When I became General Secretary three years ago, I was charged with ushering in significant change.
Standing Together for All Ontarians (From the President)
What moves us forward is the strength of our relationships, acting in solidarity with the people around us. There are serious challenges ahead. The economy here in Ontario and in Canada is not as robust as we would like. There will be pressure on governments at all levels to scale back programs and supports at a time when there are more people in need than ever. We need to remain vigilant – speaking out not just for our members and students, but for all who can benefit from our strength.
Affecting positive change in our classrooms and our communities is an essential part of what we do. It is one of the reasons we fight so hard when we bargain our contracts. We know that our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions and we take responsibility for building better schools in this province. As a union of educators, this means ensuring our members have professional development opportunities that reflect our commitment to equity, anti-racism, anti-colonialism – social and economic justice for all. As activists, this means looking for opportunities to create broader social change for everyone in our communities.
In recent weeks, ETFO local leaders and I presented at pre-budget hearings across the province. The education funding formula must be fixed. Money lost two decades ago has never been replaced. We need more supports for students with special needs, improved resources for English language learners and reduced class sizes for kindergarten and grades four and eight. These are issues that we advance with the government and identify in our building better schools website and parent portal (buildingbetterschools. ca).
As a union, it is our responsibility to stand with social movements that call on us to be allies in the fight for Indigenous rights, economic justice, equity and democracy. Our February Representative Council speaker Desmond Cole urged delegates to actively challenge the legacy of colonialism and the impacts of systemic racism and white privilege in our own learning and in our classrooms. He urged us not to be complicit in the racism that is part of the world we share, but to actively fight against it.
Part of our work is to amplify the voices of our allies and to add ours to these important political struggles. One of the ways that we do this is through our work with the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour, and local labour councils. Together we have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Syrian relief efforts. ETFO staff have developed a workshop to assist members in meeting the needs of Syrian and other children arriving as refugees to smaller centres and rural areas. We have also come together with others in the labour movement and the not-for-profit sector to call for public hearings on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a far-reaching trade agreement negotiated in secret by the previous federal government with the potential to seriously weaken education and other sectors.
As a federation, everyday we have the opportunity to walk the talk – to actively work for social justice and equity and to demonstrate that, in the immortal words of J.S. Wordsworth, “What we wish for ourselves, we desire for all.”