March 8, 2018

International Women's Day 2018

All Out to Fight for Empowerment on International Women's Day!

Affirm Women's Rights!


Interviews with Working Women
Nathalie Soullière, Construction Worker and Member of Electrical
Workers' Union
Magali Giroux, Member of Montreal Local of Canadian Union of Postal Workers
Nathalie Savard, President, Union of Health Care Workers in
Northeastern Quebec
Manon Castonguay, President, USW Local 6486, CEZinc Refinery in

For Your Information
History of International Women's Day - Janice Murray

Nova Scotia Liberals Hand Over Decision-Making in Education to
Private Interests

Nova Scotians Speak Up - Kevin Corkill

Ontario Education Unions' Annual General Meetings 
Teachers and Education Workers Must Speak in Their Own
- Laura Chesnik
Anti-Social Aims Behind Program to Eliminate Local
- Enver Villamizar

University Workers Affirm Their Right to Say No!
York University Academic Workers on Strike
Carleton Workers Say No! to Attacks on Defined Benefit Pensions 

Interviews with Working Women

Nathalie Soullière, Construction Worker and
Member of Electrical Workers' Union

I am an electrician and a member of the electrical workers' union (FIPOE). I also have my welder's cards. I am a member of the FIPOE's Women's Committee that meets a few times a year to discuss various issues, mostly those faced by women. Our job is to provide resources and make them aware of the resources that exist to help them. Some women have difficulty getting accepted into their workplace. There are employers who do not want them. The committee did a survey of women workers to find out their expectations for the committee. Many told us they can't get work, that not all employers are interested in hiring a women. Either they are not hired, or are not called back. In the construction industry, when the job is finished, it's "bye-bye, go home."

A major problem, and it's not just a problem for women, is work-family balance. It is not easy for women who are single parents and for men who are in the same situation, with the hours we do. For example, tomorrow morning I start working at 6:30 am in Montreal and I live 45 minutes from my place of work. There is no daycare open at this time. I'm fine because my daughters are old enough to be independent, but for single parents with preschool children, that's a big problem. The construction industry is not always well-suited to these conditions.

I think we need to continue to increase the number of women in construction, but we have to make sure they have the training and the knowledge they require.

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Magali Giroux, Member of Montreal Local of
Canadian Union of Postal Workers

March 8 is an important and relevant day because it's a time to remember. Yes, we have come far and there are women who have really struggled, but there is still a long way to go. There is still a big wage and social gap.

If we look at the postal sector, it is still mostly men who are mail carriers, even though things are changing. A pay equity fight is currently being waged today, in 2018! Rural and suburban mail carriers, a predominantly female group, earn 30 per cent less than urban mail carriers, who are mostly men. We still have a problem. We have a problem in our union bodies, which are mostly men. There are family constraints -- we have children, a family. We still carry a heavy load, the mental load, the school meetings, family health, the purchase of clothes -- winter, summer, autumn; dentist and doctor's appointments, etc.

There are efforts in the union to facilitate women's participation. Training is done on weekends to make it more accessible. Women can come with their children -- daycare is provided by the union, or they pay for childcare. These are gains. At meetings, children are welcome. When we see that women want to get involved, we can help and encourage them and help them navigate it.

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Nathalie Savard, President, Union of
Health Care Workers in Northeastern Quebec 

The majority of our members, 90 per cent, who are nurses, nursing assistants and respiratory therapists, are women. With what we are currently facing in the health care sector our conditions are not easy, sick days, overtime, the difficulties of balancing work, family and studies, so celebrating March 8 has meaning. We have women who fought before us for women's rights. As women we have a fight to wage in terms of our working conditions, at the level of public services, and with all that is happening with the denunciation of abuses, March 8 this year takes on an even wider meaning.

We are seeing things such as the denunciation of sexual abuse, the reporting of abuses in our working conditions and we have to be there and fight as much as needed. We must defend our living and working conditions and be present in society, especially for the defence of living conditions in the regions. When we talk about the women we represent, it is inspiring to see how they care for their families, how they care for the health of patients in our regions, how they care that they should have access to good services near where they live. We are also active with community organizations so that women's associations, for example, continue to have the necessary budgets to do their work with people in difficulty.

