March 12, 2020

Resistance to Anti-Social Reforms to Education in Ontario

Disingenuous Public Relations Campaign to Hide Degradation and Privatization
of Public Education

  Education workers out in force at the Ontario PC policy convention,
Niagara Falls, February 22, 2020.

Oppose Attempts to Eliminate Our Voice - Enver Villamizar
Let Educators Continue to Speak and Act in Their Own Name - Laura Chesnik
Annual Meetings of Education Unions: Challenges Facing Teachers and Education Workers
Forum on E-Learning in Windsor

Quebec Crane Operators Voice Safety Concerns
Campaign to Restore Mandatory Crane Operator Vocational Training
- Pierre Chénier

Resistance to Anti-Social Reforms to Education in Ontario

Disingenuous Public Relations Campaign to Hide Degradation and Privatization of Public Education

Mass picket surrounds Queen's Park as education workers across the province from all four unions go on strike together February 21, 2020, against Ford government's cuts to education.

Nearly one year ago the Ford government announced its arbitrary, unilateral and anti-social changes to Ontario's education system. These include:

- increases in class size averages for grades 9-12 from 22:1 to 28:1;
- mandatory e-learning requirements for high school graduation;
- the elimination of funding for local priorities of school boards; and
- the elimination of any previously agreed-to exceptions to the 24.5:1 class size average in grades 4-8.

Click to enlarge.

The Ontario government appears now to be making further changes, which it claims are concessions on its part to the unions so they stop their ongoing strikes. On March 3, Education Minister Stephen Lecce held a press conference where he presented as "concessions" new arbitrary changes to the government's imposed measures.

These changes made without negotiating with the unions involved include:

- a grade 9-12 average class size increase to 23:1;
- mandatory e-learning with an option for parents to opt-out their children; and
- the re-establishment of the local priorities fund under a new name but with the elimination of any input on the use of the funds from the unions representing teachers and education workers.

Besides proving that the strikes of teachers and education workers have forced the government to try new schemes to impose its agenda, the government's latest announcements again show that one of its main aims is to make clear that it does not think teachers and education workers have a right to negotiate their wages and working conditions, which are their students' learning conditions. Even in retreat, the government struggles to assert its unilateral control over decision-making and the direction of education to the exclusion of education workers, students, parents and other concerned Ontarians.

The announcement by Lecce came just days after the government faced a challenge to its arbitrary one-year-ago announcement on class size changes from the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA). OECTA asserts that the government is not bargaining in good faith as it is ruling through regulatory changes instead of negotiating these matters with those who will be forced to work under the changes. Clearly, these new arbitrary changes are an assertion that it does not need to negotiate and is a signal to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) Chair who is hearing the case that he had better affirm the government's will.

The government has often cited public consultations it held prior to its March 15, 2019 announcements to claim it has a mandate for all its anti-social changes. Ironically, the government has been tireless in keeping the content of those consultations secret. Once the results were finally revealed, thanks to OECTA's challenge at the OLRB, they put the lie to the government's claims that it is acting on what parents told it during the consultations. The results of those consultations reveal that despite the government's best efforts, it has not been able to destroy public opinion, which sees increased class sizes and mandatory e-learning as attacks on the society and the youth in particular. Now, instead of backing down and conceding to public opinion, the government is attempting to divert from what is being revealed by making further arbitrary announcements.

The announcements are clearly a reaction to the government's crisis of its own making. It thinks that a public relations campaign will save it from reality. Through these tweaks to its original attacks on education, the government is seeking to hide its direction to undermine education. Its proposals to allow parents to opt out of mandatory e-learning, for example, hide a reversion to plan B -- to impose e-learning through the number and kind of classes  that will be funded. School boards will be required to offer more e-learning courses, which have a class size average of 35 students to one teacher. Parents will then be presented with the "choice" of opting their children out of mandatory e-learning only to find that the courses their children want or need to graduate will not be offered in a physical classroom. This method of using its control over funding to force school boards to more consistently adopt e-learning was leaked by the Toronto Star recently as the government's initial plan A, which is now presented as a plan B "concession."

As for its claims to be maintaining existing class size averages by moving to 23:1, this too hides what the government is actually doing. It has shown in negotiations that it wants to eliminate local class size caps that exist in some but not all local collective agreements. An increase in class size averages for next year to 23:1 without capping the maximum class size at 23:1 enshrines what it has done since March 15 of last year. This average does not address the issue of capping the size of individual classes. Only through imposing a maximum class size can manipulation of averages be prevented. To have some small classes and some large ones, which in combination meet a required school board-wide average of 23:1 defeats the initiative and desire to keep the size of all classes under an agreed upon maximum number of students.

