February 27, 2020

Ontario Working People Reject Ford Government's Agenda

Educators Stand as One to Say No!
to Anti-Social Attacks on
Education in Ontario

Education workers participate in large numbers in rally in Niagara Falls against Ontario PC government's cuts, February 22, 2020.

Mass Demonstration at Niagara Policy Convention of Progressive Conservatives
What the Situation of Personal Support Workers Is Telling Us
- Rolf Gerstenberger, Co-chair of the Hamilton Health Coalition and
former President of United Steelworkers Local 1005

Six Months Closure of Department of Obstetrics in Shawville, Quebec
• No! to the Closing of Fundamental Health Services - Louis Lang

Ontario Working People Reject Ford Government's Agenda

Educators Stand as One to Say No!
to Anti-Social Attacks on Education in Ontario

Educators from across Toronto surrounded Queen's Park with a mass picket line,
February 21, 2020.

On February 21, education workers across Ontario held a coordinated walkout and withdrawal of their labour. Even though once before, during the political protest of 1997, all unions representing teachers went on strike at the same time, this was the first time in Ontario’s history that teachers and education workers from all four unions set up joint picket lines.

Aerial view of picket line around
Queen's Park.

The spirit on the lines reflected the significance of this act of unity. On many lines members of the various unions mixed and mingled on staggered shifts, meeting one another, catching up with old friends and sharing experiences. Despite different flags and positions in education, they stood as one for their working conditions -- students' learning conditions.

In Peel Region, parents and students joined with staff represented by OSSTF Peel, ETFO Peel, OECTA Dufferin-Peel and AEFO to form a 20,000-person-strong picket line 30 kilometres in length along Highway 10 extending from Caledon through Brampton and Mississauga to Lake Ontario. They documented it in a video titled I'm on the Line for #Strike102030. To see the video click here.

In Kitchener-Waterloo members of all four unions filled the square in front of Kitchener City Hall, showing the sheer numbers of people involved in educating the youth and adult students in that area.

In Toronto 30,000 education workers and their supporters surrounded Queen's Park, making it Educators' Park for the day.

Everywhere across the province those who provide K-12 and adult and continuing education affirmed their collective No! to the government's attempts to blame them for the problems in education in order to attack their working conditions.

This week selected districts of OSSTF will engage in a full withdrawal strike on Friday, February 28. School boards affected can be seen here. While AEFO was also planning a full strike day this week it has announced that a forecast of freezing rain has resulted in it being postponed. ETFO has given the government until March 6 to negotiate an acceptable deal or its members will enter a new phase of strike actions. OECTA has paused its rotating strikes as it had been negotiating with the government and Catholic trustees’ association up until February 24 when talks broke off. In a February 24 statement, OECTA president Liz Stuart said:

[...] After the Minister of Education spent the weekend making baseless, inflammatory accusations about Catholic teachers and our Association, his bargaining team held firm to their agenda to take resources out of the classroom. At times, it seems they have no real intention of negotiating an agreement.

Our Association remains committed to our goal of reaching a fair agreement at the bargaining table, and we will await word from the mediator as to whether she believes further negotiations would be worthwhile. However, we will not tolerate the government’s disrespect for our members, or their insistence on making permanent cuts to publicly funded education. While our administrative job action continues, OECTA will also be considering options for further strike action.

Ottawa; Kingston



Peel Region





Owen Sound

Northern Ontario

Vancouver, BC teachers in solidarity with Ontario teachers -- Red for Ed

(Photos: WF, OSSTF, J. Tilley, Angela DS, J. Pouw, C. De Graaf, M. Simon, G. Hansman)

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Mass Demonstration at Niagara Policy Convention
of Progressive Conservatives

The mass action held outside the policy convention of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party in Niagara Falls on February 22 testifies to the broad opposition to the agenda of the Ford government. Close to 5,000 people from different parts of Ontario converged on Niagara Falls to take part in the "People vs. Conservative Cuts" rally to denounce the anti-social agenda of the PC government.

