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Teachers bring rally to Vancouver Art Gallery

The second teachers' rally in two days saw a couple thousand teachers pack the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery in their last showing of resistance before they head back to work tomorrow.

Holding placards, the hands of their children, and even the leashes of dogs, teachers, parents, students, and other public sector unions showed up to cheer on speakers from the BC Teachers' Federation, the BC Federation of Labour, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and COPE rant and rave against the B.C. government and Bill 22.

Romy Cooper, a teacher from General Gordon Elementary in Vancouver, couldn't make it to the rally in Victoria yesterday. But despite the rallies, the strikes, and the messages of dissent and displeasure coming loud and clear from the province's teachers, Cooper came to the rally because she fears the government still isn't getting it.

"This Bill 22, if you pick it apart, it's pretty terrifying for us. All the fighting we've done to put limits on class sizes and make sure we don't have too many special needs in one class so we can meet the needs of everyone, just to have those limits taken away for a few years, the damage is going to be done by the time we can bargain again," she told The Tyee.

"We've just got to hope that in the legislature they're taking it apart, they’re looking at what they're doing to us and how they're taking away our voice, and hopefully they can see that they're really infringing on our rights here."

On Monday Premier Christy Clark told The Chiliwack Progress she didn't understand the point of the teachers' strike when "the teachers' union knows what the outcome is going to be. What is the point of that? What is the point in shutting down schools, inconveniencing parents, depriving kids of a few days of instruction when they know what the outcome is going to be?"

Lambert responded at the rally today, saying she believes the teachers' still have a chance if they have the public on their side.

"It's the court of public opinion that we need to keep making sure that our message is there and we know that that's where we're winning, and that's why we're doing this today," Susan Lambert, president of the BCTF, told the crowd as passing cars honked in support.

"Because we are the people of British Columbia, and it's the people of British Columbia that tell this government what to do. That's what democracy's all about."

Lambert accused the government of reintroducing Bills 27 and 28 through the Education Improvement Act, and quoted from a Vancouver Sun opinion piece by Joel Bakan, who teaches in the faculty of law at the University of British Columbia, that claims the B.C. government has been taken to the International Labour Court 10 times since the Liberals have been in power, five times for legislation affecting teachers.

She warned the government--of which she said the likelihood of reelection 'resembles that of the proverbial snowflake in hell'--if they legislate the teachers back to work, this three day strike will be just the beginning.

"When they push this legislation through, they need to know that the teachers of B.C. will defend public education with all of our wit and all of our strength. They need to know that we're the teachers. They need to know that our first obligation is not to unlawful legislation, but to our kids," she says.

Cooper agrees, and although teachers are going back to work tomorrow, Bill 22 is still being debated in the legislature and teachers' won't stop the resistance, even at work.

"I'm going back to work tomorrow at nine o'clock and I'll be leaving at three o'clock. As much as it pains me, this is the kind of message we need to send and this is the time, this is the time to stand up, so we're not going to stop," Cooper says.

"We're in this tomorrow for the long haul."

The Labour Relations Board ruling last week allows teachers to strike again for one day out of every five school days until Bill 22 is passed, which would make striking by teachers illegal and subject to fines.

Katie Hyslop writes about education and youth issues for The Tyee and The Tyee Solutions Society.

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