by Eric – Local 1
With the closing of dozens of Vancouver Community College’s ESL programs looming in December, ESL Matters (eslmatters.ca), organized by the VCC Faculty Association, has stepped up its campaign. 70 Union jobs and programs that have been vital to helping Immigrants and Refugees get into career training and academic programs are at stake. ETEA’s organizing committee has been out tabling in downtown Vancouver to build support for this campaign over the last two weeks and is committed to continuing support for this struggle.
Some might ask why a union for private sector ESL teachers would be opposing cuts to a publicly funded ESL program. Most of our students are not immigrants or refugees and it would seem that cuts to public funding would lead to the growth of the private ESL industry which employs us. However, a growth in the private sector does not necessarily equate to more or better jobs for private sector ESL teachers. 70 teachers at VCC will be losing their jobs and many will be forced to find work in the private sector. The number of jobs may increase but so will the number of teachers competing for those jobs. Not only have the better quality of publicly funded programs set a standard for private sector institutes to live up to but the wages and conditions for public sector ESL teachers have provided an important reference in negotiations with private sector employers. The elimination of these jobs will make it more difficult for us to argue for fair wages and benefits at the bargaining table and will make it easier for employers to push for concessions. When public sector teachers are attacked all teachers suffer the consequences.
On the flip side some might ask what we can expect in return for our support. For the ETEA the main concern is growing and bringing as many private sector ESL teachers into the union as possible. The more schools we have organized the stronger each individual local will be at the bargaining table and the better we can push for higher industry wide standards and better conditions for all ESL teachers and by extension their students. Public sector unions have a vested interest in supporting us in this effort. The better wages, conditions and standards are in the private sector the less attractive privatization becomes. Public sector unions include the vast majority of ESL teachers currently in unions and consequently have the widest dues base and the most resources with which to support drives to organize new workplaces.
The public/private divide in the union movement has historically been a weak point in advancing the interests of workers on either side. This became an issue during the province wide strike by BCTF when the Liberal government attempted to use public funds to place foreign students at Inlingua, a private ESL school, in Vancouver. Inlingua teachers are members of ETEA but were unaware of the government’s actions. We are in the midst of a massive push by governments both federal and provincial to privatize education. Overcoming these divisions and forging stronger bonds of solidarity can lay the basis for stopping all the cuts and winning better working and teaching conditions for all.