Magazine article Canadian Dimension

Taking Education outside the Classroom

Magazine article Canadian Dimension

Taking Education outside the Classroom

Article excerpt

We're living through a frustrating time when all of our battles are defensive, when the measure of success isn't something we can directly grab hold of but - as with the Days of Action - the intangible "building" for the next day and the day after so that one day we can start moving forward again.

To put the teachers' strike in perspective, it's useful to take ourselves back to the summer of 1995 when Mike Harris was elected, with the votes of a good many unionized workers. Organized labour and its social partners were demoralized. We had no political leadership, no direction and little self-confidence. By the fall of 1997, teachers - at a large and noisy rally of supporters and in the middle of the longest illegal walkout since unions were recognized at the end of World War Two - greeted speakers with changes of "General Strike! General Strike!" Yes - teachers!

What happened in between was that organized labour decided to become a movement again. Along with teachers and social activists, it invented a new kind of political protest. Over a two-year period, a series of city-wide shutdowns was carried out - nine "Days of Action" in all - to challenge what the Harris government was doing to our communities. We didn't expect Harris to listen, but we hoped others would. To reverse the Harris agenda, we had to change the political mood in the province, and that meant forcing a debate and getting people more involved in what was happening around them.

In an important sense, the teachers' strike climaxed the Days of Action. That the teachers returned to work without winning their immediate demands was certainly a disappointment. Ultimately, the failure was a collective failure - in spite of their remarkable solidarity (less than two per cent of teachers tried to enter their schools) and incredible support (no "illegal" walkout had ever achieved such widespread backing). …

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