I am an ETFO teacher in Ontario. I strike because I am committed to equity and social justice, not just in schools, but in life. I am proud to be part of the Ontario Teacher’s Federation (ETFO) whose mandate is to ensure that all people have access to fair, safe and quality learning and working environments. As an educator (I can’t help it) I see this as a teachable moment for the thousands of citizens – children and adults alike – that we must never stay silent to injustices. As educators, it is our job to teach our citizens to work toward a world where all people have opportunities to learn, strive, be healthy and have joy in our professions, communities and family life. The Education sector must continue to move forward in silencing inequities, racism, gender bias, and to voice our support for inclusivity of LGBTQ members and students and promote greater participation of First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
“Canada’s labour movement has a long history of improving workers’ everyday lives. We fought for and won many of the rights enjoyed by all workers today – minimum wages, overtime pay, workplace safety standards, maternity and parental leave, vacation pay, and protection from discrimination and harassment” (https://canadianlabour.ca/uncategorized/why-unions-history-labour-canada/.
My first real memory of participating in a protest was when I was 12 years old. But of course, there were many before (and many after). It was 1984, a few weeks before Christmas. About 1,500 workers at the six Eatons stores across Ontario walked out, including Hamilton. Like many nights before, I remember staying up late, making signs, pamphlets, stickers, posters and of course hanging out with all the other kids my age while the parents organized, collaborated and discussed the events for the next day (or next initiative). I remember how cold it was on that November day and yet it didn’t seem to deter the thousands of folks who showed up stormed inside Eaton’s to show support for the workers. We chanted “Boycott Eatons” and walked right into the department store in full solidarity with the workers (mostly women at the time). According to union organizer Sue Grange, about 80 percent of the striking workers were women and faced a huge discrepancy in pay, poor work conditions and job insecurity. (source:https://www.tvo.org/article/when-strikers-stormed-eatons-flagship-department-store)
My family was evicted twice during Urban Renewal initiatives. “City building” created roads and apartment buildings, but didn’t much care about low-income renters! This eventually carved the path for being advocates for safe and affordable communities. I also remember the 1005 Local Stelco Strike. This is hard to forget as it was a 125-day walk-out with 12,500 striking workers at Stelco’s Hilton Works in Hamilton. And of course, I also spent a lot of time walking the picket line with my family.
My parents were (and still are) strong activists which are how I remember my childhood – attending protests, marches, rallies and many many committee meetings (often held at our house).
I have never missed marching in the Labour Day Parade. From an early age I was exposed to “the Federation of Women Teachers Associations of Ontario” (FWTAO) which represented women teachers for over 75 years. It seemed like our house was filled with people working (volunteering) tirelessly to ameliorate one cause or another. Full ashtrays, good music playing in the background and close friends finding ways to make a difference. Throughout my years in Hamilton, I was exposed to central American Solidarity Human Rights groups, Tools for Peace (human hights, social justice) The Hamiton and Area Affirmative Action Coalition, HAAAC and worked with the O.F.L. (This group advocated for equal pay and non-traditional jobs).
My family was evicted twice during Urban Renewal initiatives. “City building” created roads and apartment buildings, but didn’t much care about low-income renters! This eventually carved the path for being advocates for safe and affordable communities.
When I was growing up in Hamilton, a student at HWDSB, men and women teachers were in separate unions, although I think they worked together. Eventually, they officially joined together to form ETFO. Since my mother was part of the Union executive at that time, I know there were many meetings. My mom recalls, “ I remember that some women were uncertain of joining together and that men would “take over”, and not advocate for women’s issues or rights. Over the years teachers worked within the larger labour community for “No to Violence against Women”, better maternity benefits, affirmative action etc. Teachers advocated and fought for smaller class sizes, help for struggling students and fought continually against cutbacks to education. Better working conditions are better learning conditions.
- My experience as a teacher of 42 Students http://pipedreams-education.ca/2015/09/23/why-we-protest-class-of-42-students-my-story/comment-page-1/
- Looking beyond the Present http://pipedreams-education.ca/2013/01/08/why-do-i-protest-i-am-looking-beyond-the-present/
Did you know?