Lastly its re-introduction of a previously negotiated fund called the "Local Priorities Fund" under a new name "Support for Students Fund" hides that the education unions fought for and won this funding initiative over which they had some control. The desire of teachers and their unions was to put this funding towards supporting the most vulnerable students with special needs through the hiring of educational assistants, child and youth workers, and other support staff who are the lifeblood of special education. The "Support for Students Fund" removes the unions and teachers from having any role over how the funds will be deployed, which means school boards will be able to use them as they see fit, outside of any requirement to negotiate with those who provide the education.

The resistance of teachers and all education workers is the main factor forcing the government to shift tactics in its public relations campaign. Public relations is not politics. As practiced by the current government it is a form of manipulation to try to disinform existing public opinion and present "down" as "up." It is a dark art, which seems to be the profession of this government of Ontario and its Minister of Education. However, no matter how slick the Minister appears, he is fighting against a growing tide of human beings who will not accept backwardness as progress because they know from their own experience what is required to improve education and are speaking for themselves.

"Cut the Clowning" by Megan Simon-Beaudoin

(Photos: WF, OSSTF, G. Barrister Clarke)

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Oppose Attempts to Eliminate Our Voice

A challenge facing teachers and education workers as they come together for the annual meetings of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association is the necessity to expose and oppose the attempts to eliminate teachers' and education workers' decision-making authority over their day-to-day working conditions, which are students' learning conditions. Step by step since the 1990s the ruling class has moved to curtail the right of teachers and education workers as well as locally elected trustees to decide what happens in education. In order to extract billions from funds dedicated for K-12 education, and turn education into an arena for profit-making by global technology, childcare and education monopolies, the legal right of teachers and education workers and elected trustees to say No! has been eroded to the point that negotiations over local working conditions between locally-empowered unions and school boards has been all but eliminated.

This round of negotiations is aimed at codifying the grip of the provincial cabinet over all decisions of substance. This includes their desire to establish new ways of changing the content of what students learn to better serve the private monopolies that want "just-in-time" changes to how the youth are educated. The great fear of the ruling class is that teachers and education workers will not submit and will find new ways to break out of the limitations being imposed on them.

The recent ruling by the Ontario Labour Relations Board codifying that all matters related to money in education are to be negotiated centrally, and the ongoing hearings on whether the government has the right to dictate class sizes through regulation without negotiation are two examples of the new precedents being set in this round. Another is the constant refrain from the Ford government that under governments of all stripes it is the teachers and education workers who are the problem, not the anti-social offensive these governments all pursue in their own ways. The Ford government is trying to lay the groundwork to eliminate the legal right to strike of teachers and education workers, by which it hopes to permanently subdue their resistance to its schemes to further privatize public education.

This situation shows the importance of education workers speaking out about these matters and establishing new ways of organizing within and outside the structures that exist such as union affiliation, job classes, geographic location etc. so as to ensure that their united No! to cuts and privatization cannot be suppressed. Giving expression to this No! through new forms of organizing will clearly show that, try as they might, those who want to usurp the decision-making power of the working people cannot eliminate their No, which is their right to speak and act in their own name -- a fundamental human right.

Around the world and across Canada teachers and education workers have become a front line of defence against the neo-liberal wrecking of their societies. They stand as a bulwark against privatization and other neo-liberal reforms because they see the consequences of it every day and bear the brunt of the breakdown of society and the social fabric which necessarily results from the attempt to make everyone fend for themselves. The more that teachers and education workers stick to their direct experience and fight for solutions to the problems they see day in and day out, including how education should be funded and to what level, the more they will overcome all the attempts to divert their ranks and eliminate their voice, and through this will find a way forward to once and for all go from resistance to decision-making power. It can be done!

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Let Educators Continue to Speak and
Act in Their Own Name

One challenge facing the movement for workers' rights and the right to education is to ensure the system of representative democracy does not divert it into a blind alley. In the lead-up to the 2022 provincial election, representative democracy and its cartel parties will try to divert any independent movement into becoming a vote bank for one of the parties vying for positions of power in the Legislature.

At the present time, no alternative is being put forward within the Legislature to the neo-liberal austerity agenda. Working people themselves and their independent movement have brought an alternative agenda into being and are pushing it through their actions and voice.

