Well Worth the Fight

Labor Unions are the
leading force for democratization and progress.
                                                                                   Noam Chomsky

The discussions
between the governing Liberals and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of
Ontario are progressing well. So well, in fact, that a tentative deal regarding
changes to the current contracts that were imposed under the infamous Putting Students First Act is reported
to be close at hand.  The ETFO has come
to a number of “understandings” with the governing Liberals, which
could include improvements to maternity leave benefits and more favourable treatment
of sick days.

As discussed in
previous posts, the ETFO advised its members to suspend extracurriculars in
protest of Bill 115 and the PSFA and
to continue the protest until the ETFO was convinced of the government’s
sincerity in pursuing meaningful discussions with the teachers. Convinced of
this sincerity, the ETFO advised its members to reinstate extracurriculars.

This decision to
suspend extracurriculars had led to even more ferocious attacks from factions
of the government, particularly the Conservatives. The ETFO was often accused
of jeopardizing the educational experience of the students in pursuit of their
own interests. Now, despite Liberal and ETFO assurances to the contrary, the
Conservatives allege that there must be a secret deal between the parties,
thereby ascribing to each a sinister motive. Given the lack of evidence in
support of this allegation, the motive has been left as vague as it is

When asked recently
if suspending extracurriculars had been worth the damage done to the students, Mr.
Hammond disagreed with the overall assessment that the students had been harmed
and asserted that the protest was well worth it, stating: “I would say to you,
absolutely, the stand that we have taken, the position we’ve taken and the
actions that we have implemented to get us to where we are have all been very
much worth it.”[1]

It’s difficult to
imagine any right-thinking person could disagree with Mr. Hammond’s take on the
matter. To even ask the question of whether the protests were worth it is to
undermine the ETFO’s decision to suspend extracurriculars and to suggest that
any improvements to the contracts is a minor victory won at a great cost. It is
to ignore the importance of the rights the teachers’ unions have been
defending. When the Liberals enacted the PSFA,
they trampled the collective bargaining rights of organized labour and flouted
the protections of the Charter, including the right to strike. Surely these
rights are worth fighting for.

We all do well to
remember that collective bargaining and Charter rights were not simply handed
over to unions. These rights were hard-won through the tireless efforts of
workers to be treated fairly and with dignity. Workers have died striving to
secure and maintain such rights, rights which the PSFA severely curtailed. In ceasing extracurriculars, the ETFO used
their restricted ability under the PSFA to
oppose these repressive measures. To oppose this legislation was not only
crucial to ensuring the government knows that unions will not be abused without
a fight, it was vital to showing solidarity and respect for the past efforts of
all working men and women who struggled for a better future for themselves,
their families, and the country as a whole.

Apart from the
obvious practicality of suspending extracurriculars, the fight of the teachers’
unions has been one of symbolic necessity. The ETFO has been engaged in a
struggle to defend the past, present and future rights of workers in this
province. To suggest that the alleged “harm” done to students through the
suspension of extracurriculars may not be worth the ETFO’s protest efforts is
to posit that children do not require the positive example set by unions
defending their democratic rights. Indeed, it is to suggest that children are
harmed by unions asserting their democratic rights. If one thing has long held
true it is that children are not harmed by the democratic process. They are
harmed, however, by submission to authoritarian disdain for citizens’ rights. In
suspending extracurriculars the ETFO has done nothing less than hold the
government to its democratic responsibilities, and that is well worth the



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