Ontario secondary school students organized the biggest walkout in the province’s history on April 4. Somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 students from over 700 high schools participated. Walkouts even spread to elementary schools. This is the second major student walk out in the province since the Tories were elected.
A whole generation is in revolt against the Ford Tories and their attacks on public education. The students know that their future is in jeopardy. They’re opposed to the classroom size increases, the thousands of layoffs, the slashing of supports for autistic children, the dangerous rollback of the sex-ed curriculum, and the cancellation of efforts to include more Indigenous content in schools. OSAP grants for university and college students are also being cut back.
Back in September, over 40,000 high school students walked out to protest Ford’s cuts to the sex-ed curriculum. Learning from that experience, student organizers used Instagram and other social media to coordinate the April 4 protest, even developing an impressive organizing guide to help spread the political message and best organizational practices.
The impact of the protest should not be underestimated because thousands of others are getting organized to fight the government’s agenda. The Tories could be in serious trouble here, but the students can’t win this fight alone.
Fighting Ford requires coordination
The Ford government will unveil their budget on April 11. It is expected to escalate cuts to public services, healthcare, education and jobs. The wealthy and corporate privatizers will be showered with gifts. The coming weeks are a huge test for the labour movement in building an Ontario Spring and expanding the ranks of the opposition in the streets.
Teachers are mobilizing for an education rally on Saturday, April 6. The Ontario Health Coalition has called for a mass rally at Queen’s Park in Toronto on April 30. The for-profit privatization of healthcare means huge amounts of public money flooding into the pockets of wealthy corporations and rich stockholders – instead of frontline health services and jobs.
The Ontario Federation of Labour – the umbrella organization for over 700,000 union members – is also calling for actions around the province on June 7. This is a chance to combine the forces of the new student movement, organized labour, and community organizations. Large marches and student walkouts can open up possibilities for sick-outs, picket lines, and economic disruption. June 7 can be a major step towards building the political crisis required to stop the Tory agenda.
Solidarity with the teachers
With teachers and education workers heading into bargaining, students have raised the stakes in this battle over the future of public education. The unions know they have a lot of support from students and the broader public to take on the government. The size and breadth of the student walkout is a threat to Ford’s political agenda, which is why they’ve been attacking and demonizing teachers so relentlessly.
That said, the Tories will be determined to defeat the unions and demoralize students. The brutal nature of the government attacks and the mass student movement means that the unions have to fight like hell to win, and will likely require major acts of solidarity. A defeat on the education front will set the entire movement back, as the defeat of the 1997 teachers strike did for the millions fighting the Harris Tories.
If labour can begin pulling many thousands of its members and supporters into the streets on April 6, April 30 and June 7, the movement’s ranks will swell, confidence will rise, and new opportunities will emerge to press our advantage. But if labour can’t seize the opportunity opened up by the student walkouts, then we’re giving the Tories far too much space to manoeuvre. They’ll be able to regain the initiative if they can fall back on their usual methods of media spin, bluster, and bullying. The Tories are already banking on this, having changed campaign spending rules to allow huge corporate and wealthy donations. The student walkout points the way forward: the many creating a paralyzing and hopefully fatal political crisis for the few.