Ontario’s Minister of Education Arrogantly Demands ‘Stability’ in the Classroom as Contract Negotiations Begin
Are you an education worker in Ontario? Contact us at [email protected] to help create a rank-and-file committee of education workers to organize a fight to defend public education and win anti-inflationary wage increases for all workers.
Even before contract negotiations began this week for more than 250,000 Ontario education workers, Education Minister Stephen Lecce provocatively demanded “stability” for the coming school year. This outrageous attempt to intimidate teachers, teaching assistants and support staff, coming from a man who has overseen the most volatile years of Ontario’s education system for more than a century, underscores that Premier Doug Ford and his far-right Progressive Conservative government intend to impose contracts with concessions on education workers and will not tolerate any opposition.
In comments made earlier this month, Lecce said with a straight face that students in the upcoming 2022/23 school year should return to a “normal learning experience”, which includes, among other things, “activities extracurriculars and sports”.
Education workers hearing these obtuse remarks must have rubbed their eyes in disbelief. Even before the pandemic hit in March 2020, the Ford government imposed cuts to education budgets that left overcrowded classrooms, lack of support for special education and dilapidated school buildings. “normal learning experience” for hundreds of thousands of students across Ontario. Adding to more than a decade of brutal austerity imposed by Ontario’s Liberal, union-backed governments, the Ford government’s elimination of the equivalent of 10,000 full-time teaching positions in part of the spending cuts he implemented in early 2019, pushed the entire education system to the brink of collapse.
The ongoing, rapidly evolving and intensifying COVID-19 pandemic has been used by the capitalist elite to accelerate war against the working class by promoting and enforcing the pro-business policy of “herd immunity” by through mass infection. To keep non-essential businesses going and ensure an uninterrupted flow of capitalist profits, the Ford government sacrificed children, parents and education staff to infection.
The murderous policy of mass infection has completely destabilized the education system in Ontario. Hundreds of education workers have quit or retired early, thousands more have been disabled by Long COVID, and too many education workers have been sent to an early grave.
Lecce’s insistence on “stability” expresses the demands of its masters in the capitalist elite. They are adamant that schools remain open for classroom instruction, so parents may be forced to go to work, even if it means infecting millions more with COVID and now Monkeypox, which is spreading like wildfire. of powder with little supervision. They also support the Ford government’s plans to further cut public education funding per capita in real terms, already among the lowest in Canada, so that corporate taxes can be further reduced and the budget “balanced” in expense of workers.
Lecce’s ‘stability’ statement was also a subtle warning that the government was preparing to ban any strike action by teachers, education assistants, janitors and administrative staff seeking to claw back years of pay cuts in real terms, to protect themselves from raging inflation and oppose the dismantling of public education.
His threat is not aimed at education unions. They are falling over themselves to get around the “negotiating table” with the hated Minister of Education, whose party won the support of less than 18% of the total electorate in the June 2 provincial election. Rather, it is aimed at basic education workers, who are ready for a real fight for higher wages and benefits, and a well-funded public education system, but who are shackled by the unions. bureaucratic to prevent serious employment. action and questioning of the austerity program of the government.
Ford, the former admirer of aspiring fascist dictator Donald Trump, recently said education workers would get a pay rise of more than 1%, but warned in a moment that it wouldn’t be “across the board.” roof”. This means that the contract that the government will propose and hope to impose on education workers with the help of the unions will fall far short of the demands of education workers. Inflation is now galloping at an annual rate of 7.7% and there are no signs of slowing down any time soon. In addition, education workers have worked below the 1% per year wage cap imposed by Bill 124 for the past three years – a reduction in real wages that unions have voluntarily imposed.
The government and their corporate media allies will try to frame their contract offers as a ‘generous’ pay rise over the past three years, but against the backdrop of rampant inflation, it will amount to a drastic pay cut. .
The Ford government can behave so aggressively because it knows the education unions have no intention of fighting. As talks begin this week with four of the five unions, none of the bureaucrats from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the he Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association or the Association des enseignements de l’Ontario has said one word about a strike vote, let alone real industrial action. This is despite the fact that, according to a recent Global News report, union leaders “expect talks to continue well after their contracts expire on August 31.” Karen Littlewood, President of OSSTF, said, “We are a long way from a strike vote. It’s so premature right now.”
In other words, education workers are supposed to sit idly by and do nothing while Ford and his far-right ministers issue threats, launch a vicious campaign against teachers and support staff, accusing him of planning to take children “hostage” and “disrupt” their education – and “negotiate” a package of real-world pay cuts behind the scenes with unions. Education workers will then be called upon to endorse these rotten tentative agreements in votes accompanied by a cacophony of propaganda about greedy teachers and education staff jeopardizing students’ “normal learning experience” and the childcare for working families.
Education workers have seen this game play before. In 2019, as anger grew across the province over the Ford government’s austerity program, unions delayed calling strike votes until contracts expired. With 55,000 support workers set to quit in early October 2019 after a landslide strike vote, CUPE reached an eleventh-hour deal with Ford that included enforcing Bill 124’s salary cap, even though the law doesn’t was not yet in force. Teachers’ unions have been forced by rank-and-file anger to call a series of rotating regional strikes, which have been carefully planned to ensure they never happen on the same day or at the same time. After months of grassroots pressure, teachers’ unions finally felt compelled to call 200,000 teachers to a one-day strike in February 2020, sparking widespread public enthusiasm. Shocked by the wave of popular support, teachers’ unions responded by calling off all future strikes, before seizing on the pandemic as an excuse to enforce the 1% pay deal in sold-out contracts. They went on to denounce any collective action against the mass infection of education workers and students as “unlawful”.
If Ford and Lecce were genuinely concerned about the “stability” of the education system and ensuring a full learning experience for all, they could start by offering education staff an immediate 20% pay raise to reverse the reduction in 19% salary after inflation. workers have suffered since 2012. They could then index wage increases to inflation in the second year of the coming contract and beyond. They could immediately allocate the $14 billion in pending repairs and improvements to school buildings across the province, make up for the $1.3 billion they cut from the 2021-22 education budget, and make arrangements to cover the $12.3 billion projected by the Office of Financial Accountability to miss education spending by 2030.
All education workers know very well that they will do none of this, because their declared concern for the education of children is a sham. These urgently needed measures will only be realized as teachers, educational assistants, caretakers and support staff unite to organize the mass mobilization of workers in a political struggle to fight for a system of strong public education with decent and secure jobs. for all, and the return of strict public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. Education workers must fight an independent fight for what they know they deserve and need, not only in terms of wages, but also to provide the kind of education system needed to teach and nurture. children for a fulfilling life.
Education workers who support these demands should join the fight to create a rank-and-file committee of Ontario educators. Email [email protected] to get involved.