As far as we are concerned, what makes our people sick is the organization of work, the overtime, the deficiency of the organization of work -- all these changes that have been made by a Minister in his office alone, without any knowledge of the reality facing the people on the ground. In the face of these problems disciplinary measures do not solve anything.

We have people who wore black shirts and put their employee number on the back in protest. There was nothing else written on the shirt. The employer advised them that the patients were afraid of their shirts. They wanted to discipline them. We have people in James Bay who have had their job titles removed and were given another title to save money in the budget. They are asked to do the same tasks for less pay. When they refuse, saying that it no longer part of their job, they have meetings with the employer for insubordination and disciplinary action is taken against them. It is a reign of terror. It just aggravates the problems.

All this is being raised this year on March 8.

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Manon Castonguay, President, USW Local 6486, CEZinc Refinery in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield 

Striking CEZinc workers rally outside company shareholders meeting in Toronto, April 28, 2017.

My message on the occasion of March 8, is that anything is possible. There is no barrier that women cannot cross. As far as I'm concerned, I started working at the refinery in 1997 and was the first woman to work there. Now there are 18 women out of a total of 368 workers. I am also the first woman president of the local. It is important to open doors for women in non-traditional occupations. These are jobs that are often well paid. There is talk of achieving women's financial independence, but often single mothers are forced to work two or three jobs to support their families. If they work in a non-traditional environment, often they will be able to achieve the same goal with one job. I find very sad the situation of single mothers who do not have financial independence, who face a battle every month to get food on the table and pay the rent. Often the jobs are precarious, part-time jobs. Women end up with 20 hours a week and they do not know their work schedule in advance. This should not happen in this day and age. Women must have a job that meets their needs because that is what they deserve.

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For Your Information

History of International Women's Day

Historic site in Copenhagen, Denmark where women from around the world gathered for the Second International Conference of Socialist Women in 1910 and passed the resolution
establishing International Women's Day.

In 1910, a resolution was passed by the Second International Conference of Socialist Women, held in Copenhagen, Denmark, establishing International Women's Day. The resolution was unanimously adopted by the more than 100 women delegates from 17 countries attending, among whom were the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament. The resolution was put forward by German communist Clara Zetkin who had first proposed the idea of an annual demonstration in support of working women and women's rights at the First International Conference of Socialist Women held in Stuttgart, Germany in 1907.

This Second International Conference reiterated the principles adopted at the First International Conference of Socialist Women on the question of women's suffrage. These principles established the framework for the resolution to establish an International Women's Day that focused on the question of women's political rights.

The document states in part:

German communist Clara Zetkin (1857-1933), initially proposed International Women's Day in 1910. She was active in the Social Democratic Party of Germany until 1916, when she co-founded the Spartacus League of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany. In 1919 she joined the Communist Party of Germany, which she represented in
the Reichstag from 1920-1933.

"The socialist woman's movement of all countries repudiates the limited Woman's Suffrage as a falsification of and insult to the principle of the political equality of the female sex. It fights for the only living concrete expression of this principle: the universal woman's suffrage which is open to all adults and bound by no conditions of property, payment of taxes, or degrees of education or any other qualifications, which exclude members of the working class from the enjoyment of the right. They carry on their struggle not in alliance with the bourgeois Women's Righters, but in alliance with the Socialist Parties, and these fight for Woman's Suffrage as one of the demands which from the point of view of principle and practice is most important for the democratization of the suffrage."

Stating that the socialist parties in all countries are "bound to fight with energy for the introduction of Woman's Suffrage" it says that the socialist women's movement must take part in the struggles organized by the socialist parties for the democratization of the suffrage, while at the same time ensuring that within this fight the "question of the Universal Woman Suffrage is insisted upon with due regard to its importance of principle and practice."

