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Ontario Teachers fighting back

Carolyn Egan

January 14, 2020

Teachers in Ontario have been in a protracted struggle with the provincial government for some time. The minister of education wants to cut one in four secondary school classroom instructors, and is gutting support for special education programs including to students with autism in elementary and secondary schools. More than 50,000 classes including STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) coop and in the skilled trades are on the chopping block.

Negotiations are going nowhere and the teachers have the strong support of student and parents. The labour day parade in Toronto brought out over 20,000 workers under the banner of “Organize, Educate, Resist” which was the slogan that shut down the province in a series of one day general strikes against similar cuts being implemented by the Harris government in the 1990s.

The working class can win

The legacy of working class struggle is very real and a new generation of teachers is learning from those who came before them. 2019 was also the one hundredth anniversary of the Winnipeg general strike when immigrant workers and returning soldiers from World War I united and shut down the city for six weeks, fighting the employers. Plays, movies and other remembrances of that time have been taking place across the country in the past year bringing the lessons of that struggle alive.

There has been a real attempt in some areas to build cross union solidarity. Lunch time meetings have been taking place with rank and file teachers going into both public sector and industrial workplaces outlining the issues of the fight and building support.

Their campaign has been putting the needs of students front and centre, and has garnered active involvement from other workers and the broader community.

Nigel Bariffe , an elementary school teacher and president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations was quoted in the Toronto and York Region Labour Council newsletter saying. “The gap between the rich and the rest of us continues to grow under the policies of the Ford government, people are barely hanging on as he sweeps the rug from under us. The people in the communities I serve are worried that this government is leaving them behind, in the classroom, in the workplace and in society.” He called for solidarity with poor and working class communities of colour and links are being made with other struggles and fight backs.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation has called a series of one day strikes that have entirely shut down schools in different areas of the province. This tactic is continuing and many are calling for an extended strike which would have broad support.

Teachers in the United States have shown the way forward in West Virginia, Kentucky, Los Angeles, Chicago and other areas. They have found that strikes and strong community involvement have enabled them to make real advances. The ongoing walkouts in France coming after the year long  “gillet jaunes” weekend demonstrations  are showing the determination of workers to use the collective strength that is theirs.

We know that there has been terrible repression by dictators and right wing leaders such as Bolsonaro, Duterte, and Modi, but people have been also rising in so many areas around the world such as Sudan, Hong Kong, Chile. Fights are breaking out over pension cuts, increases in transit fares bringing people into the streets, saying enough is enough.

These fights give us confidence that the ravages of capitalism can be fought. The international working class is larger than it has ever been and it has the power to fight back and win. The teachers in Ontario are at the cutting edge of workers struggles in this province and a strong campaign of unions, students and community must be built to support them as they continue their walkouts.

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