Siege tactics and strike negotiations

Trent Ernst, Editor


Back in the old days—the really old days, like in the days of Alexander the Great and not when I was a kid—attacking armies would lay siege to a city.

A siege, for those of you who didn’t grow up in the middle ages or earlier, is a military blockade of a city or fortress, with the intent of conquering by attrition.

Sieges were not about glorious battles where warriors rode out into the field and fought each other until one side won.

Instead, a siege might involve some low level conflict, with one side holding a strong but static defensive position (think Helm’s deep or the battle of Minas Tirith in Lord of the Rings…I just lost you there, didn’t I?), while the other side sets up camp outside in an attempt to starve the other side into either a)negotiating a settlement or b)surrender.

While the group that occupies the strong static position has the defensive advantage, the other side has the advantage of mobility. This means they can stay far enough away to avoid the slings and arrows of the defender, while cutting off the supply lines.

As time goes on, the defenders will fall victim to starvation, dehydration or disease.

Nobody knows when the first siege was held. Archaeological digs have shown some of the earliest known settlements discovered had fortified walls to fight off invaders. While this would prove useful against hit-and-run attacks, it left the inhabitants vulnerable to long-scale sieges.

But while nobody knows when the first siege was launched, we do know when the last one was launched. In fact, it is still happening. And that is the BC government’s attack on the teachers of this province.

It was as early as June that reports came out that the BC Teachers’ Federation was basically out of money to pay striking teachers. And, while, in the words of one local teacher “nobody goes on strike for the strike pay,” that $50/day can be the difference between standing up and fighting for your rights and starving at home.

But since summer started, the government and the unions have only met twice. And while both sides have said they are willing to negotiate, the union seems to be the most willing to do so, asking for mediation and Iker calling for face to face meetings with Fassbender and Premier Christie Clark.

Of course they have, because they’re the ones who are starving here. (And no, the table officers at the BCTF aren’t getting paid either.) It’s in their best interest to get back to work and get paid.

While the teachers have much at stake in the event of an even longer strike (it’s already the longest in history), the government has very little to lose. Right now, they’ve been ordered by the courts to reinstate language around class size and composition. If the union capitulates, they’ve put a “get out of our legally required obligation” clause as part of the conditions, something that the union is (currently) unwilling to do.

But as the food becomes scarcer, as teachers start succumbing (hopefully metaphorically) to disease and starvation and getting jobs elsewhere in Canada, ors in other fields, it becomes harder to hold the walls.

All the Liberal Government has to do is nothing and they’ll win. Or at least, that’s the way that line of thinking goes.

Unfortunately, they might be right. The most recent poll shows that support for the teacher’s is eroding. In June, nearly half the population supported the teachers and only 25 percent said they backed the province, with the remaining being undecided.

In the August poll, support was 36 percent pro-teachers, 35 percent pro-government.

Which is sad, because it feels like we as a province are punishing the teachers for being punished and rewarding the government for being bullies. Do I want to see the strike over? Yes. Am I saying that the province should roll over and give the teachers everything they want? No. But the whole point of negotiations is to, well, negotiate. To talk. Not to wage a war of attrition on them and on the rest of the province, dragging your feet and driving them to starvation all the while saying that it’s their fault.