February 12, 2020

Growing Opposition to Anti-Social Offensive in Ontario

Oppose Attempt to Blame Teachers for Problems of Education System

Mass picket in solidarity with Ontario teachers and education workers fills both sides of the street outside Ministry of Education, February 6, 2020.

• February 21 Province-wide Strike: Unite in Action with Elementary and Secondary Educators
• Toronto Parents Speak for Themselves in Defence of Public Education
"They Can't Run the Schools Without Us" Child and Youth Workers
- Education Is a Right Podcast
"Relentless Rally" Organized by Families with Children on the
Autism Spectrum

Mobilize for the February 22 PC Policy Convention in Niagara! 

Quebec Public Sector Workers Fight for Their Rights and the Rights of All
Government Disinformation to Justify Refusal to Negotiate with Workers
Interview, Sylvain Mallette, President, Autonomous Teachers' Federation

Lockout at Co-op Refinery in Regina
Denounce the Criminalization of Co-op Refinery Workers

Growing Opposition to Anti-Social Offensive in Ontario

Oppose Attempt to Blame Teachers for
Problems of Education System

Actions of teachers and education workers, parents and entire families continue to grow in Ontario to express their opposition to the direction the Ford government is taking in Ontario of cuts to public education and of privatization in particular.

At this point, all teachers in the publicly funded K-12 education system in all boards are engaged in various levels of strikes and work-to-rule actions to express their No! On February 13, the province's French as a first language teachers in both the public and Catholic French systems, organized into the Association des enseignantes et enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) will carry out a one day province-wide strike. They are joined by a number of districts of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) and the Elementary Teachers' Federation (ETFO). ETFO is now holding one province-wide strike action and one rotating strike action each week, meaning all their members are on full strike two days per week. On Friday, February 21, all four teachers' unions -- the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA), ETFO, OSSTF and AEFO -- will hold a one-day strike.

Instead of heeding the opposition, the Ford government is now attempting to incite the public against education workers by claiming that seniority in hiring decisions of new teachers harms quality teaching while arbitrariness and nepotism in hiring would somehow improve the system. Like its other attempts, it is clear that the Ford government is intent on painting the organization of education workers into unions, which can defend their rights, as the problem in education, rather than the reality which is that it is a main factor for the defence of the quality of education. It shows that one of the main fights at this time is over the right of those who provide public services to have a say over their wages and working conditions and the services which they provide. For the Ford government, it is the ruling elite who should make all the decisions while the workers should just be subject to the whims of those whose job is to implement an anti-social direction for public services. It is on this point that the Ford government has not been able to convince anyone, as the general public is clear that those who provide the services are the ones who stand for their improvement.

Photos of February 3-11 Actions

Ottawa Catholic School Board

Durham District School Board

Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board

Toronto District School Board

Toronto Catholic School Board

Peel District School Board

Niagara District School Board

Greater Essex County District School Board

Lakehead District School Board

(Photos: F. Hahn, M. Hardy, OSSTF Dist 12, OECTA, R. Reid, J. Thom, TECT, M. Bartlett, L. Kaur, A. Perrier, M. Spagnuola, Sparling)

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February 21 Province-wide Strike:
Unite in Action with Elementary and
Secondary Educators

On Friday, February 21, elementary and secondary teachers and education workers represented by the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF/FEESO) will all walk out together to stand up to the Ontario government's attacks on public education.

According to a joint press release from the affiliates, "this is the first time since the political protest of 1997 that teachers and education workers from Ontario's main education affiliates will all be out of their classrooms on the same day. Nearly 200,000 teachers and education workers will strike across 72 school boards, affecting nearly 5,000 schools across the province in protest of the government funding cuts to education."

"It is clear to all four Ontario education unions and our members that the Ford government and Education Minister Lecce care nothing about students or educators and everything about taking money out of the publicly funded education system," says AEFO President Rémi Sabourin. "To achieve their cuts, they have knowingly thrown students, families, educators and the system into chaos."

"We are already seeing the effects of this government's reckless education cuts," says OECTA President Liz Stuart. "The Ford government is reducing supports for students with special education needs and mental health issues. It is squeezing students into overcrowded classes and forcing high school students to take e-learning courses. If we allow the government to implement its plan fully, thousands of teaching positions and tens of thousands of course options will be lost."