The resolution to establish International Women's Day states,

"In order to forward political enfranchisement of women it is the duty of the Socialist women of all countries to agitate according to the above-named principles indefatigably among the labouring masses; enlighten them by discourses and literature about the social necessity and importance of the political emancipation of the female sex and use therefore every opportunity of doing so. For that propaganda they have to make the most especially of elections to all sorts of political and public bodies."

The delegates resolved,

"In agreement with the class-conscious political and trade organizations of the proletariat in their country the socialist women of all nationalities have to organize a special Woman's Day, which in first line has to promote Women Suffrage propaganda. This demand must be discussed in connection with the whole women's question according to the socialist conception of social things."

A "Woman's Day" had been organized the previous year in the United States, on the last Sunday in February 1909, by the National Women's Committee of the American Socialist Party, marked by demonstrations for women's rights. Women's suffrage along with the rights of women workers, particularly in the garment trade, were the focus of these demonstrations. This Woman's Day honoured the thousands of women involved in the numerous labour strikes in the first years of the twentieth century in many cities, including Montreal, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. This was a period when women entered the labour force in their thousands and alongside working men fought to organize collectively and to improve their brutal conditions of work.

Later in 1909, needle-trade workers in New York City -- 80 per cent of whom were women -- walked off their jobs and marched and rallied for union rights, decent wages and working conditions in the "Uprising of 20,000." The work stoppage was reportedly referred to as the "women's movement strike" and continued from November 22, 1909 to February 15, 1910. The Women's Trade Union League provided bail money for arrested strikers and large sums for strike funds during the work stoppage.

Early Celebrations of International Women's Day

March 19, 1911 was the date set for the first International Women's Day by the Second International Conference of Socialist Women and, implementing their resolution, rallies held in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on that day were attended by more than one million women and men. "The vote for women will unite our strength in the struggle for socialism" was the call of these rallies. In addition to their demand for the right to elect and be elected, they demanded the right to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job. A woman socialist wrote at that time:

"The first International Women's Day took place in 1911. Its success exceeded all expectation. Germany and Austria on Working Women's Day was one seething, trembling sea of women. Meetings were organized everywhere -- in the small towns and even in the villages halls were packed so full that they had to ask male workers to give up their places for the women.

"This was certainly the first show of militancy by the working woman. Men stayed at home with their children for a change, and their wives, the captive housewives, went to meetings. During the largest street demonstrations, in which 30,000 were taking part, the police decided to remove the demonstrators' banners: the women workers made a stand. In the scuffle that followed, bloodshed was averted only with the help of the socialist deputies in Parliament."

The following year, women in France, the Netherlands and Sweden joined in actions marking International Women's Day. In the period leading up to the declaration of World War I, the celebration of International Women's Day opposed imperialist war and expressed solidarity between working women of different lands in opposition to the national chauvinist hysteria of the ruling circles. For example, in Europe International Women's Day was an occasion when speakers from one country would be sent to another to deliver greetings.

Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February 1913 (on the Julian calendar, which corresponded to March 8 on the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere), under conditions of brutal Tsarist reaction. There was no possibility of women organizing open demonstrations but, led by communist women, they found ways to celebrate the day. Articles on International Women's Day were published in the two legal workers' newspapers of the time, including greetings from Clara Zetkin and others.

An essay written in 1920 by a woman communist activist at that time described the 1913 celebration:

"In those bleak years meetings were forbidden. But in Petrograd, at the Kalashaikovsky Exchange, those women workers who belonged to the Party organized a public forum on 'The Woman Question.' Entrance was five kopecks. This was an illegal meeting but the hall was absolutely packed. Members of the Party spoke. But this animated 'closed' meeting had hardly finished when the police, alarmed at such proceedings, intervened and arrested many of the speakers.

"It was of great significance for the workers of the world that the women of Russia, who lived under Tsarist repression, should join in and somehow manage to acknowledge with actions International Women's Day. This was a welcome sign that Russia was waking up and the Tsarist prisons and gallows were powerless to kill the workers' spirit of struggle and protest."

