September 27, 2021 - No. 88

Education Is a Right

Assessing and Dealing with Problems

New Brunswick
Public Sector Workers Give Strong Strike Vote

Post-Secondary Education Workers Demand Protection for Workers
and Students

Education Unions Hold Government to Account

Education Is a Right

Assessing and Dealing with Problems

Education Is a Right. This is pretty much accepted by everyone in today's world but what does it mean? How is this right defined and how can it be enforced? One thing is for sure -- defining and enforcing this right are a necessity. Without providing the coming generations with an education commensurate with the level required by societies and the world today, how can we possibly bring into being the kind of future we want?

But who decides what is needed by societies today? Who decides the content and funding of education? What forms of social, political and other culture are the youth imbued with through the education system? What about settling scores with the old conscience of society such as the cruel discrimination in the case of Indigenous children and families and the systemic racism they face? Or the discriminatory ways in which children from immigrant families and other backgrounds are treated, or how the Canadian economy exploits international students as cash cows -- to the tune of $19 billion in the case of "visa students?" How does the education system assess and deal with the problems of adolescence and growing up and their many related matters?

Do these issues and how they are dealt with by governments at all levels support the educators, schools, communities, and most importantly the youth or are they used to divide us? Do they treat the youth as human beings with rights or just as categories of "things" to be targeted for reward or punishment and the consumption of "things" according to values nobody has discussed and decided for themselves?

An education system is financed to educate and train youth according to the needs of an economy. When that economy is in the hands of a tiny financial oligarchy, which is self-serving to the extreme, the direction of the economy and the education system is set according to the very narrow private aims of the oligarchs in control. How do we as educators and others concerned with education and the youth deal with this reality?

In the field of education, what governments see fit to provide is controlled by the narrow private aims of those who own and control the economy, and in particular the companies that produce and sell everything in the education market. This includes the necessary infrastructure, buildings, computers, furnishings, textbooks and equipment of all kinds. But the tentacles of these private interests reach well beyond this to what kind of workers they want produced for their labour market. The control of these powerful private interests extends to the curriculum, programming, demands for research and importantly the aim of the education system itself.

The aim of those who direct the education system from the top is to serve the private interests of those in control of the economy, the financial oligarchy. The aim coming from the top means that the educators and youth are put under tremendous pressure to obey and fit into this anti-social atmosphere of serving narrow private interests and their market including their labour market. They are forced to "fend for themselves" and "do whatever it takes" to secure a niche for themselves in the education system and labour market the financial oligarchs control.

However, try as they might, these narrow private interests do not, and cannot, control the people. Try as they might, they cannot force the educators and support workers, parents and students to agree with them and willingly succumb. This is their problem and society's great asset. While getting an education is a source of constant worry for the younger generations because of the cost and the dog-eat-dog, everyone-fend-for-themselves culture, many youth are defying this dictate in order to build a bright future for themselves. While the degeneration of the system of education is increasingly stressful for teachers, education workers, principals and parents, many are courageously and with tremendous dedication and determination finding ways and means to say No! to the cutbacks, privatization, dictate and imposition of unacceptable aims and conditions. Even administrators, who are hired and pressured by those who have their fingers in the education pie to run schools, colleges and universities like private businesses whose main aim is to make money for all and sundry, are speaking out despite threats of job loss and other forms of reprisal.

This resistance, this refusal to give in, this spirit of saying No! when necessary, makes the unity in action among educators, support staff, students and parents life-giving and important. It makes the demands and claims of those who work and live in the field of education -- educators, students, parents and others -- life-giving and important.

The educators are professionals who have taken up a duty to society, to their students and to themselves. When they speak about their conditions of life and work and the problems in the field of education as a result of cutbacks and lack of funding or the self-seeking demands of the powerful private interests, their voices are worth more than gold. We should listen to them and support them when they fight to affirm their rights and speak in their own name.

We need a society that provides rights with a guarantee including the right to education because we need enlightened teachers, education workers, schools, colleges and universities to help raise our young people and open a path forward for the progress of society.

(Photos: ETT,OSSTF)

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New Brunswick

Public Sector Workers Give Strong Strike Vote

St. John meeting during strike vote on September 22, 2021

In its September 22 bulletin, the Canadian Union of Public Employees New Brunswick (CUPE NB) reports that seven of its 10 locals engaged in efforts to renew their collective agreements, some of which expired as long as four years ago, have been given strong strike votes. Workers are currently engaged in centralized bargaining with the government for wages that they consider acceptable and that will assist in addressing the problem of attracting and retaining workers in public services. The issue of working conditions must be resolved through negotiations with the locals.

CUPE NB reports that votes in favour of strike action hover around the 90 per cent range, with high voter turnout. For example, court stenographers voted 96 per cent in favour of a strike, with a 96 per cent voter turnout; community college workers voted 93 per cent in favour of a strike with a 100 per cent member turnout, while WorkSafe NB employees voted 83 per cent for a strike and had a voter turnout of 88 per cent.

As of September 22, approximately 9,400 of its 22,000 membership had held their strike votes.

Local 1252, the largest local representing close to 11,000 health care workers, held its strike vote from September 23-25, with the votes to be counted today, September 27. The last two locals, representing approximately 1,800 workers, will soon be posting their voting dates.

