Teachers, Bureaucrats and Betrayal: Halloween in Harrisland

Article excerpt

Halloween is a time of dressing up. In Ontario the province s teachers donned the garb of class struggle from October 28 to November 5, 1997. Over 125,000 educational instructors, associated with five different teacher federations, left their classrooms to protest the government's so-called Education Quality Improvement Act, Bill 160

Bill 160: Bilking Education, Backing Tax Cuts

A dangerously autocratic piece of legislation, Bill 160 is notorious because it has little to do with education and everything to do with money and power. Students are virtually ignored, pages given over to discussions of the expanding authority of the state. The legislation also secures the government hard unearned dollars that it needs to pay for tax cuts that benefit the rich.

Some of Bill 160's provisions curtail negotiating possibilities and strip teachers of their right to strike. Non-credentialled instructors can replace teachers in classrooms. The Minister of Education has the capacity to change the constitution of the teachers' governing union body. An assault on teacher preparation time masks the intention of eliminating 10,000 teacher jobs.

If passed, Bill 160 nails the coffin shut on Ontario's education system. In spite of the teachers' best efforts to stop this from happening, there is every indication that this sorry outcome is assured. For this defeat, which has implications reaching well beyond teachers and schooling, the blame must be placed squarely where it belongs, with the labour bureaucracy.

Halloween Heroes and the Labour Heavies: Teachers, Treats and Tricks

Mike Harris and Ontario's ruling Tories made the teachers scapegoats. The trade union tops in three of the teacher federations made their ranks patsies. Teachers made themselves heroes. But heroism is not enough in the Ontario of the late 1990s. Teachers have now been subjected to Lesson One of Class Politics: you are only as good as your leadership. Few lessons are so studiously sidestepped; few disciplines more unforgiving.

In the hard Halloween season of 1997, Ontario's teachers snatched the treat of class struggle from their bureaucratic leaders, turning it against the gutting of the education order. Picket lines were rock-solid. Parents were largely on side. Promising not to take money out of the education system, government spokesmen were soon exposed: $700 million was going to be cut. When the Attorney General moved to squash the teacher walkout with an injunction, the Province's counsel proved vulnerable and unprepared. A so-called 'illegal strike' was, in effect, judicially declared a legitimate political protest. Spirited rallies punctuated the placid autumn calm and electrified big cities. Teachers tasted the sweet possibility of victory. It was a treat.

Then came the trick, as the state led with intransigence and the labour leaders followed with capitulation.

The Tories amended their education agenda with a few more razorblade cuts and began to slice teacher federations apart with a patently obvious 'divide and rule' strategy. Education Minister Dave Johnson demanded that high school teachers alone face elimination of much of their prep time, targeting the militant Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF). The state dispensed no treats. Three of the teacher federation leaders delivered the final ugly trick, a knife in the back. The labour heavies heading the Federation of Women Teachers of Ontario, Ontario Public School Teachers Federation (OPSTF) and L' Association des Enseignants Franco-Ontariens broke ranks with the Common Front of teacher unions, ordering their members back to classrooms. There was not even the pretense of polling union locals, let alone a democratic vote.

Two teacher federations, OSSTF and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, refused to knuckle under immediately. They postponed the inevitable decision until the weekend, after yet another mass rally on the lawn of the provincial parliament. …