Women in Russia continued to celebrate International Women's Day in various ways over the ensuing years. Many involved in organizing landed themselves in Tsarist prisons as the slogan "for the working women's vote" had become an open call for the overthrow of the Tsarist autocracy.

The first issue of "The Woman Worker" (Rabotnitsa), a journal for working class women, was published in 1914. That same year, the Bolshevik Central Committee decided to create a special committee to organize meetings for International Women's Day. These meetings were held in the factories and public places to discuss issues related to women's oppression and to elect representatives from those who had participated in these discussions and the resulting proposals to work on the new committee.

International Women's Day 1917 in Russia

In Russia, International Women's Day 1917 was a time of intense struggle against the Tsarist regime. Workers, including women workers in textile and metal working industries, were on strike in the capital city and opposition to Russia's participation in the imperialist war raging in Europe was growing. On March 8 (February 23 on the Julian calendar), women in their thousands poured onto the streets of St. Petersburg in a strike for bread and peace. The women factory workers, joined by wives of soldiers and other women, demanded, "Bread for our children" and "The return of our husbands from the trenches." This day marked the beginning of the February Revolution, which led to the abdication of the Tsar and the establishment of a provisional government.

The provisional government made the franchise universal, and recognized equal rights for women. Following the October 1917 Revolution, the Bolshevik government implemented more advanced legislation, guaranteeing in the workplaces the right of women to directly participate in social and political activity, eliminating all formal and concrete obstacles which previously had meant the subordination of their social and political activity and their subservience to men. New legislation on maternity and health insurance was proposed and approved in December 1917. A public insurance fund was created, with no deductions from workers wages, that benefited both women workers and male workers' wives. It meant that women were now treated second to none as neither they nor their children were dependent on spouses and fathers for their well-being.

After 1917

March 8 as International Women's Day became official in 1921 when Bulgarian women attending the International Women's Secretariat of the Communist International proposed a motion that it be uniformly celebrated around the world on this day. March 8 was chosen to honour the role played by the Russian women in the revolution in their country, and through their actions, in the struggle of women for their emancipation internationally.

The first IWD rally in Australia was held in 1928. It was organized by the communist women there and demanded an eight hour day, equal pay for equal work, paid annual leave and a living wage for the unemployed.

Spanish women demonstrated against the fascist forces of Gen. Francisco Franco to mark International Women's Day in 1937. Italian women marked IWD 1943 with militant protests against fascist dictator Benito Mussolini for sending their sons to die in World War II.

In this way, since 1917, International Women's Day has been both a day of celebration of women's fight for their empowerment and a day to militantly affirm the opposition of women to imperialist war and aggression. Its spirit has always been that to win the rights of women and the fight for security and peace, women must put themselves in the front ranks of the fight and of governments which represent these demands.

(Reproduced from TML Daily, 2010)

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Nova Scotia Liberals Hand Over Decision-Making
in Education to Private Interests

Nova Scotians Speak Up

The Nova Scotia Liberal government is using Bill 72, the Education Reform Act, to legalize turning education over to private interests and by doing so destroying existing arrangements including the right of teachers and education workers, organized into unions, to negotiate their wages and conditions of work. The McNeil government is focused on imposing arbitrariness in decision-making and destroying prior arrangements on conditions of employment and the role of community members in public education. The government is pushing these changes without the say or consent of those directly engaged in education or generally from the people it purports to govern. Nova Scotians are persisting in speaking up against this and fighting for their rights and the right of the polity to public education.

Bill 72 was sent to the Law Amendments Committee after second reading on March 2. On March 5, the committee heard interventions from more than 60 people condemning the bill. Teachers, counsellors, parents and union representatives of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU), Nova Scotia General and Government Employees Union and the Canadian Union of Public Employees all said No! to the bill. They called on the McNeil Liberals to halt their imposition of this bill to so-call reform the Nova Scotia education system, a bill which they insist ignores the concerns of all those who work in education.