CUPE NB President Stephen Drost told Workers' Forum that the vote shows that workers are determined to stand up for their rights and get wages that they deem acceptable.

"Our fight is not just for us, but for public services and for the people of New Brunswick overall," he said.

New Brunswick is now experiencing its fourth COVID-19 wave, with an increase in cases and hospitalizations, in particular in  intensive care units. Workers are making tremendous efforts to cope with the situation and are doing so within a context where their dignity and conditions are under attack by the provincial government.

Adding insult to injury, the New Brunswick government recently filed an unfair labour practice and bad-faith bargaining complaint against the union, alleging that a CUPE local had distributed a poster with false claims about management's offer.

"This is very disappointing and appears to indicate CUPE is more interested in going on strike than it is in making a reasonable and good-faith effort to conclude a collective agreement," the complaint alleges.

The union is refuting the government's claims as factually false and ill-intentioned.

Through its assertions on bargaining, the government is denying that for over 15 years successive governments in New Brunswick have been imposing a wage-suppression mandate on public sector workers that has impoverished workers and exacerbated problems in public services. The government has also gone so far as to introduce demands for concessions, notably with regard to pensions, within a centralized bargaining process that was supposed to deal solely with wages. The government also refuses to acknowledge the problems of retention and recruitment that exist in public services, which are driving a good many public service workers out of the province in search of better conditions. Its view of workers as being disposable and the carte blanche it seeks for further privatization of services poses a serious problem for the people of the province.

It is the workers who are defending the well-being and rights of all. They deserve everyone's full support.

(Photos: WF, S.Harding)

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Post-Secondary Education Workers Demand Protection for Workers and Students

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals representing some of the 30,000 support and academic workers on Ontario post-secondary campuses held a press conference on September 23 to demand action by government and universities and colleges to protect workers and students.

The province of Ontario is currently under Step Three reopening guidelines. For the post-secondary sector, according to the government website, Step Three requires "indoor capacity in each instructional space limited to permit two metres physical distancing up to 50 per cent or 1,000 students, whichever is less,... physical distance of at least two metres between every other person must be maintained, except when necessary for teaching or instruction." There are also restrictions on outdoor capacity.

Just days before the opening of post-secondary institutions, in response to a request for an exemption from the Council of Ontario Universities, the province removed the Step Three guidelines for in-class instruction at universities and colleges. Workers and their unions are demanding that their health and safety and that of the students be the determining factor, not the stand of the Council, which they deem to be self-serving.

Exemption from the Step Three restrictions means that classes have resumed with virtually no restrictions and without measures for enhanced cleaning or ventilation or the option of working remotely.

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Education Unions Hold Government to Account

At a press conference held on September 23, representatives of education workers organized in the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario, addressed the demand for protections from COVID-19 for workers and students at post-secondary institutions.

Kathleen Webster, Vice-Chair of CUPE Ontario's University Sector and Chief Steward of CUPE 2361 representing support staff members at the University of Western Ontario, said:

"For the entire pandemic, we have been asking the Ford Conservatives to consult with students and university workers. They have not. They have ignored us. Had they spoken to us we would have told them that, given decades of underfunding, many of our universities have not had the funds needed to invest in capital repairs, including the kinds of improvements to ventilation that would be necessary to stop the spread of COVID. We would have told them that years of underfunding had led many of our Universities to cut staff, contract out cleaning and maintenance services to the lowest bidder, and reduce cleaning standards to the level of 'unkempt' neglect which is not good enough in the best of times but is particularly problematic during a public health crisis like COVID-19."

Sharoni Mitra, President of CUPE 3906, representing workers at McMaster University, said:

"I can't say it clearly enough: removing these important measures is endangering students and workers at McMaster. Right now, McMaster is allowing up to 100 students in classrooms with no distancing measures. We're also seeing tutorials in small, crowded basement spaces. There's no confirmation of cleaning schedules in shared office space, and there's no commitment to allow workers to choose to work remotely where possible."

Amy Conwell, Chair of CUPE 3902, representing academic workers at the University of Toronto (U of T), said:

"As expected, this September looks a lot like a regular, pre-pandemic semester. Despite the ongoing pandemic, prevalence of the Delta variant, and likelihood of transmission in closed, crowded settings like classrooms and laboratories, U of T has few real workplace controls in place, especially at the St. George campus. Consequently, we simply do not have confidence that U of T's COVID-19 mitigation strategy will keep workers and students safe. But we also don't have confidence in the Ford Conservatives."

Sherri Ferris, President of CUPE 229, representing custodial, trades, and food service workers at Queens University, said:

"As support staff on campus, we know the Ford Conservatives are not doing enough to ensure a safe return to in-person learning. This decision to lift in person capacity limits was sprung on us at the last minute by the Ford Conservatives. Basically, the day before school opened, the Ford Conservatives made this regulation and exempted universities."

Fred Hahn, President CUPE Ontario, said:

"If it is clear to the Ford Conservatives that a mandatory vaccination policy alone is simply not enough to protect us in a movie theatre, why is it not clear to them that the same is true in a lecture hall? They know better and it's so unconscionable that the province would remove critical measures like capacity limits and physical distancing requirements for indoor instructional spaces, like classrooms and labs. We need these measures in place immediately to keep students and the 30,000 CUPE Ontario support and academic workers on campuses safe."

(Photo: CUPE-ON)

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