Public school and college teachers are the first public sector workers to receive the brunt of budget cuts to jobs and services in Ontario. The mass turnout in opposition at today’s rally shows the growing anger against the austerity agenda.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s budget includes provisions to legislate contracts and outlaw strikes if workers do not accept the government’s conditions. Even before teachers have entered in to the bargaining process, McGuinty called the legislature into emergency session on August 27, tabling a bill to force teachers to accept a wage freeze, reduction of sick days, and unpaid days—a chilling attack on workers’ rights.
Ontario Elementary (ETFO) and Secondary (OSSTF) unions, representing the majority of teachers, have condemned this action. ETFO is continuing with strike vote plans and has called for a day of action this fall. OSSTF has called off a planned strike vote but is leaving the door open for future action.
College teachers, members of Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), are facing similar strong-arm tactics. The colleges have refused every union demand since bargaining began in June. Instead, they are proposing a new work category that would drastically undercut existing rights and conditions. Union negotiators refused to accept this and the colleges’ response was to file for a “no-board” report which sets the stage for a lock-out or an imposed contract for college teachers.
Thousands of teachers and supporters rallied on August 28 against the cuts and the heavy hand of McGuinty. Queen’s Park was filled to capacity, with placards and flags, and anger at McGuinty. This is a good indication that despite the fear and intimidation, there is growing anger at the austerity agenda. They key will be organizing this amongst rank-and-file workers, to push for future protests and strikes.