The cartel parties both provincially and federally base themselves on the neo-liberal assumption that workers are a cost of production and that the government's role is to ensure monopoly right and paying the rich are upheld above all else. They assert that only through their neo-liberal prejudice can the economy prosper.

Reduce the "cost" of workers and put those saved funds into the hands of the rich is the mantra, and voilà, the economy will blossom. Of course, the cartel parties argue over how best to do this and who should be in control in doling out public funds to the rich. They try to embroil the workers in choosing which cartel party to vote for and whose policies they should prefer and would be best or even the lesser evil for working people and society. They seek to provide their illegitimate austerity agenda with legitimacy. Needless to say, this neo-liberal outlook has not permitted any of the ongoing and persistent problems plaguing Ontario's economy and education system to be resolved in a manner that favours the people.

The way the electoral system operates, the cartel parties are supposed to do everything in their power to try and appear as representatives of the workers' movement and curry favour with this or that group in hopes of winning the election. Once elected they are free to declare that funds for education and other public services must be cut, either because new investments are allegedly not possible, or because cuts are inevitable given the size of the debt and deficit, which of course must be serviced and even increased because the institutions of the rich profit from it. In this way of governing, the voice of the working people is not supposed to have its own expression. It is just supposed to become the echo of what the various cartel parties claim are the issues, solutions and agenda.

More and more, teachers and other education workers have shown that they are quite capable of thinking for themselves and speaking for themselves on what is required in Ontario to improve the education system and solve its problems so it becomes a truly modern system that guarantees the right to education for all at the highest possible level. They have shown this in both their resistance to the austerity agenda of the rich and in the electoral arena.

During the strike actions in Ontario over the past few months, teachers and education workers have also broken through the notion that they are just a pressure group that looks for good media coverage and for things to happen beyond their control. They have taken up speaking for themselves and mobilizing public opinion on their own terms. They have begun to use new forms and technology to create their own forums to unite and fight for their rights and the rights of all and forge a way forward that favours the people and not the financial oligarchy.

The experience of having a teacher as an independent candidate in Windsor-Tecumseh in the last provincial election also shows that education workers are not leaving the political arena to others from the cartel parties to occupy and use to divert people from presenting their own agenda based on their own outlook.

All these experiences stand the movement in good stead and are becoming a bulwark against the efforts and noise of the cartel party system to block the movement's advance and divert it into giving up its own initiative, outlook, agenda and voice, and accepting the choices the electoral system of representative democracy imposes on the people.

Sticking to their own experience and independent agenda and continuing to act and speak in their own name and not through this or that cartel party representative are key to teachers and other education workers moving forward.

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Annual Meetings of Education Unions: Challenges Facing Teachers and Education Workers

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association will hold their annual general meetings on March 13 to 16. [As this paper went to press, it was announced on March 12 by both OSSTF and OECTA that due to concerns regarding the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, their annual meetings that were to be held in Toronto in the coming days have been postponed -- WF Ed. Note.] Thousands of delegates from around the province will discuss and debate issues of concern. The meetings take place in the midst of ongoing strike actions of teachers and education workers in the K-12 and adult education systems whose unions have been trying to negotiate new contracts for their members. They are up against a government determined to rule by regulation using its prerogative powers to impose what it wants in defiance of public opinion and research, and which refuses to uphold its social responsibility for the welfare of the youth and the modern right of education for all.

The meetings are also taking place in advance of the release of a budget by the Ford government and on the heels of the election of a new leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario, Stephen Del Duca, who some claim represents a "shift to the right" for that party.

On the minds of many teachers and education workers is how to advance their ongoing and persistent fight for their right to negotiate their wages and working conditions and solve the problems plaguing the education system in Ontario under the circumstances of a government-led anti-social offensive. The teachers and education workers have taken up the challenge to be the front line of defence against the wrecking of public education and have made great strides in overcoming divisions among their unions and those in different job categories. The work they all do is vital for ensuring that the youth are educated and safe in both mind and body. The one-day united picket lines of teachers and education workers across the province on February 21 is a sign that the divisions of the past fueled by the cartel party system no longer suffice to keep this movement in check and fighting among itself rather than using its collective strength to ensure its demands are met.

Workers' Forum has full confidence that, through their deliberations and independent organizing, teachers and education workers in Ontario will continue to advance and make a great contribution to strengthening society and the modern right of education for all at the highest level.