Bill 72 imposes numerous recommendations made by Dr. Avis Glaze, the CEO of Edu-Quest International Inc., a private education company headquartered in Delta, BC. The McNeil Liberals commissioned this private enterprise to deliver a report with instructions to change the structure of the education system in Nova Scotia. To add insult to injury, they have consistently ignored, some say snubbed, the views and proposals of those who work in the Nova Scotia education system.

One of the main proposals accepted in Bill 72 is the removal of principals, vice-principals and administrators from the NSTU, a measure that has nothing to do with improving public education with increased investments. NSTU President Liette Doucet commented, "This is punishment, pure and simple, for the strong role that principals, vice-principals and administrators have played in the NSTU since its inception, up to and including work-to-rule last year and the first province-wide strike of the NSTU."

Another important measure is the dissolution of the elected school boards and their reorganization as "regional education centres." At first glance this move looks like posturing, making it appear as if something decisive is being done which is favourable. In fact power over the education system is being centralized in the hands of the provincial cabinet which is an executive power. The move sets precedents in terms of depriving the teachers and workers of the right to determine their working conditions and the right of local community members to be a part of determining the direction of the education system and choosing those whom they would like to lead.

A most obnoxious aspect of the proposed legislation is continuous declarations of imposing the Glaze recommendations, as though they are a gospel from on high. Minister Zach Churchill could not reiterate his veneration enough while introducing the legislation at Province House: "As Dr. Glaze told us to do.... [We will be] achieving goals and objectives Dr. Glaze set out for us.... Dr. Glaze has challenged us to take a hard look ... and move forward in a way that is challenging and that is disruptive to the status quo."

One has to wonder how Dr. Glaze gained so much influence over the government of Nova Scotia. Does she live in Nova Scotia, work in Nova Scotia, work in the education system in Nova Scotia? No, she does not. How is it that this private corporation has bent the ear of the McNeil Liberals so much so that they are implementing the CEO's "recommendations" without regard for the well-known concerns of the people of Nova Scotia? Good ideas or bad, this government is so set on imposing the private control of education that it has lost all sense of shame. It can no longer be entrusted with the duty to the people to recognize the rights of workers to determine their conditions of work, the right to collective bargaining and the right of Nova Scotians to have a say over the education system of their children and youth.

Those involved in education here want to develop it and make it better. To ignore the need of the polity to lay the claims which they must is unacceptable. The opposition to Bill 72 is significant. It expresses the people's defiance which will give them the experience they need to go further.

It shows those private interests are determined to enforce their dictate over every conceivable aspect of public policy, including education, through their grip on the state apparatus in order to ensure that every social measure taken by the government will benefit their private gain.

Similarly, the government’s apparent desire for retribution shows that the private interests that control the state will never reconcile themselves to any concession won by working people if it means even the slightest infringement on what they consider to be their absolute right to plunder the public treasury and ensure the payment of the public debt. When some advance is made, the private interests do not concede that the matter has gone beyond their control. Instead, they resolve to renew the battle to impose their dictate over state policy at the next available opportunity and thereby restore their dominance over state fiscal policy so that every measure serves their maximum benefit.

Criminalizing workers and unions for upholding rights is a pyrrhic victory. So long as the workers find ways to resist, it cannot succeed. No government which rules without the consent of the governed can succeed for long. Shame on the Liberals! Nova Scotians will continue to speak out!

Kevin Corkill can be reached through

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Annual General Meetings of Provincial Education Unions in Ontario

Teachers and Education Workers
Must Speak in Their Own Name

From March 9-12 the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) will each meet for their annual provincial meetings in Toronto.

Together the two unions represent approximately 105,000 teachers and education workers who provide education in cities, towns and villages across Ontario. OECTA represents teachers in the English Catholic school boards, while OSSTF represents teachers and others working in nearly all fields, from kindergarten to adult education, in public and Catholic English and French school boards, in addition to staff at private schools and universities.