"Educators in every school board will not stay silent as the Ford government proceeds to decimate our publicly funded education system," says ETFO President Sam Hammond. "Our unions and members helped build Ontario's world-class education system. By not seriously addressing the issues critical to students and student learning, the Ford government has made a sham of contract talks over the last seven months."

"It is now evident that the Ford government's agenda is entirely ideological and not at all concerned with providing quality education," says OSSTF/FEESO President Harvey Bischof. "They are pulling resources out of the public education system and, with schemes like mandatory e-learning, laying the groundwork for private interests to profit from our students' education. We are heartened that so many parents are standing with us against the dismantling of Ontario's public education system."

Workers' Forum encourages all those who can to join this province-wide action and visit picket lines at school sites in their communities across Ontario to make it clear that the fight to affirm education as a right belongs to everyone.

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Toronto Parents Speak for Themselves in
Defence of Public Education

Coinciding with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s province-wide day-long strike, parents and elementary school students held a rally at Queen's Park on Tuesday, February 11, to publicly speak out against the anti-social cuts to public education in Ontario and to stand firmly with teachers and education workers.

The action was organized by Ontario Parents Against Cuts to Education, a network of concerned and active parents in Toronto to demand that the Ford Government stop speaking in their name in order to undermine the just struggle that Ontario teachers are waging to defend their conditions of work and the public education system.

Parents and students spoke at the rally and expressed their unequivocal support for teachers and the public education system. One woman with two children in elementary school pointed out that public opinion is with the teachers and as a parent she knows first hand the vital and important role that teachers play in Ontario to educate the young and prepare them for the future. She noted that it was unacceptable that the government is attacking the teachers and education workers in the name of parents and putting forth spurious claims about defending the public school system.

Another parent chastised the media for attempting to isolate the teachers and misrepresent their demands which are just and fair. Several grade 5 and grade 6 students took the mic to say why they had come to the rally, voicing their concern for their own education and that of future students in Ontario.

At the rally, Parents Against Cuts to Public Education circulated an open letter addressed to Premier Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce noting that they have been speaking to the media and at public events and through social media about "what parents want" and saying that parents are getting "impatient" with teachers and making other claims. The letter takes Ford and Lecce to task for these remarks pointing out that they have had "no significant dialogue" with Ontario parents and therefore cannot speak in their name. The letter also warns them that parents will not be "shut out of this conversation" where decisions "your government makes do not just impact student's academic futures -- they affect our children's physical and mental health." Many in attendance signed the letter.

The letter makes specific demands to immediately stop cuts to special education funding affecting the most at-need students; to reduce the number of students in each classroom to improve support for all students; and to hire more Education Assistants (EA) to provide more classroom support and management. The letter also calls for the government to make e-learning optional and not mandatory because it means less teacher support to students and paves the way for further privatization of public education. The letter also decries the loss of course options for secondary school students and the potential cuts to the one teacher, one early childhood educator (ECE) model kindergarten currently in place.

The letter also informs Ford and his Education Minister: "As parents in the public school system, we have witnessed the immeasurable impact an educator can have on a child's life. We value teachers, EAs, ECEs, and support staff, and are incredibly grateful they're fighting for our kids. A strike is inconvenient, but the alternative is far worse."

Parents have been organizing across the province in support of the striking teachers and education workers. The battle for public opinion on the question of public education in Ontario is raging. The parents are not taken in by the claims of the government that the changes it is trying to implement are in the interest of public education or their children. They are speaking from experience and with conviction, demanding the government listen to them rather than "speaking for them."

(Photos: WF)

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"They Can't Run the Schools Without Us"
Child and Youth Workers Speak

Posted below is Episode 26, Part 1 from the website edisaright.ca. It features an interview with two child and youth workers, Lisa and Richard, about the important work they do and what Ontario classrooms of today look like from their perspective.

To listen to or download the podcast click here.

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"Relentless Rally" Organized by Families with Children on the Autism Spectrum

On February 18, families of children on the autism spectrum and those on the spectrum themselves are holding a mass action at Queen's Park to oppose the Ford government's plan to destroy the existing needs-based system for determining funding for services for youth on the autism spectrum with a flat funding allotment that treats these youth as a statistic without any differences or specific needs. The action dubbed "Relentless" should be supported by all who are able, to show that the most vulnerable in the society will not be permitted to be isolated and left to fend for themselves.

