Thanks to Drew Moore, teacher and NSTU member, for these questions. If anyone wishes to discuss, debate or question my points, please feel free to contact me.
Questions from Drew Moore
1. What do you see as being the role of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union in organizing for social justice in our province, whether it pertains to education or not?
NSTU must become more involved in the whole social justice piece. Part of the NSTU belief statement is to improve life for students be “advocating social justice and unionism.” As educators our role is to push for our members but also to support public education in NS. There are many issues which affect the ability of students to learn; this in all levels of the education system. Poverty plays a key role as it has a ripple effect. Food security, lack of, or insufficient shelter, a feeling of safety all have negative impacts. If we can lay pressure on decision makers, then the positive results will be two-fold. It will help to alleviate the problems as they exist. Guaranteeing that everyone’s income is enough to live on would be one aspect. If learners come into the schools and campuses with a better sense of their own security, whether food, or shelter, or even other associated costs, then they will be able to focus on learning. Teachers will have more time to focus on teaching and less on dealing with the difficulties associated with the results of poverty.
I think that this relates particularly to question # 6. I think that the social justice aspect and the ‘other unions’ point are inextricably linked. One of this year’s resolutions to Council was to join the Federation of Labour. If there was ever a time, this is it. In the past I’d argued against it because of the political implications. It’s time to get past that. It doesn’t seem to matter the name of the political party, there seems to be a closer tie to business then to the workers. We have to work more closely with other unions, through the NSFL. We have to work together to try to educate the public around the influence of business, and their lobby groups, in their efforts to dumb down education. Google, Pearson and others seem to want workers, not thinkers. To have democracy, we need thinkers. If we have workers who think, thinkers who work, then that’s the ideal situation. We must more effectively advocate for democracy, for the elimination of poverty, for greater support for disadvantaged, and down-trodden groups. We can’t do it alone, but as a union, the Teachers Union, I think we have an obligation to follow this path.
2. How can the NSTU build ties with students, parents and community organizations on issues of education, as well as broader community issues?
I think that Local leaders, the President and even staff have to be encouraged to be effectively involved in communities at the ‘grassroots’ level. There are pockets of involvement around the province but we often don’t share this information. As dedicated professionals, we are often unwilling to ‘blow our own horn’ as this goes against why we are doing these things. All across the province, there are members contributing to individual social causes. As an organization, we need to be finding out what’s going in, recognizing the work but also offering a greater level of real support. Get out there in the public. Teachers are doing it now, leaders are too, but it’s often not recognized. It must also be balanced so as not to be seen to be self-serving.
We need to get past the idea of ‘photo ops’ which is how it often appears, even if that isn’t the intent.
Could Joe Howe Drive become more of a community hub? Offer meeting space to marginalized groups. We can re-engineer parts of the building in light of the security concerns. Perhaps actually address the real issues rather that change a whole system to deal with a particular threat. I like the idea of hosting an open house for the members and the public. Have a look at the property, host a ‘fair’ to raise funds for Community groups.
To the question: if the public feels that we are more attentive to issues, showing real concern and support, then that may well be reciprocated. We will be seen more as community partners.
3. Nova Scotian educators often lament the voices the media frequently turns to on matters of education in our province. How can the NSTU ensure that our voices are represented in the media when education is being discussed?
I think this one relates to the previous question. There is somehow a perception that the only thing that drives members is the accumulation of the almighty dollar. We know that for most members this isn’t the case. Thousands of dedicated members put up with many factors, all with the goal of improving the lives of their learners. Whether public school or Community College, this is unquestioned. We haven’t done an effective job of showing the members what we’re trying to say on their behalf. We also have to deal with a media, often biased and pro-business, that only looks for the negative. We have to develop strategies, (I’m not an expert but they are out there) and develop alternative ways of getting the real story out. Once again, if we develop the partnerships, the message will be easier to share.
‘The Teacher’, could become a more widely circulated publication, with more input from the membership. There could be a ‘letters to the President’ section, and while some might not be suitable for publication, it would give the opportunity to follow up with members to address specific concerns. Another avenue is to effectively use social media, video (Youtube) but the challenge is still to get people to ‘tune-in’ and then join the conversation. It has to be genuine and substantive to be taken seriously. The president has to be available and ready to address key issues as they arise. Unfortunately, there’s still no guarantee that any of the mainstream media will pick them up. As an organization, we have to explore, consult with other Unions and teacher organizations to see what’s working in the rest of Canada and further afield.
4. How can professional staff be best used to increase membership participation?
I would like to believe that the President could convince the Executive Director to see that as a great opportunity to increase member engagement. This active participation is an economic welfare issue as much as an internal PD issue. If we were able to more fully utilize staff during periods of lesser activity to go into school and locals, this would show as participation. Too often it seems, a staff officer is only in the building when there is an issue to be addressed. Through Economic Welfare staff, the load could lighten as members become more aware of process, and of their rights within the Boards and the Community College. Staff could offer mini-economic welfare workshops at Local meetings, staff meetings, and ‘lunch and learns’ with the respective Local presidents. This could all work towards a greater engagement. Again with consultation, there could even by a recruitment or engagement portfolio from among the Staff.
5. How can the NSTU improve communication with and among members to increase member participation?
The webmail system is still a profound disappointment. There needs to be a search function so that members can find each other. The response has always been ‘it’s a privacy issue’. I find this hard to accept as anyone from the public can search for me in the nscc.ca website. Internally, anyone can search for anyone in NSCC by name, by program or by position. Until members can easily find each other and get a website with lots of features, they’ll be resistant to using it. The webmail needs to be addressed properly, even if it means starting again with a better provider. There must be a better way.
There may be other ways too, but what we have is either ineffective or underutilized. Until we demonstrate that there’s a fundamental improvement in the core method of internal communication, the others can’t work
6. When home care and health care workers demonstrated in 2014, there was a noticeable lack of NSTU presence. However, when we marched in response to Bill 148, we had enthusiastic support from our fellow unions. What can the NSTU do to increase our support for other unions?
We need to connect at the leadership level, we need to show real involvement by joining the NSFL and we need to ask; what is the best way that we can show solidarity going forward? Too often, there seem to be silos of Unions, not effectively coordinating their actions. We have to re-evaluate our policies around political action. What we do hasn’t seemed to work effectively enough. We need to take chances and have open communications. We have a lot to offer but also a lot to learn from the ‘unity’ perspective.
Unfortunately, Council didn’t see the value in joining the Federation of Labour this year, and the motion was defeated. When it is brought back next year, I hope that the result is more positive.
We also need to do a more effective job of educating our own members of the values of these Labour affiliations. Unless we have the support of the members, even this won’t be effective.
We will have to be really creative, listening to as many voices as possible, because many of the members spend each day trying to survive. The Leaders, and those with the inclination and energy will have to lead the charge. The changes won’t occur overnight but with a desire and a plan, there will be improvements.