On the minds of many delegates is the June 7 Ontario elections. It is truly absurd that leaders of the three parties in the legislature have been invited, not to listen to delegates and what they think, but to speak to delegates in at least one of the meetings. A feature of the unrepresentative political process is that it reduces those who know the actual problems and how to resolve them to the role of spectators, who are supposed to chose a representative to act in their name. This representative in fact implements a dictate which comes from private interests but teachers and education workers, and all members of the polity, get to "listen" and, come the election, they are "free" to "chose" the one whose party is most convincing at saying it cares about their concerns.

Each party has defined "the issues" for the electorate which is supposed to "choose" who to vote for despite having no role in establishing or coming up with these so-called election issues. Teachers and education workers, nurses, industrial workers and others who create all the value of the society through their work are being told they must fit their demands into the various "issues" defined by the marketing firms the parties that make up the cartel party system have hired to direct their campaigns. If we cannot do that, we are told that our "issues" are not those which the party can "win" with or that "stakeholders" -- by which they mean private interests -- have identified. The framework of all the parties vying for power is that the platform and various "issues" they define must fit within the overall neo-liberal austerity agenda which considers workers as a "cost" and paying the rich as the aim of the society -- like it or not. This direction is deemed unassailable.

Teachers and education workers in Ontario and across Canada have risen as a mighty force to say No! to attacks on our wages and working conditions because we know they are also students' learning conditions.

We cannot accept that day in and day out we identify problems and what we need to do our job properly -- whether it is the need for real caps on class sizes, proper staffing levels for students with special needs, professional mental health and other services -- but have no say or control to implement the changes that are required. How to deal with these issues is not the problem in the 21st century. The problem is political -- the working people need to renew the political process so that decision-making cannot be repeatedly hijacked by cartel parties and their marketing machines and the private interests who are dictating what can and cannot take place. Solving this problem is where we need to focus our energies. No more cap in hand! No more pleading with governments to do the right thing. We can speak in our own name!

Laura Chesnik is an elementary teacher from Windsor, Ontario.

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Anti-Social Aims Behind Program
to Eliminate Local Decision-Making

The annual meetings of OSSTF and OECTA take place approximately one year after the Ontario government amended the provincial bargaining legislation it imposed on teachers and education workers in K-12 education, permitting the extension of existing provincial agreements in order to eliminate local bargaining. These extended collective agreements expire August 31, 2019.

A major aim of the Ontario Liberal government and the ruling elite they represent has been to step-by-step eliminate the say of teachers and education workers as well as other public sector workers over their wages and working conditions at the local level, to facilitate the direct imposition of their austerity agenda on these workers. Although this came to a head in 2012 with Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, this direction has not been abandoned by the ruling elite.

How to affirm the right to decide the direction of the education system in Ontario is a challenge facing teachers and education workers. Affirming this right to a say is the condition for affirming the right of the youth to an education that serves a modern nation-building project for Canada.

Loss of Local Bargaining

The effective elimination of meaningful local bargaining has now taken place in two rounds of K-12 bargaining in the last six years, eliminating the say of locally elected officials in both the unions and the school boards. School boards administer the education system and set policy on how schools run which significantly affects those who provide education and receive it. Without local negotiations, the problems which arise as a result of the overall neo-liberal direction being imposed in education only get worse and arbitrariness on the part of local school boards becomes more common.

More Violations of the Right to Strike

In the last round of negotiations between the Ontario colleges and their faculty which led to a strike, the government gave a green light to the colleges to refuse to negotiate with faculty by hinting that it would order faculty back to work if no agreement was reached.  That is what eventually took place with the government forcing a contract on the faculty by imposing binding arbitration, eliminating the faculty's right to say No! with strike action. This has become the latest method by which the government violates the right to strike after having faced mass resistance to its dictate with Bill 115.

Anti-Social Aims Continue

The striving of teachers and education workers as well as elected boards which oversee education at the local level to exercise decision-making power is seen by the ruling elite as an impediment to imposing neo-liberal reforms. This was clearly outlined in the roadmap for reform of public services commissioned by the Ontario government in 2011. At that time the government appointed former TD Banker Don Drummond and an advisory council to decide how to restructure public services to serve the rich. The outcome of this was the Drummond Report which amongst many other changes advised the government to require provincial bargaining in K-12 education in order to exercise greater power over public spending in education, i.e. workers' wages and working conditions. In the past, provincial negotiations had been entered into voluntarily following the Harris government's reforms which included eliminating the ability of local school boards to raise their own taxes to fund education.