Relentless: Part 2
Tuesday, February 18 -- 11:30 am-1:15 pm

Queen's Park, Toronto

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Mobilize for the February 22
PC Policy Convention in Niagara!

On February 21 and 22 the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario will hold its policy convention in Niagara Falls. Mobilization of working people from across Ontario has begun with busses being filled from all parts of the province. Everyone who is able to is encouraged to join the action to show with one voice the stand of the working people of Ontario against the anti-social offensive and for the rights of all.

The People Vs. Conservative Cuts Rally
Saturday, February 22 -- 10:30 am

Scotiabank Convention Centre
6815 Stanley Avenue, Niagara Falls
For bus information click here

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Quebec Public Sector Workers Fight for Their Rights and the Rights of All

Government Disinformation to Justify Refusal
to Negotiate with Workers

On February 3, Christian Dubé, Quebec's Minister Responsible for Government Administration and Treasury Board President, sent an open letter to the media regarding the renewal of the collective agreements of some 500,000 public sector workers. The letter bears the arrogant title "The priorities of Quebeckers at the heart of the negotiations."

Nowhere in the letter does one find even the slightest reference to the concerns and demands that public sector workers have been presenting, not only during this renewal of their collective agreements, but over the last 20 years. Workers and their unions have and continue to raise the alarm that public services are at a breaking point, as a result of untenable working conditions as well as the conditions for the delivery of services; teachers (see interview below) have been raising the issue of how they continue to suffer. The demands put forward by the workers and unions renewing their labour contracts are aimed at addressing the situation through an immediate and significant improvement in public sector working conditions and wages.

In an irresponsible and even criminal manner, the Quebec government continues to deny this state of affairs, replacing it with what it has defined as "the priorities of Quebeckers." According to the government, Quebeckers' priorities are their ability to pay, the conditions facing care attendants and new teachers which require improvement, and the need to overturn traditional negotiation methods by establishing government-controlled discussion forums in parallel with negotiations (or rather their absence) to which "additional sums" are to be allocated, according to the government's goodwill.

According to the Treasury Board President, this all emerges from the mandate given to the Coalition Avenir Québec during the October 2018 Quebec election, through which it was brought to power by garnering only 38.5 per cent of the registered vote, while 34 per cent of eligible voters did not even cast their ballot. Rather than political discussion on the problems facing Quebec society, that election saw an extreme level of sectarian attacks by the cartel parties against each other. The letter reads: "[...] the government was elected to make changes that meet the priorities of Quebeckers. [...] During the October 2018 election, Quebeckers clearly expressed their desire for change by breaking with almost half a century of alternating between the Liberal Party and the Parti Québécois. Voters expressed a desire that elected members be creative; to dare to explore new avenues to meet the important challenges facing us."

The Government of Quebec is creating a serious risk for workers and the public by seeking to perpetuate and worsen the crisis affecting social programs and public services. It is doing so in favour of the state dictate it represents as the party-in-power, in favour of its schemes to eliminate negotiations with workers, all in the service of private interests. We cannot accept that its sectarian interests supplant the efforts of public sector workers and their unions to make their voices heard and speak in their own name for the renewal of collective agreements.

Can the government explain to us who these "Quebeckers" are who would be examining the state of affairs of public services from the perspective of "their ability to pay," based on how neo-liberal governments decide on their budgets? Quebeckers are public sector workers, their families, and all those who use public services and depend on them during their lives. They are aware of the crisis affecting social programs and public services because for decades now they have been experiencing it and asking that it be resolved to the benefit of the workers and the services themselves. To achieve this, their voices and mass actions in defence of their claims are essential.

The Quebec government must back down and sign collective agreements which include wages and working and retirement conditions acceptable to public sector workers, the very people who are doing the work for us all.

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Interview, Sylvain Mallette, President,
Autonomous Teachers' Federation (FAE)

Workers' Forum: What are the main features of the offer from the Management Negotiating Committee that was presented to you at the end of 2019?

Sylvain Mallette: The concept which guided the employer in drafting its offer can be summed up in the following words: optimal use of the teaching staff. In our opinion, it is an expression of violence. The employer proposes to use us optimally, that is to say until we are exhausted, until we are out of breath.

It is a contemptuous and utilitarian look at the teaching profession. They want teachers to simply carry out orders. Teachers must do what they are told to do, as and when they are told to do it. At the same time, they are being held responsible for everything that goes wrong. They are being made responsible for academic success. They are given a role similar to that of a social worker, without giving them the means they need to accomplish this work.

