Ontario education workers decry union efforts to bully grassroots

Are you an education worker in Ontario? The Pan-Canadian Grassroots Educator Safety Committee is meeting this Sunday, September 11 at 1 p.m. EST to discuss the way forward in the fight against the pandemic and contract struggles across the country. E-mail [email protected] to participate.

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More than 250,000 teachers and education support staff were forced to return to classrooms across Ontario this week without contracts by education unions. Despite overwhelming support among educational assistants, custodians, early childhood educators, teachers and other support staff for a common fight to secure above-inflation pay increases and end the public education austerity, education unions let previous contracts expire on August 31 without even holding strike votes and insist on negotiating separately.

These stalling tactics, deliberately aimed at demoralizing rank-and-file workers and softening them up for a sell-out deal, enabled the far-right Ford government to go on the offensive. Education Minister Stephen Lecce arrogantly said he wanted ‘stability’ in schools and threatened to criminalize industrial action with back-to-work legislation.

The Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), a branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), is currently in talks with the Ford government to secure a contract for 55,000 support staff. The main concern of the union leadership is to avoid a strike, as shown by the fact that it has delayed the call for a vote until the end of the month. Voting will close on Oct. 2, meaning bureaucracy will announce the result nearly six weeks after the previous contract expired. As OSBCU Chief Negotiator Laura Walton has repeatedly pointed out, a “yes” vote on the strike ballot will not cause the OSBCU bureaucracy to call for immediate action.

Workers are outraged by the unions’ attempt to block a common struggle by education workers and are looking to the newly created Ontario Education Workers Rank and File Committee (OEWRFC) to guide their struggle. The OEWRFC was established last month and counts teachers, caretakers and teaching assistants among its members. He fights to unify all education workers in a mass political mobilization of the working class against the Ford government’s assault on wages and working conditions, and the gutting of education spending.

The development of the Committee has angered the bureaucracy, with the OSBCU issuing a concise statement on Facebook in late August warning workers not to join the OEWRFC’s Facebook discussion group because it has banned union bureaucrats from participating. In response to this blatant attempt to intimidate workers, a Toronto guard said, “We are effectively blocking union bureaucrats for very important reasons. We want to offer workers, whatever their title, a platform to freely discuss their working conditions, experience, demands, etc., without being spied on by union bureaucrats who collect information on the most vulnerable workers. militants.

OSBCU Facebook post attempting to dissuade workers from joining OEWRFC chat group

He continued, “The OSBCU statement denouncing the grassroots chat group was filled with hypocrisy and lies. The union says that “transparency is not just the foundation of what we do, but an expectation that workers should have of their leaders”. Union bureaucrats have never been transparent. They keep members in the dark about all important issues regarding bargaining. We don’t have access to backroom meetings between government ministers and union bureaucrats. Instead, the OSBCU posts carefully edited videos on its YouTube page demonstrating what they are supposed to have told the government.

Earlier this week, the OEWRFC released a statement providing a political explanation for its decision to exclude Walton and other bureaucrats from its online chat rooms:

The Ontario Education Workers Rank-and-File Committee (OEWRFC) has decided to ban education union bureaucrats from the Facebook discussion group we have established as a forum for education workers to to discuss the ongoing contract fight against the hard right. The Ford government and the raging COVID-19 pandemic.

We rejected an application to join our group from Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions and lead negotiator with the Ford government for a new contract for 55,000 education support workers . We also rejected the demands of other union officials. This includes Hermes Azam, steward of CUPE Local 4400 and leading member of the pseudo-left group Fightback.

OEWRFC was formed to organize and mobilize basic education workers independently of unions, which for decades have sabotaged and suppressed our struggles. Our Facebook page is a forum where rank-and-file workers, members or not of our committee, can talk freely about the demands they want to fight for and how to fight for them.

If union bureaucrats are now trying to join our committee’s discussion group, it is because they fear the development of a rank-and-file rebellion that unifies teachers, support staff and broader sections of workers. They want to prevent it by identifying who the main militant workers are.

There is no other credible explanation why these union officials would attempt to infiltrate our group. If senior union officials like Walton really wanted to engage with rank-and-file members, they have more than enough organizational means, including CUPE’s considerable staff and resources, to do it themselves. What they cannot tolerate is education workers organizing beyond their stifling control to break down the artificial differences created by CUPE and the teachers’ unions.

Ford has made it clear that he wants to impose below-inflation wage deals and austerity budgets on us, including criminalizing industrial action to prevent us from striking. Walton and CUPE reacted by delaying a strike vote until late in the fall, entering into conciliation with the government and refusing to call for a common struggle for the 200,000 teachers facing the same fate. The four teachers’ unions helped divide us, leaving us sitting ducks for Ford’s attack. They insist on negotiating separately, have pledged in Lecce to maintain “stability” in the schools and have signaled that they will not take any industrial action until next winter.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this movie. In 2019, Walton and CUPE blatantly rejected a crushing strike mandate by reaching an eleventh-hour deal with Ford that included Bill 124’s hated salary cap. Teachers’ unions followed suit a few months later. late. For the next two and a half years, all of the education unions prevented us from taking any collective action against the pandemic policy of ‘profit before life’.

Fightback is a loyal servant and cheerleader for the union bureaucracy. In 2019, they hailed the sold-out contract Walton and CUPE cobbled together with Ford as a “significant victory,” even though he enshrined the 1% per year salary cap in Bill 124.

The response now resumes its role of defender and apologist of bureaucracy. Despite Walton and Co’s systematic division of teacher support workers and their maneuvering to prevent a strike, the latest Fightback article, co-authored by Azam, has given union leadership a boost to a ‘good start’. for the negotiation process”. They even failed to mention that Lecce threatened us with a back-to-work law, because it would force them to recognize that we are involved in more than just a “collective bargaining” struggle.

Any serious struggle for anti-inflationary wage increases, measures to stop the spread of COVID, and tens of billions in investments for public education will require the mobilization of educators and the working class as a whole in a political struggle. class against capitalist austerity and wages. -Chopped off. We encourage all education workers who recognize that we need to step out of the straitjacket imposed by union bureaucrats and take the fight into their own hands to join OEWRFC.

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