The elimination of local decision-making seeks to more efficiently remove funds from public education to pay the private interests that hold the public debt. This is done through attacking the wages and working conditions of those who provide public education, while at the same time reforming what is taught, how it is taught and how it is funded to more directly serve the demands of the biggest global monopolies for a highly skilled workforce to serve their narrow interests rather than nation-building. In September of 2017 for example, the Ontario government announced a "modernization" of Ontario's school system to emphasize "equity" and "transferable skills," about which little else has been said. Those who the government quotes as supporting this modernization include high-tech cloud computing giant IBM. It appears as if the review will begin in all earnest following the provincial election. This "modernization" comes as Ontario is positioning itself as a hub for high-tech companies. A big question is how can the education system be truly "modernized" without the empowerment of those who provide education to have a say over the direction of education and the economy as a whole?

The government has also sought in recent years to place ever larger amounts of money from workers' pension and benefit funds under its control or sway so they can be used to fund various pay-the-rich schemes. The Wynne government has, for example, changed its accounting practices to include the Ontario Teachers' Pension Fund, the largest public pension fund in North America, as a government asset despite the government not having control over the fund. There has not been any serious explanation from the government as to why it has done this and who it serves. Such accounting practices have resulted in the Ontario Legislature's Auditor General indicating that the government's accounts will soon become unreliable.

As another example, in previous provincial negotiations the Ontario government negotiated a pooling of all locally administered benefit funds from school boards across the province into a massive provincial Employee Life and Health Trust. It is overseen by a board with members appointed by the various provincial education unions, the government and the provincial trustees' bodies. Once selected, board members are deemed to represent the Trust and are required by its rules to operate within a framework which views members and their wellbeing as a cost while the Trust's aim being to maximize returns on investments of its substantial funds. Through this arrangement, although the impression is that the unions and by extension members "have a say" over the direction of the Trust, in fact those appointed represent the Trust rather than the provincial unions, let alone the members. By placing the Trust partially under its control, the Ontario government also puts itself in the position of directing how the fund's assets are used and invested. What plans they have for these funds which are required to provide benefits to those who provide education has not been discussed openly.

While local decision-making over workers' wages and working conditions is being curtailed, local school boards are being encouraged and in some cases required to privatize the delivery of publicly-funded education under their jurisdiction to make up for a lack of investments from the government.

In the name of "internationalizing" Ontario's education system for example, school boards are becoming very competitive in recruiting international students through private agencies as a source of revenue. This now expands into the K-12 sector the emphasis on international student recruitment to offset cuts to education that began under the Harris government and continued under McGuinty. In addition, more and more emphasis is being placed on bringing in private companies that provide platforms for delivering online education as a means to eliminate the human factor in education and "do more with less" rather than to improve the quality of education and have technology serve the human factor. Once again this direction is not being taken by involving those who are to provide the education in deciding what is required. Instead it is dictated from the Ontario government and then implemented by school boards.

These reforms result in definite problems in the education system as more and more decision-making by locally-elected officials is eliminated and arrangements are made without the participation and the right to say No! of those who will be affected by the decisions and who uphold the best interests of the students. The consequences of this direction being imposed in K-12 education are on the minds of delegates attending the upcoming provincial meetings and are reflected in some of the motions put forward by local unions especially as concerns the problems arising from moving to a province wide benefits plan as well as the way the government has used provincial bargaining to override provisions in local collective agreements which upheld higher standards. There are also concerns being raised about how technology should be used in education.

These concerns reflect teachers' and education workers' lack of say over their working conditions and underscore the importance for them to affirm their right to decide their wages and working conditions as they are students' learning conditions.

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Strikes at Ontario Universities

York University Academic Workers on Strike

Rally at York University, March 5, 2018.