There is a desire to deny what a collective agreement is. We are an organization which negotiates a labour contract with working conditions. Yes, we are concerned about educational success, and having good working conditions ensures better learning conditions, especially for the most vulnerable students. We have the right to have good working conditions. In this regard, the conditions under which they want us to work are unacceptable. I made it clear last December that the employer's offer cannot and will not constitute a basis for negotiation. For example, the employers want to give themselves the means to no longer respect the average and the maximum number of students per class. They want to be able to no longer take students from low income families into account when forming groups. Yet we know very well that living in a disadvantaged environment, with students who suffer poverty and their parents who suffer poverty, has colossal consequences on academic success, culture and equal opportunities.

According to the employer's offer, the teacher, in order to have access to resources and services, should demonstrate that he or she has tried everything before making a request. What does that mean except that the teacher will be pushed to the limit, that they will burn the teacher out completely, that he or she will be constantly in a position of weakness and that he or she will have to justify the call for services and resources. It is completely unacceptable. This is being done under the hoax of enhancing the profession, and yet the task is being individualized and the teacher is made responsible for everything, especially whatever goes wrong. The burden of academic success is put on the shoulders of the teacher. In other words, the teachers have to fend for themselves in the classroom, almost abandoned, having to meet the needs of all students, regardless of what those needs are and the existing level of resources and services.

In the employer's offer, there is also a desire to eliminate the subjects for which there must be consultation by management with the teachers and for which the teachers choose the appropriate consultation mode. This is going back 50 years. They talk about enhancing the profession but in fact our role is reduced to that of obeying orders.

This would only contribute to the suffering of teachers. The teaching profession is suffering and we are not going to negotiate the suffering of our teachers. This suffering stems from a staff shortage -- nearly 25 per cent of teachers leave the profession before the fifth year of practice. People no longer choose our profession. Early retirement is on the increase even if it causes a reduction in the amount of pension you get. The teachers become poorer during retirement when they take early retirement. Psychological distress is on the rise. The rates of short-term disability claims, two years or less, are skyrocketing. Fifty per cent of these cases are caused by psychological distress. The teachers can't take it anymore. They carry the weight of having to do more with less.

The employer's offer shows that the school authorities are envisaging educational networks and systems in line with the neo-liberal vision of the relationship of human beings with the state and public services, and of the relationship between humans themselves. We are in a market logic, where we do in the public sector what is being done in the private sector. We adopt "lean" approaches, production methods of private industry. It is very disturbing. In this logic, children from low income backgrounds are simply reduced to a category, of being a costly expense to the system. So children from those backgrounds are put into conditions that are much inferior to those of pupils from more privileged classes who have access to culture and services. Children from low income backgrounds are being trained, right at the end of their second year of secondary school, to occupy semi-skilled jobs. The public school as the system in which we wanted to create equal opportunities is being cast aside. Now the public school is placed in competition, not only with the private school but with itself, because it is accepted that certain public schools can select which pupils they will enrol. The people who drafted the employer's offer are no longer the guardians of the public school that we had given ourselves. They subscribe to the neo-liberal market and utilitarian vision of the public school network.

WF: What are the demands of the FAE in this context?

SM: We want to improve the daily lives of our members to ensure that our working conditions allow us to achieve our mission which is to educate students, especially students from low income disadvantaged backgrounds who, with their families, suffer poverty. It is with a humanist approach that we address the negotiations. By negotiating our working conditions, we also negotiate the learning conditions of our students. As teachers, we have the right to good working conditions and as citizens we are the guardians of the public school. If we accept the weakening of our conditions, we accept the weakening of the public school.

We also ask to be recognized as pedagogical experts who have the right to choose the best pedagogical approaches, assessment tools and methods of intervention with our students.

We also want to ensure that teachers have access to permanent jobs. It is part of recognizing who we are. It is not normal for teachers who are approaching retirement, some with 35 years of service, to still be working under precarious employment contracts. Teachers are being maintained in precariousness, and these are mainly women because women represent 73 per cent of the teaching profession.

We must also make sure that the schools form groups which take into account the difficulties which the pupils have -- all of the pupils. Those who teach groups with the greatest difficulties must have fewer students to respond to these realities. Or we must create classes for these students which does not mean withdrawing them from society but recognizing that in their educational path they need special help that we will give them, even if it costs more, to give them time to realize themselves as human beings.

