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Solidarity with the teachers. If they win, we all win.

By: 
Carolyn Egan

February 19, 2020

We have suffered through generations of neo-liberalism where federal and provincial governments have slashed deficits at the cost of the social safety net. We have seen downsizing of the public sector, forcing workers to work longer hours at lower wages, closing plants as we have seen at GM Oshawa, rolling back the implementation of a $15 minimum wage, and attacking unions.

Teachers in Ontario are leading the fight back against these assaults. They have drawn a line in the sand and are refusing to give in to concessions. They have garnered strong public support from parents and students and have refused to be intimidated by the Tory government.  Four teachers’ federations have been coordinating walk outs across the province in a series of one day, rotating strikes and withdrawal of services. If you have walked the line with them, the support is tangible, car after car honking support, parents and students coming to the pickets, deliveries of donuts and pizzas etc.

The teachers have put the needs of the students front and centre, highlighting the issues of class size and e-learning which will diminish the quality of education, particularly for immigrant, racialized and poorer students. The Tories have tried to separate the community from the teachers saying it’s all about salaries and failed. Parents, students and rank and file teachers from diverse communities are speaking out together, refusing to fall into the trap of divide and rule.

Parent groups are now setting up solidarity camps for elementary school students in houses of worship, community centres and union halls when the teachers walk off the job, so that parents are able to have their younger children cared for when the teachers strike. This idea  is now moving from town to town and is a concrete example of community being on side.

It is reminiscent of historic strike solidarity which helped to broaden and strengthen support and resolve, such as when thousands of women struck the textile mills in Lawrence and Lowell, Massachusetts  in the early 1900s. Families throughout the state took in their children so they could devote their full efforts to the strike and in the end defeated the robber barons. The song which has become the anthem of the women’s movement “Bread and Roses” came out of that struggle.

Workers are angry in this province as they are all over the world. Look at France, India and so many other places where they are fighting in large numbers. At the recent Ontario Federation of Labour convention rank and file members were calling for the leadership to act and were demanding broad mobilization of the unions against the Ford government attacks, up to and including a general strike. It’s being said that the leadership is feeling the pressure and therefore has called a mass rally at the Tory party convention in Niagara Falls on February 22nd. We must organize broadly for this and push for more.

We need to see the building of rank and file organization as absolutely key to putting ordinary workers at the forefront of the struggle for change. It’s a question of how activists can bring more and more of the members in any workplace into activity whether it is a workplace issue, the climate crisis, or solidarity with the teachers, which can initiate a broader and more militant fight back against the Ford government’s attacks.

Without pressure from an organized and active rank and file, leaders will often succumb to the pressure of employers or governments, taking a step back when they could be taking a step forward. We have to depend on ourselves to push the leadership. The Clyde Workers Committee made up of shop stewards in a large UK ship yard in the early part of the 20th century said, “We will support the leadership as long as they rightly represent the workers, but will act immediately when they misrepresent them.”

This is the attitude we need today and requires building a base with other activists in our workplaces and our unions. We have to increase the confidence of ordinary workers to fight back on their own behalf and on behalf of others in struggle, such as the teachers. We cannot wait for the leadership to do it for us. There are important discussions to have with fellow workers about the need for unions to move forward in the interest of the membership and how we can make this happen. We can combine the class bitterness with a growing willingness to fight and build a broad movement for real change.

All out on February 22nd!

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