Opening Statement



Sunday, 16 September 2012

PSAC-AFPC Toronto Court House Protest Report!

Teacher weekend protest news reports+ photo links continue to be posted on next blog! But first please see:

Saturday Sept. 15th

It's a sunny but cool September day as I head by subway to downtown Toronto, getting off the train at Osgoode Station, and walking a block north on University Avenue to the court house. There was a good sized crowd milling about, then taking their seats as 1pm drew near. PSAC-AFPC, CUPE, and ETFO flags waved in the breeze. Dark clouds gathered overhead, threatening rain. Fitting. Fortunately the sun broke out and smiled down on us half way through the trial.

A trial? Yup! On one side sat the accused: mock heads of McGuinty, Harper, Hudak and Mayor Ford. In the centre, the judge. On the other, the PSAC-AFPC [the Public Service Alliance of Canada and their french Canadian wing] prosecution, including OFL [Ontario Federation of Labour] President Sid Ryan. One by one the witnesses, victims of government public service cuts and attacks on our Collective Agreements, arose from the audience to make their case.

It was a very effective protest event. A witness for each union got up to speak in support of the charges against the different levels of government, with an often quite comical response from the defence lawyer. Then of course, there was the government leaders' bag man who kept throwing money at the judge and the crowd, as the evidence piled up. CUPE President Fred Hahn gave a very high spirited speech that was downright hilarious. TYLC President John Cartwright faithfully listed the litany of work abuses in the Toronto area. An injured migrant worker, a women of colour and a variety of new Canadians made their case. A few real whipper snapper university students, one from Quebec, did the unions proud with their vigour and commitment to the cause.

Wouldn't you know it! The federal, provincial and municipal leaders were found guilty! Off the bag man ran with the money! Perhaps rather long at two hours, but all in all a top notch show! A fine time was had by all who showed up! Top marks must go to the mad mix of comedy and politics. Very effective and engaging. The messaging was quite clear. Canadian unionists in the public service, the support sector, and our largest Ontario's teacher unions are united in the labour fight, federally, provincial and municipally across Canada. The "We are all affected" slogan was well illustrated by the wide diversity of working Canadians who took to the stage. It is my understanding that CPSA-AFPC held similar court house trials across Canada today. This weekend was especially fitting as the public school units move forward with a challenge to Bill 115, promising to take it all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada if need be.

It was rather lonely being the lone OECTA face I saw in the crowd. I know many of our Catholic school support staff, such as the EA's [Educational Assistants] are CUPE members. Under represented at school without a full time union president or readily available reps, their problems are many and hard to address. Many of our CYW's [Child Youth Workers] are non contract agency staff the Catholic board can hire and fire as they please. For all we know few of them may have even been aware of the rally. And our OECTA teachers? Well, I didn't make the protest at Laurel Broten's constituency office last night, while many others did, including at least one rogue provincial executive figure who was there waving our flag, so suppose I can't complain when this is one of the busiest times of our teacher year, but still.....

Know this: We are all teachers. If our union will not get involved, we still can, on our own. Sad I know, and not very effective. But are we just going to stay home and not get involved? Be good Catholic boys and girls? Do as we are told? Even when many of us disagree? We don't do that for the board. Is this any different?

Let's face it! Both OECTA TSU and TECT's [Toronto Elementary Catholic Teachers] retirement gratuities became little more than collateral damage when the MOU deal was reached. We were among the few OECTA units with retirement gratuities, which we have fought very hard to keep for many years. Our board couldn't believe it's good fortune! Neither unit president voted for the MOU when OECTA Provincial presented it to the local presidents at COP last July. And now? We are told it's a done deal. Basically, our hard  fought gains were a part of the trade off when OECTA provincial decided to gamble with a roll of the political dice on the MOU and the Ontario Liberal party. Now provincial sits quietly on the sidelines, outside the forum of action and debate, unlike when we had a gun held to our heads by the Conservatives, and the NDP in years past. We are not even sure if they will attend the membership info/ Q+A meetings in Toronto from Oct 1-3. I understand it is unlikely. For shame!

I KNOW from your many responses to my blog, and as I meet our members as your TSU 3rd VP, that your anger and sense of betrayal often runs very deep. Remember; at it's most grassroots and democratic roots we are the union. It does not belong to the provincial leaders you elected in trust, little suspecting they would ever even think of making a deal with the government to strip our contracts while we were away on summer holidays. Perhaps they are just relieved that it's the OECTA roadmap everyone is now being forced to take. Are you? Please don't give up hope!

I have always been treated respectfully, often even warmly greeted, by our brother and sister teachers and support workes from ETFO, OSSTF, and CUPE. I suppose I am becoming a common, lone figure at  the Toronto area protests. OECTA TSU has fought many big union battles together with our public school collagues before, most notably during the Harris years, and in the 2003, 2008 and 2011 provincial elections. There are still many familiar faces to be seen at the rallys, except for our own colleagues. The fight for justice still runs strong through my blood, and I am sure in many of yours too. It's time to get out and feel the fire running in our veins again. Unto your own selves be true! Granted, it will not be easy for us as Catholic teachers, but each small step into the protest fight raging all about us, is at least a step forward for us all. Hope to see you at the next rally!

My photos from today appear in the slide show top left of my blog screen. Enjoy!

See the "cast" of the Peoples Court on University Ave this Saturday on Facebookhttp://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151194923080660&set=a.10151194885535660.506384.195089465659&type=3&theater

Why do we need our contract rights, and why is Bill 115 so scary. Read Labour Ministry Employment Standards for Teachers and freak: http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/es/tools/srt/coverage_government_teachers.php

URGENT: The Sun Media is running an on line poll. Should Bill 115 be repealed? Share this link. Vote at: http://www.torontosun.com/2012/09/14/teachers-blast-mcguinty-at-ottawa-protest


Olivia Chow at the Court House Protest on Saturday!

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