On March 5, teaching assistants, graduate assistants and part-time faculty at York University, members of Local 3903 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), began strike action after overwhelmingly rejecting York University's final offer.

CUPE 3903 represents nearly 3,000 contract faculty, teaching assistants, graduate assistants and research assistants at York University within three separate units. Unit 1 (Graduate Students with Teaching Contracts, mostly Teaching Assistants), Unit 2 (Contract Faculty) and Unit 3 (Graduate Assistants). All three have been attempting to negotiate a collective agreement with York for several months.

In mass meetings, members of all three units voted a resounding No! to permitting York's "final offer"' to even go to a ratification vote. "Our members have loudly and clearly given York University Administration the same message we have been telling for months -- namely that the positions they were advancing at the bargaining table were unacceptable," said Devin Lefebvre, chair of CUPE 3903.

"York could have listened to what we've been telling them and actually negotiated. Instead, they chose to hold to positions they knew were unacceptable to the bargaining committee and the membership," Lefebvre said.

He told CBC there were three outstanding issues the union wanted to see addressed: job security for contract faculty, accessibility and equity in the workplace, and stable and predictable graduate studies funding.

Revealing that the stand of Ontario College faculty for stable working lives is also an issue in the Universities Maija Duncan, communications officer for the union, said that contract faculty sometimes learn just weeks or days ahead if they will be teaching in the upcoming semester. "A lot of people here have been teaching at York for five, 10, 20 years, and they still need to reapply for their jobs every semester," she said.

"We are deeply concerned that the administration insists that it will be 'business as usual' and will not be cancelling classes," said Devin Lefebvre. Administration needs to be honest with students -- our members are responsible for delivering 60 per cent of the course work on campus, and it will not be business as usual [...]."

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Carleton Workers Say No! to Attacks on
Defined Benefit Pensions

Eight hundred administrative, technical, and library staff at Carleton University began strike action on March 5 to defend their defined benefit pension plans. The union points out that despite administration's claims to the contrary, they are demanding the deletion of key language that protects members from changes to pension provisions that may be decided without the agreement of the union. The university has attempted to paint the union as requesting "special treatment" in the pension plan based on its refusal to accept the university's changes to the language pertaining to its bargaining unit within the larger plan for all university employees. However, the union has responded pointing out that, in fact, the protections from changes to their defined benefit pension plan they are defending is a benefit for everyone under the Plan and furthermore that having different language for different groups in a joint pension plan happens at other institutions.

The university has been spreading disinformation about the union's demands, presenting them as an effort to take control of the pension plan. In response, the union has explained why it is adamantly defending the pension plan from arbitrary changes:

"Over the past 15 years, Carleton has implemented a series of very serious cuts to the benefit levels in the pension plan, including the elimination of an early retirement bridge, an increase to the penalty for retiring early, and  -- most dramatically -- removing the protection in the plan against post-retirement benefit reduction [the "non-reduction guarantee," which no other Ontario university with a hybrid plan has removed].

"But it gets worse. In 2010, the University decided to start requiring plan members to pay a major share of the employer's pension contribution obligation -- worth about 2 per cent of payroll. This change actually violated the CUPE 2424 collective agreement and a grievance was filed in 2010. The resolution of that grievance in 2015 was only a temporary measure -- a Letter of Understanding that expired in 2017 with our collective agreement. The Employer then brought a proposal into collective bargaining to remove the contract language that protects our pension contribution rate from further changes without the Union's consent. This is clearly a concession -- this language protecting our contribution rates has been in our collective agreement for more than 40 years and the Employer has given no good reason for removing it. As we did in resolving the grievance, the Union has again offered to accept a continuation of the 2011 rate increase until its expiry in 2021 -- but the Employer has rejected this, and insisted that our members should no longer have this protection in our contract."

Workers' Forum extends its full support to the striking workers at Carleton and calls on everyone to help block the university's attempts to divide the various collectives of workers at the university for purposes of imposing its anti-social restructuring of their pension plan.

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