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Forum on E-Learning in Windsor

Teachers for Global Awareness and the Education Is a Right Podcast held a community forum on e-learning in Ontario on February 29. The forum in Windsor featured a keynote address by Dr. Beyhan Farhadi discussing her PhD dissertation on e-learning at the Toronto District School Board, North America's second largest school board. The forum also brought together other e-learning teachers and students from Ontario as well as Michigan where taking one class through e-learning is mandatory. The proceedings are being broadcast as podcasts by Education Is a Right Podcast available at

The forum informed participants about existing experiences with e-learning and addressed how mandating such courses for graduation would affect the youth. Many aspects of e-learning were raised by panelists and audience members, opening up the discussion on this important matter. A significant point made was that no one, not even those who work in e-learning and advocate for its use on a broader basis, believes that making it mandatory will improve the quality of education. Another issue raised was how e-learning is a way for large companies to extract value from education and gain control over what and how students learn. Members of the audience also provided important experiences from those teaching online courses, including the effect on metacognition, or how students think about their own learning, and the effect on teachers and students of the massive dropout rate for those courses currently.

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Quebec Crane Operators Voice Safety Concerns

Campaign to Restore Mandatory Crane Operator Vocational Training

Quebec crane operators are stepping up their interventions to mobilize public opinion to force the Quebec government and the Quebec Construction Commission (CCQ) to stop their abuse of power and restore mandatory crane operator vocational training. The efforts of the crane operators and their union have convinced certain mass media to begin publishing reports that provide actual information on the situation. The Journal de Montréal on March 7, published an article entitled "Lack of Training Results in a Series of Crane Operator Accidents." Evans Dupuis, President of the Union of Crane Operators, was interviewed on television, where he spoke about the situation since the government and the CCQ lowered the training level required to become a crane operator.

Workers' Forum congratulates the crane operators for persisting in this just work to break through the wall of silence on their conditions. The fight they are waging for their own safety as well as the safety of all is of great importance.

The public has also become more aware that accidents involving cranes have increased since the new regulations abolished the mandatory 870-hour Diploma of Vocational Studies (DEP). The people are becoming aware of the arbitrary and abusive nature of the new regulations, which were introduced without the input or consent of crane operators and construction workers. Construction workers have strongly denounced the fact that the change was not discussed or negotiated with them but imposed by the government and the CCQ even though it directly impacts their well-being.

The government and the CCQ gave themselves the right to replace the 870-hour mandatory vocational training program with a broadly inferior one directly controlled by the construction companies. The weakening of the training standard is a blatant conflict of interest involving the construction companies. The government and the CCQ have pushed the change through using the power of the state machine even though this endangers the lives of workers and the public. The methods used to do this without the consent of the workers includes an apparatus of propaganda and disinformation to present the lowering of the level of training as a necessary measure to deal with a labour shortage.

Construction workers have consistently exposed the fraudulent and reckless connection the government and CCQ have made between any perceived shortage of workers and the necessity to have proper training of crane operators. With regards to a so-called crane operator labour shortage, the President of the Union of Crane Operators has pointed out that throughout 2019 almost one out of six available crane operators worked fewer than 500 hours.

Boom-truck overturned in Laval,
September 2019

The Journal de Montréal article describes the six accidents that have occurred in Quebec involving the operation of a crane since last September. In all cases, the person operating the crane had not obtained a DEP. The article also quotes a spokesperson for the Quebec Association of Structural Formwork Entrepreneurs who exposes the charade of the company training that has replaced the mandatory DEP. The entrepreneur admits that someone such as himself is not in a position to train aspiring crane operators in all the situations they will encounter during their work. At most, all the company can do is show them how to pull the levers. According to the entrepreneur, the 870 hours of professional training are in reality a "minimum."

The article also refers to government data showing that vocational training in all trades in Quebec is on the decline. According to figures provided by the Ministry of Education, programs for all trades have 8,800 fewer students today than in 2014-2015.

Before the government's unilateral change in 2018, professional training was mandatory for someone to become a crane operator. Since the imposition of the new regulations, the number of crane operators without professional training is more than those who have successfully completed training and received a DEP. Without a mandatory professional character, all talk of on-site training in any trade is a fraud and arbitrary. The government and agencies such as the CCQ are deprofessionalizing the construction and other trades in the service of large companies. They are using such methods to force down wages and allow those who own and control the construction sector to manipulate the working class in favour of their own narrow private interests without regard for safety and other important issues.

The government cannot escape the blame and shame for the increase in accidents involving the operation of cranes. Public opinion is becoming more informed through the interventions of the crane operators and construction unions with pressure mounting on the government to back down and reinstate mandatory crane operator vocational training.

(Photos: FTQ-Construction, E. Dupuis)

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