These things must be said, but action must also be taken, which poses the problem of trade union mobilization and action. We must stand together and recognize the usefulness of trade union action which improves conditions for the whole of society. When we make gains, it uplifts those who do not have access to unionization, who have broken up work schedules, like all the women who must have two or three jobs and who live in precariousness.

The Autonomous Teachers' Federation (FAE) represents 45,000 teachers in Quebec's public schools. The nine unions affiliated with the FAE represent preschool, elementary, secondary, adult education and vocational training teachers in seven regions of Quebec.

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Lockout at Co-op Refinery in Regina

Denounce the Criminalization of
Co-op Refinery Workers

Co-op Refinery workers, members of Unifor  Local 594 rally at Saskatchewan legislature, January 30, 2020.

Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) locked out the workers at its refinery in Regina on December 5, two days after the workers voted to strike rather than accept the company's bargaining demand that the workers agree to a significant reduction in their pensions. The company had, in previous bargaining, committed to maintaining the defined benefits pension plan that had been agreed to in negotiations years ago.

The conditions for the company to continue operations in the event of a strike or lockout had been put in place weeks before the company's action, with the building of work camps to house replacement workers flown in to the refinery so as to render the workers' defence of their rights ineffectual.

Throughout the lockout FCL has received the full support of the state against the workers. The company was awarded an injunction requiring that picketers hold up trucks entering or leaving the refinery for no more than ten minutes. Late in January the Co-op workers were joined by hundreds of workers from other unions, as well as Unifor members from across the country, to mount an effective picket, erecting barricades and preventing movement into and out of the refinery. Several participants, including local and national officers of Unifor, were arrested in those mass actions.

Steelworkers join Co-op refinery workers on the picket line, February 1, 2020, one of many solidarity delegations received by the locked out workers.

Unifor workers and their supporters have also blocked movement into and out of the FCL fuel storage facility in Carseland, about 65 kilometres southeast of Calgary, erecting fences and restricting the access of vehicles into and out of the facility. This led to periodic fuel outages at Co-op gas bars and cardlocks in western Canada. The company has imposed fuel restrictions at its cardlocks of 300 litres of diesel and 100 litres of gasoline. Locked out workers are rightly blaming FCL dictate for stealing their negotiated defined benefits pension plan and the Saskatchewan government's refusal to force FCL to negotiate in good faith for the gas shortages. They uphold their right to wage an effective struggle that actually blocks the company's attempt to wreck their negotiated pensions and benefits by refusing to negotiate, flying scabs into the refinery at great risk to the safety of the community and relying on the prerogative powers of the state to crush the workers and their unions. 

On February 6, Justice Glenda Campbell in Calgary granted the company's application for an injunction restricting picketing at the Carseland facility and requiring that workers remove barricades, and the following day amended the injunction to allow police to remove the barricades if the workers did not do so themselves. In Regina, on February 7 police blocked access on Ninth Avenue North between McDonald and Winnipeg streets to all picketers while escorting Co-op trucks through to the refinery, checking off drivers' names from a list supplied by FCL. Police then took the additional step of removing the workers' warming and bathroom facilities from the sites.

Police escorting Co-op trucks through workers' picket lines, February 7, 2020.

A decision by Justice Neil Robertson is pending in response to the company's demand that the local union be fined a million dollars plus $100,000 per day as long as the injunction is not "obeyed" and that Local 594 President Kevin Bittman and Vice-President Lance Holowachuk be jailed for 90 days and 30 days respectively if they do not comply with the court order to remove the barricades that were erected on January 20.

On February 6, National union leader Jerry Dias called on Premier Scott Moe and FCL to bring an immediate end to the dispute by granting an independent provincially-appointed mediator the power to arbitrate if the parties are unable to come to an agreement after seven days of bargaining. The union's position was that if the employer immediately removed replacement workers from the refinery and agreed to negotiate, the picket lines would be taken down and the workers would return to work as early as Monday, February 10. Once again the company refused to return to negotiations. FCL is still refusing to do so, claiming that until the barricade is removed it will not negotiate, and refusing to remove the scabs.

Secondary picket at Co-op facility in Dryden Ontario supporting Regina Co-op refinery workers, February 4, 2020.

(Photos: Unifor 594)

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