Name: Devinder Kaila
Devinder Kaila’s dad was a millworker who always wore his IWA jacket with great pride. As a Punjabi-speaking immigrant to BC in the mid-1950s, he saw firsthand the benefits of union jobs over non-union — and not only in terms of higher pay, but also job security, fair treatment and solidarity.
He worked hard and taught his two sons about the importance of a good education. “No one can ever take your education away from you,” he often said. Coming from a culture in which knowledge is valued, he was proud that both his boys grew up to become teachers.
Eldest son, Devinder, was born in Merritt and grew up in Richmond. He had a rough start in school because he didn’t speak English. “I didn’t understand anything and I felt really lost,” he said. “In the 1970s, society was not as diverse as it is today. There was a lot of racism ... a lot of bullying.”
By the time he reached high school, though, the benefits of multiculturalism were better understood and the social climate improved. “Now you see minorities in government, in the police, in the professions. There may still be some racism, but you don’t experience the hatred like before,” he said.
After Devinder completed his degree in geography at Simon Fraser University and his education degree at UBC, and now teaches Science and Biology at Princess Margaret Secondary School in Surrey.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Devinder has become active in his union, the Surrey Teachers’ Association, which is a local of the BC Teachers’ Federation. He started out as a school union rep, helping to solve problems between the staff and administration at his school, and to ensure the collective agreement was upheld.
Later he was recruited to become more deeply involved as a local representative from Surrey to the provincial Representative Assembly. He also was a delegate at the BCTF’s Annual General Meeting, which sets policy and directions for collective bargaining, professional issues and social justice concerns.
“It was a really interesting year to be involved and to participate in the decision making processes. Now I’m getting to know the background to issues and the politics driving it, I’m kind of getting hooked on it.”
This fall Devinder also had the opportunity to attend the BC Federation of Labour’s biennial convention, where he met unionists from both public and private sectors who were grappling with a great range of issues from who’s best to lead the union movement, how to best support the New Democrats in the upcoming provincial election, and many more issues of importance to workers on the job and British Columbians as citizens.