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Ontario Teachers Take Political Action Against Austerity

Carolyn Egan

June 24, 2012

Ontario government attacks on the public sector have evoked a strong response from teachers. The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario received a huge mandate from its members for a political day of action in the fall if the government of Ontario attempts to force a settlement on them.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation is having meetings with its members discussing using the same tactic. Teachers would not go to work for one day as a political protest. Under the Harris government teachers stayed off the job in a similar protest for two weeks and had strong support from the public.

The Liberal government recently passed a draconian budget with significant attacks on jobs and services. The neoliberal agenda has been embraced with gusto by Premier McGuinty. Privatization and contracting out is seen as the way forward for the province, as well as public sector wage freezes.

The budget included sections that would allow for the privatization of public services if the government chooses to do so. Affected areas include health care, education, water services, municipal and provincial services. As the Ontario Health Coalition stated this could be the largest privatization in Ontario’s history. It essentially allows the sale of these services to for-profit companies. Profit would then become the primary motivator in the delivery of services. Profits before people is the mantra of the austerity agenda.

The Ontario Federation of Labour has initiated a Common Front of trade unions and community groups to develop strategies and move together to counter these assaults. Groups like the Ontario Health Coalition has been organizing in towns and cities against cuts back to hospitals and the gutting of services. Local coalitions have been garnering significant public support.

At the same time the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario have convened meetings of student governments of local universities and colleges developing strategies to organize campus by campus against rising tuition and cut backs to post-secondary education.

The magnificent strike by Quebec students has been an inspiration to others in English Canada. The student federations have been calling for a broadening of the protests to take on the wider neo-liberal attacks and are asking the trade unions in Quebec to take up the call and jointly move against the Liberal government. On the 22nd of every month, students and their supporters are going into the streets in Quebec. The “casseroles” at which people bang pots and pans in protest have taken off across the country.

The attacks are relentless and progressive forces have to organize at the base in unions on campuses and in the community to push back against these attacks. In the city of Toronto the municipal unions backed down and accepted concession agreements, but at the same time we have seen the tide beginning to turn where the worst of the attacks on services were stopped and the jobs of 1,000 cleaners which were to be contracted out have been saved. There is a growing understanding of the effects of the austerity agenda and we have to continue the on-the-ground organizing to push back the cutback agenda. The teachers withdrawing their labour for one day will hopefully be the spark to a more militant union response.

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