- 1872, when the Toronto Typographical Union demanded a nine-hour workday from the city’s publishers. Employers refused, and the printers walked off the job on March 25, 1872 (source:https://canadianlabour.ca/uncategorized/why-unions-history-labour-canada/)
- The first teachers’ labour union to be formed was the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario (FWTAO) in 1918 (source: Barbara Richter, It’s Elementary: A brief history of Ontario’s public elementary teachers and their federations, 2006, 4.)
- May 15, 1919, workers in various trades wanted fair wages: much like workers today, they just wanted to earn enough to be able to support their families in the changing economy. They walked off the job and marched into the streets of Winnipeg, leading to one of the biggest labour actions Canada has ever seen. (source:https://canadianlabour.ca/uncategorized/why-unions-history-labour-canada/)
- 1944 was perhaps one of the most significant years for teachers’ unions in Ontario. It was the year that Ontario Premier George Drew created the Teaching Profession Act. (source: Barbara Richter, It’s Elementary: A brief history of Ontario’s public elementary teachers and their federations, 2006, 4.)
- In 1951, when the Equal Pay Act was passed by the government, that men and women were paid the same salary for equal qualifications and responsibilities – This was five years after teachers had endorsed the concept, the Ontario government passed the Fair Remuneration for Female Employees Act, legislating equal pay. http://www.etfo.ca/AboutETFO/History/Documents/It’s%20Elementary%20-%202018%20Edition.pdf, pg 63)
- 1971: Unions fought for the rights of women to have paid Maternity Benefits
- Similar to the events of 1973, when Education Minister Tom Wells introduced Bills 274 and 275, Bill 115 gives the Education Minister the exclusive authority to prevent or end any strike and legislate new teacher contracts, effectively putting an end to teachers’ unions’ rights to collective bargaining
- Prior to 1975, teachers in Ontario did not have the right to legally strike
- Bill 100, the School Boards’ and Teachers’ Collective Negotiations Act, became law in July 1975.
- Teachers Collective Negotiation Act, Bill 100, in 1975 was a turning point for the teaching profession in Ontario.
- The first labour organization in Canada to do so was the Ontario Federation of Labour, which in 1983 designated seats specifically for women on its executive. http://www.etfo.ca/AboutETFO/History/Documents/It’s%20Elementary%20-%202018%20Edition.pdf
- In 1997, Bill 100 was repealed by the Harris government in favour of Bill 160. This bill would restrict teacher bargaining.
- The government passed Bill 115 (The Putting Students First Act) on September 11, 2012, Premier McGuinty asked teachers to “hit the pause button” on salary increases. This bill also limits the legality of teachers’ unions and support staff going on strike. In April 2016, the law was found to be unconstitutional. (source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Putting_Students_First_Act).
- 2015, OPSBA tabled a set of contract strips aimed at setting back the clock on years of hard-fought bargaining gains. The strips included: management control over teacher preparation time; increased teacher supervision time; teachers losing the ability to determine which student assessments to use; removal of the new, fair teacher hiring policy; erosion of occasional teacher working conditions; erosion of local bargaining rights; removal of class size protections in local agreements; and changing the role of DECEs in Kindergarten programs. Source:http://www.etfo.ca/AboutETFO/History/Documents/It’s%20Elementary%20-%202018%20Edition.pdf
- 2015, ETFO reached a tentative agreement in early November that included a 2.5 percent salary increase enhancements to working conditions. Other gains included improvements to the teacher hiring regulation that benefited occasional teachers, and a half-day Professional Activity Day devoted to health and safety.
- April 2017, the Ontario NDP released its pre-election policy document that included a number of ETFO policies, including reduced Kindergarten class size; more resources for students with special needs; a move to random-sample EQAO testing; a commitment to creating healthy and safe schools; and a plan to increase access to high-quality child care. (Source: http://www.etfo.ca/AboutETFO/History/Documents/It’s%20Elementary%20-%202018%20Edition.pdf)