What are the OFL and unions doing?
Ontario teachers escalate the fight against Tory cuts
by Barry Weisleder
The four main teachers’ unions in Ontario are converging in mass strike actions that challenge the anti-education agenda of the Doug Ford Conservative government at Queen’s Park. Big protest rallies in the Fall were followed by one-day walkouts of secondary school teachers in December. In the third week of January, elementary school teachers struck province-wide for a day. Then public high school, Catholic and French-language school teachers picketed across select districts – in all, affecting over one million students and their parents.
The government’s determination to increase class size in secondary from an average of 22 to 25 students, and to require each student to complete two e-credits (courses without teachers), threatens thousands of teaching positions. Likewise, elementary teachers are up against the Ford government over caps to class size, more support for students in special education, improvements to health and safety protection in the classrooms and a written guarantee that full-day kindergarten will continue with support from early childhood educators. Education Minister Stephen Lecce, in an effort to divert attention from his exceedingly unpopular policies and his intransigence at the bargaining table, publicly portrays teachers as greedy because they seek a pay increase close to the rate of inflation. In addition, Lecce offers the parents of students impacted by strike action up to $60 a day for childcare. Why spend millions of dollars that way? Because the Tory agenda aims to make permanent job cuts and to curtail collective bargaining rights (targeted by his 1 per cent wage freeze Bill 124). Such insidious measures will, in short order, offset meagre subsidies to individual parents.
Commercial media coverage features parents, students and members of the public walking the line with teachers. In countless recorded interviews, people state their solidarity with the fight to defend the quality of education. Protests have forced Ford to roll back cuts to spending on autistic children and others with special needs. It is increasingly clear that this struggle has the potential not only to defeat the government’s cuts to education, but to defeat the Tories by forcing an early election, well before 2022.
But where in this fray is the Ontario Federation of Labour, its major affiliated unions, and the labour-based New Democratic Party, Ontario’s Official Opposition? They are proficient at issuing news releases. OFL President Patty Coates told an OPSEU Toronto area council meeting in January that labour isn’t ready for a general strike. This oft-repeated, self-serving mantra doesn’t take into account the actually escalating struggle of education workers, the plummeting popularity of the Tories, and what labour can and should do to advance the effort to Dump Thug Ford.