Are you an education worker in Ontario? Take up the fight against the Ford government’s attempt, with the support of its partners in the union bureaucracy, to push through pay cut deals for school staff. To contact the Ontario Education Workers Rank-and-File Committee, email firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the form at the bottom of this article.
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The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has given 55,000 school administrators, educational assistants, early childhood education educators and administrative staff the required five days to strike across Ontario beginning Monday, November 21. The announcement comes just over a week after CUPE, in alliance with the Canadian Labor Congress, Ontario Federation of Labor, Unifor and other major unions, ended a two-day workers’ strike that garnered strong popular support and quickly grew into a general strike moved towards
At a press conference Wednesday morning, Laura Walton, chief negotiator for CUPE-affiliated Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), said after several days of talks at the negotiating table, no agreement had been reached. However, she acknowledged that the negotiating committee had reached a wage deal with the government that would mean a huge real wage cut for the mostly low-paid workers. Walton revealed the far-right Progressive Conservative government has offered a $1 hourly increase for each year of the contract, equivalent to a 3.59 percent annual wage increase. This means that the current inflation rate, which is 7 percent and food is over 10 percent, will not even come close.
“Let me be clear, that’s a win for the workers,” Walton claimed of the wage offer. Basic support staff would see it differently, accounting for less than a third of the original demand for an 11.7 percent annual wage increase, an extremely modest demand due to the double-digit pay cut in education support staff over the past decade.
Walton said that although the parties have reached “middle ground” on wages, the government continues to refuse to invest money in student services. Education workers have called for an increase in the preparation time and budget for school supplies, and for more staff to be hired. “A pay rise won’t help if you lose your job,” Walton commented, referring to school boards’ moves to lay off workers to save costs and destroy job security.
The fact that union leaders have been forced to call another strike reflects strong opposition from ordinary workers to the brutal attacks on their wages and working conditions being pushed by the far-right progressive Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford. Earlier this month, Ford attempted to push through massive wage cuts through a government decree in Bill 28 that banned a strike by education workers and threatened to fine any worker $4,000 a day for violators. Stressing that Ford’s move violated fundamental democratic rights, the prime minister sought to enforce the law, invoking the authoritarian “disregard clause,” which allows governments to pass laws that violate the Charter of Rights and violate protected rights.
The defiant reaction of the 55,000 education workers, who on November 4 were joined by 8,000 colleagues in the Ontario Public Employees Union, sparked a violent reaction throughout the working class and growing calls for a general strike. Polls showed overwhelming support for a fight against Ford’s draconian law and for workers’ wage demands, including support for solidarity strikes by a strong majority of union members.
After teachers’ union leaders scandalously forced their members to berate their colleagues and show up for work during the strike, a grassroots rebellion began to develop in support of the teachers who joined the strike. To maintain control of this burgeoning movement, the Ontario Federation of Labor announced that it was organizing a one-day provincial general strike. In these very favorable conditions, where an extension of the strike would have enabled the school’s support staff to push for their full wage demands and more, CUPE and the other major unions rushed to Ford’s rescue and strangled the strike in exchange for Ford’s repeal of the law 28
Many workers will no doubt be thrilled to have another chance to picket against Ford and his corporate cronies. However, a serious warning must be issued. All indications are that the CUPE leadership has no intention of allowing Monday’s strike. Instead, they are using the strike notice both as a bargaining chip with the government and to appease grassroots militancy, still angry and frustrated that the bureaucracy nullified their previous strike.
While CUPE National President Mark Hancock was busted at yesterday’s press conference to announce that all 700,000 members of CUPE are “standing by” school staff, both he and Walton stressed there was still time until Monday for a “negotiated settlement.” be. The fact that the Collective Bargaining Committee has already dropped workers’ wage demands further illustrates that the leadership’s primary concern is to protect the collective bargaining process by forcing a sell-off on workers. For the past week, workers have been kept completely in the dark about what CUPE is negotiating, with cryptically worded updates citing calls by the broker for the talks to be blocked to justify their silence.
Anyone who has any illusions about the intentions of Walton and Co. in the days leading up to Monday’s strike should remember what happened in October 2019 during the last round of negotiations. By that time, a mass movement had been building among government workers across the province for months against the forthcoming introduction of Bill 124, a law proposed by Ford that would limit annual wage increases for over 1 million government workers to 1 percent per year should limit for three years. As the first major union to negotiate with the Ford government, CUPE sought and received a nearly unanimous vote in favor of strike action, with wage increases as the central demand. Late that evening before the CUPE/OSBCU strike deadline, Walton suddenly unveiled an 11-hour deal with Ford and Lecce, which she enthusiastically described as a major “victory” for the workers, and promptly called off the forthcoming strike.
What Walton actually agreed to was enforcing the Bill 124 wage cap during the three-year contract, even though the law was not in effect at the time. The CUPE/OSBCU capitulation cleared the way for the same wage cuts to be imposed on 200,000 teachers and the entire public sector. Many workers continue to work under concession contracts based on this law, and unions continue to negotiate agreements in line with Bill 124’s “wage restrictions.” Just last week, the Amalgamated Transit Union called off a strike by 2,200 Go-Bus workers, after agreeing to a three-year deal with the Crown-owned company that includes the Bill 124 wage cap.
If the strike is to continue on Monday, now is the time for ordinary workers to take the lead in the struggle into their own hands. Simple strike committees must be set up in every school immediately to prepare for Monday’s strike and ensure that it takes place. These committees should appeal to all education workers, including the 200,000 teachers, to step forward in solidarity.
This is the strategy advocated by the Education Workers’ Grassroots Committee of Ontario, which is fighting to wrest control of the contract struggle from the union bureaucracy and put power in the hands of the grassroots. At its last meeting on Sunday, the OEWRFC passed the following resolution outlining the duties of education workers:
“This meeting of ordinary education workers unequivocally condemns the union leadership’s treacherous ending of the education workers’ strike. They took this step haphazardly, without ever consulting the grassroots and without enforcing any of the workers’ demands. Our brothers and sisters had Ford on the ropes, but Walton, CUPE and Unifor threw him a lifeline. We explain further:
“1. No trust in CUPE/OSBCU/Teachers union bargaining committees! Since the strike sabotage, OSBCU has resumed secret talks with Ford and is not providing information to the base. The four teachers’ unions also negotiate behind teachers’ backs and won’t give details of the dirty deals they do with Ford and Lecce. This is because Laura Walton and the CUPE and teachers union leaders do not want workers to know about the massive sell off they are preparing.
“2. Establish easy control over all future negotiations! We demand the dismissal of the negotiating committees and an immediate end to all backroom talks with the Ford government, which, through Bill 28, has made clear its determination to use brutal attacks against us. Education workers should establish grassroots committees in each school to take control of all future talks from the union bureaucracy. The teachers should demand an immediate vote on the strike so next time we can go out together.
“3. Build a mass movement of the working class to secure our demands! The two-day labor strike demonstrated the immense power of the working class when mobilized to fight To spearhead a rebellion by workers in the public and private sectors for anti-inflationary wage increases and billions in investment in public education.”