Saying that “we all need to tighten our belts” due to budget deficits, McGuinty’s Liberals turned their austerity guns on teachers with Bill 115. This bill has very little to do with money: teachers unions were already prepared to accept a wage freeze. Rather, it is a frontal assault on trade union rights. On January 1, a contract was imposed on teachers and they have been stripped of their right to strike.
Despite almost daily vilification in the mainstream media and by politicians, support for teachers remains high among the general public. Students held dozens of rallies and walkouts in the fall to support teachers. In Hamilton, parents and community members took their own initiative to picket schools in support of teachers.
Prior to January 1, teachers took strike votes despite the threat of Bill115, and some teachers refused to bargain under the draconian bill. Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) led the way with resistance, holding one-day strikes around the province in December.
Unfortunately, there was no unified strategy among the unions representing workers affected by this legislation. CUPE 4400, representing teacher assistants and support workers, settled two days before the December 31 deadline leaving only the elementary and secondary teachers (OSSTF) fighting the bill. Planned strikes following the imposed contract by both EFTO and OSSTF were called off at the last minute when the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled them illegal.
Anger at the imposed contracts—and at the union leadership for not following through with planned action—has not gone away. It boiled over on January 16 when teachers poured onto Bay street in front of the Ministry of Education.
We are in the fight of our lives to defend the hard-won gains of the last 50 years. The labour movement coming together for the January 26 Rally for Rights and Democracy is an important opportunity to raise our collective voice. We will need the strength and solidarity of the whole labour movement to push back the attack.