By Doug Nesbitt and David Bush
Thousands of students from every corner of the province walked out of classes today and yesterday in a massive show of opposition to the recent attacks on education, including its rollback of the “sex ed” curriculum, and cancellation of discussions to include more Indigenous knowledge and history in school curriculums. Reports suggest that as many as 40,000 students took part in the #WeTheStudentsDoNotConsent Ontario student walkout.
When Ford pushed through the regressive changes to the sex-ed curriculum this summer students were rightfully upset. But instead of waiting around to see how this issue would play out in the courts, students took the struggle into their own hands. They organized a provincial walkout.
This is not the first time Ontario high school students have organized mass walkouts in response to the government. In 1997 high school students organized large and rolling walkouts, many coordinated, over a period of weeks against Harris’s brutal Bill 160 assault on public education. A month later, a province-wide teacher walkout shook the entire province. In the fall of 2012, high school students organized two waves of massive well-coordinated walkouts against the dictatorial Bill 115. By December, ETFO launched its rotating one-day strikes. The student walkouts and teacher protests were one of the main reasons that McGuinty was essentially forced out of office in pathetic disgrace.
This type of mass, united action is what organized labour needs to be do to fight Ford the agenda. Students are leading and unions should follow.
The Ford Tories have already promised cuts across the board. Now they’re whipping up deficit hysteria to justify more cuts. The Minister of Finance Vic Fedeli announced this morning the actual provincial deficit for this fiscal year will be $15 billion, more than double what the Liberals said. Fedeili and the Tories claim the Liberals cooked the books.
Of course the Liberals cooked the books, just like previous Tory governments did. This creative accounting when it comes to province’s budget is always used to further the interests of the business class. While there is money for tax cuts to the rich, the rest of us will be expected to shoulder the burden of cuts.
Killing Bill 148 and Right-to-Work
The major gains for workers and labour in Bill 148, including the $15 minimum wage, are also on the chopping block. Legislation attacking Bill 148 is expected to be tabled soon. If Ford meets only a weak opposition on Bill 148, he will make like Mike Harris and roll back labour laws even further. There is every indication that if the Tories feel confident, they will attack union security and bring in right-to-work laws like those seen in the United States. The Tories only buried the right-to-work policy after Hudak got hammered in the 2014 election.
The time has come for organized labour to call for mass actions, to unroll internal organizing campaigns to build for strikes. The rollbacks to Bill 148 aren’t just about minimum wage workers, they’re about provisions like Equal Pay for Equal Work, something that a lot of union workers don’t have.
The attack on the employment standards and the minimum wage concerns all workers, union and non-union. When employment standards are attacked it not only punishes low-wage workers and workers without unions, it makes it harder for unions to bargain gains in their contracts.
Students show the way
Many students who are walking out are workers themselves, or will soon be. These student-workers are hit hard by Ford’s attack on the minimum wage and employment standards. Drawing links between this classroom struggle and the class struggle against the Tory agenda will be key to widening and escalating the resistance to Ford. The Fight for $15 and Fairness is well-situated as a bridge between organized labour and the new student opposition in creating a broad class fightback against Ford.
The burgeoning resistance to the Ford agenda amongst students should not be left by labour to wither on the vine. Students are leading the way and workers have to follow. Ultimately it is workers who have the economic power to make the business class suffer and blunt the coming Tory assault.