The largest contingent was that of education workers who had just carried out a massive province-wide strike the day before. Large contingents of health care workers and other public sector workers were also present as were contingents of steelworkers from Hamilton and auto workers.

The rally opened with an appeal from speakers that the working people of Ontario continue to stand with the political protests of the Indigenous peoples against the illegal invasion of Wet'suwet'en territory by the RCMP. One speaker made it clear that it is a fight against injustice.

Speakers that followed, including representatives of the autism community, social workers, advocates for health care and post-secondary students, opposed the government's attacks on the most vulnerable. Among those who also spoke were Ontario Federation of Labour President Patty Coates and presidents of the Ontario education unions, including the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario whose 55,000 education worker members are not on strike but have been engaging in solidarity actions with their striking colleagues. 

(Photos: WF, ETFO, OFL, C. Wagner, S. Weiler-Haskins)

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What the Situation of Personal Support Workers
Is Telling Us

USW Local 1005 has been holding weekly meetings every Thursday since 2003 to discuss matters of importance to the workers. At our Thursday meeting on February 13 we had a lively discussion on the situation facing personal support workers (PSWs) in Ontario and what their plight is telling us.

Local 1005 President Gary Howe asked me to report on the situation, which is well documented in the study that was commissioned from the Ontario Health Coalition by Unifor.[1] The Coalition did a tour of various cities, including Hamilton, and held press conferences around the province to popularize the results.

At the Thursday meeting we dealt with some of the issues raised in that study and at the press conference held in Hamilton on February 10. Two weeks earlier at our meeting we also addressed the situation and many workers spoke of their own experiences of trying to put someone into long term care, the struggle it entailed and the many problems they had to deal with once they were there.

Right now, about 80,000 people are in long term care in Ontario with 30,000 people on waiting lists, which can result in a delay of five years or more. Long term care is residential care in a home for those who can no longer function on their own due to medical conditions that require assistance. In the 2018 Ontario general election, the parties promised to create more long term care homes. Doug Ford himself committed to building homes for 15,000 people within five years. Whether it happens or not, the problem is that the system does not have enough personal support workers to take care of the 80,000 people already in care. According to the report, even if a seniors' home is staffed according to the current rules, the homes are short-staffed because no one is available to replace staff when sick, on holidays or on days off.

Staff have to run from one room to the next to try to bathe people, maintain them, and the situation just snowballs. This is bad enough in terms of the patients, but then personal support workers begin to be abused from all sides because of the situation. They are forced to work double shifts. They have no days off. They do not know their schedules ahead of time. Many are part-time workers juggling two long-term care jobs and having to balance schedules, disrupting their lives. Listening to what these personal support workers in long term care homes say about their working conditions, they are a nightmare.

We steelworkers recalled that in our industry it took a long fight just to achieve regular schedules. If you have no protection of regular shifts, the company abuses you. Without this protection, you do not know beforehand what shift you are working or your days off, causing havoc in your life. We fought for years to have our schedules set, to know our work schedule in advance. And if the company violates the schedule, a penalty exists such as paying time-and-a-half, and other measures to enforce the rule.

The other sector with a huge problem is home care. This is where hospitals say they are overcrowded, blaming those they call "bed blockers" who do not need hospital care and should be in long-term care but are stuck in the hospital because no long-term care beds are available. The "solution" is that while the government promises to eventually build more long-term care homes, they want more people to go into home care, whether it is suitable for them or not. The authorities blame the people for overcrowding the hospitals and use this excuse as justification for putting vulnerable people and the workers who look after them into unacceptable conditions.

Home care is said to be the cheapest because you are in your own home, but require some care, and personal support workers are sent to take care of you at home. That is what is being said, but of course it is cheaply done on the backs of workers and those needing care. Wages are lower for home care workers, with many of them barely making minimum wage. Their travel time is not paid. They have to use their own vehicles. They are on call, running from one home to the next with no support.

