The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, the bargaining agent for all English public school teachers, has just rejected the last proposal put forth by the Ministry of Education. Originally the school board representatives and the Ministry put forth a proposal offering elementary teachers a 12% wage increase over the next four years and 40 minutes of additional prep time. However, since the financial crisis the school boards have significantly scaled back their proposal to just a 4% wage increase over the next four years, far below the rate of inflation. Furthermore, the proposal offered by the school boards does nothing to close the funding gap of almost $500 per child between elementary and public schools. Ontario’s public schools at both levels continue to be chronically under funded. The massive cuts to education and the centralization of school boards under both Harris and McGuinty have left schools, particularly schools in poor neighborhoods, unable to deal with diversity in the classroom.
Teachers’ working and living conditions, as well as the quality of education in the province, should not have to suffer for the mistakes made by the provincial government and the implicit role they have played in creating this crisis. While the elementary teachers are not yet talking job action and have yet to take a strike vote, the rejection of this proposal sets the stage for labour unrest in the province. Ontario teachers unions, while often correctly associated with “business unionism”, have historically been one of the most militant in the province. In 1997 they staged the largest strike in Canada’s history and one of the longest illegal strikes since the famous “sit-down strikes” of the 40’s. In 1975, they resigned en-masse to protest cuts to education and attempts by the provincial government to legislate them as “essential service workers.” All over the world teachers unions are often the first of many to fightback against attacks by the capitalist state on public services and the working and living conditions of the working class.