solidarityhalifax.ca. Write down “for Gabriel Enxuga’s campaign” in the notes of the email.

3.       Mail a cheque to “Solidarity Halifax” at #13-1041 Tower Road, B3H 2Y6, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Write down “for Gabriel Enxuga’s campaign” in the memo field of the cheque.

·         Let’s build a city where public transit and recreation programs are free

·         Let’s build a city with fair wages for municipal workers

·         Let’s build a city where rent control ensures safe and affordable housing for all

·         Let’s build a city where racism and sexism are actively challenged

·         Let’s build a city dedicated to addressing climate change and building a sustainable economy

In gratitude and solidarity,

Sep 062016

As a candidate for HRM’s Municipal Council in Dartmouth Centre (District 5), I stand firmly and solidly in support of the members of CUPE Local 108, the Halifax Civic Workers’ Union, in their ongoing struggle to achieve a fair negotiated Collective Agreement with our municipal government that doesn’t attack the pension benefits they have worked so hard to obtain and need to support themselves and their families in retirement.


The city of Halifax has a duty to provide services and infrastructure that make our communities safe, accessible, affordable and healthy.

Members of the Halifax Civic Workers’ union perform many of the daily tasks that fulfill these duties.  Members of CUPE Local 108 work at recreation facilities like the Halifax Forum, the Sackville Stadium, the Dartmouth Sportsplex and the other rinks and recreation facilities in our city. Their members include mechanics, carpenters, cleaners and plumbers that work for the City of Halifax. These union members maintain and inspect our playgrounds and sportsfields, they repair our roads and our sidewalks. They include gardeners who work all around our City making Halifax beautiful with flower arrangements and plants. They work in our major parks like Point Pleasant Park, the Halifax Public Gardens and Shubie Park.


If you call the City to complain about a pothole, or a falling tree or a dead animal on the roadway, these are the workers who respond to those calls and take care of those things for us. In the Winter months, their primary job is to clean our streets of snow and ice, although the City has outsourced and contracted out that work in many parts of our city to contractors who are ill-equipped to handle that work.


We cannot have a safe and healthy community if the workers are not treated with fairness and good faith at the bargaining table. A decent pension to ensure security and dignity in retirement should be a baseline, and it’s unacceptable that the City is threatening to lock out workers while pushing drastic concessions on the pension plan.


Every four years, our voting public elects a mayor and council, and entrusts them with serving the public interest. They need to direct the city’s negotiators to stop threatening a lockout and work with the union to come up with a fair deal. They need to tell the City’s negotiators to get back to the bargaining table and bargain a fair agreement with these workers.


These workers don’t have “gold plated” pension plans. Their current pensions allow them to retire with basic dignity, with the majority of workers receiving pensions of about $20 thousand each year after many years of work and service to our City.


We need to all stand together and say to our current Mayor and Councilors that it is time for them to step up and ensure that their workers are treated fairly, and that the city’s negotiators are reigned-in from their mandate to attack these workers pensions and benefits through threats of lockout.


Our city can be a fairer and more just place.


We can start with our own employees.