The report puts forward a number of demands to address the crisis in long-term care. One of them is to guarantee four hours of care per day for the patients. That means four hours in the course of a day, time for a bath and time to deal with medical problems, where personal support workers and nurses can effectively provide four hours of care a day. That is one of the goals they are raising to change the situation for the better. Currently it is nowhere near that level.

We also discussed at our meeting an article in the local paper, which explains that hospitals do not receive proper funding for medical equipment. They are forced to fundraise, do lotteries and beg for charity through donations and contributions from philanthropists. Hospital equipment is not covered by government funding. I said that when the army needs jets or tanks, then they should have a bake sale or a lottery and raise money from people who want to support the military. How can hospitals or any modern enterprise be run like that?

A year or two ago a petition was circulated in Ontario asking who supports a cut in funding for hospitals. Of course 99.99 per cent of the people said No!, they do not want to cut funding for hospitals yet that is exactly what is being done. When these parties get into Parliament or Queen's Park all of the sudden they find all kinds of excuses to cut funding for health care and other social programs, such as Ford is doing to education. The Ontario Liberals, before the Ford government came to power, froze hospital funding for 10 years, which is actually a major cut because of the combined factors of an aging population, increased needs, greater population and price inflation.

Cuts to health care funding are the demand of an important section of the financial oligarchy and that is what rules in parliament and legislatures. Besides, the people who are in power in the legislature figure that they are going to be OK. They have money, they have connections, they will not go into these long-term care homes, which lack resources and workers. They are making decisions that impose conditions on others that they themselves will not experience.

When discussing what the situation of personal support workers is telling us, we pointed out at our meeting that people are grappling with why something as important and basic as health care, which is such a priority for the people, is not dealt with seriously by those in power in the parliament and legislatures. They do precisely the opposite of what people want, which shows that the people are not empowered and that the lack of empowerment is the fundamental problem facing society. The present political system blocks the people from solving the problems they and society face. What modern political forms are necessary to turn the situation around to empower the people politically? That is a problem worth taking up as a priority as it lies at the root of all other problems.


1. Caring in Crisis: Ontario's Long-Term Care PSW Shortage - Report & recommendations from the front lines across Ontario - Commissioned from the Ontario Health Coalition by Unifor - January 2020

(Photos: WF)

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Six Months Closure of Department of Obstetrics in Shawville, Quebec

No! to the Closing of Fundamental Health Services

About 20 people drove close to two hours from Shawville and other Pontiac towns to demonstrate Monday morning, February 24, in front of the Hull hospital in Gatineau, Quebec to express their anger at the fact that the Outaouais Integrated Health and Social Services Centre (CISSSO) has announced that as of February 21, the department of obstetrics at the Shawville hospital will be closed for six months. The department was a service that was essential to women from various Pontiac towns such as Fort-Coulonge and Mansfield-et-Pontefract. With this closure, women awaiting the birth of their child will no longer have a hospital nearby they can go to in case of an emergency and will, in some cases, have to drive two hours to have their baby.

The CISSSO announced that it was closing the department for safety reasons, which the Minister responsible for the Outaouais, Mathieu Lacombe, endorsed. The issue of safety is raised because, among other factors, there are only three nurses on hand in the department, when the number of nurses required to provide complete and safe services in obstetrics is 12. Quebec nurses' medieval working conditions are a key factor in the closing of the department which means it is closely related to the concerns raised by workers in the health sector who have been stating for years that to improve the services in health care there must be an improvement in the working conditions of those who provide the services.

Women in the Pontiac have expressed that they are worried that not only the department of obstetrics may never reopen, but that other services could also be affected. The people demonstrating received broad support from people going in and out of the hospital. Demonstrators stated that they would continue to hold actions until the problem is resolved and the service restored. Their preoccupations and demands deserve the support of everyone. On Sunday, March 1 a demonstration will be held at 2 pm in front of the Shawville Hospital.

Ongoing information on the struggle can be obtained at La Voix Du Pontiac on Facebook, and with hashtag #obspontiac.

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