Bill 124 Heats Up Ontario Education Conflict

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As temperatures plunge, the conflict between Ontario teachers and the Doug Ford Conservative government is heating up.

With exaggerated budget deficit figures in tow, the Tories decided to pick a fight with educators by increasing the size of classes and requiring students to take online credit courses, the overall result of which would be the loss of thousands of teachers’ jobs.  Like so many of the savage cuts made by Ford to health, transportation, environmental protection, legal aid and other vital public services, his education measures violate his pre-election vow that there’d be no job losses, only “efficiencies.”

To top it off, the Tories passed Bill 124, a salary cap of 1 per cent imposed on the entire public sector.  The four teachers’ unions (OSSTF, ETFO, OECTA and AEFO) are taking the government to court.  The Tories are likely to lose, based on recent rulings which struck down laws (e.g. the 2012 provincial Liberals’ Bill 115) that abrogated collective bargaining rights.  Unfortunately, it will take years to get a definitive high court ruling, and possibly decades to reverse the harm that may be done in the interim.

A more promising course is mass job action.  Secondary school teachers showed the way forward by going on strike on three Wednesdays in December — once province-wide, then twice at several selected school boards. Elementary, Secondary, French and Catholic school teachers are now engaged in various forms of ‘work to rule’. Tory Education Minister Stephen Lecce misrepresents the key issue as wages, rather than support for students’ needs, but public opinion favours the educators.

The sides are so far apart that the province’s appointed mediator suggested bargaining be suspended until the New Year.  So, what should be done next?

The current fight against cuts to education represents a golden opportunity to unite labour and the entire working class in a common front to dump the Thug Ford government with escalating actions leading to a general strike.  Close to a majority of delegates at the convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour in November supported such a course.

Hopefully, teachers’ leaders won’t back down, or postpone the struggle indefinitely.  Hopefully, the labour and NDP leadership will find the courage to take down the most reactionary Ontario government in generations now, rather than rely on an election more than two years down the road.

– B.W.