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New Political Realities and Lessons from Progressive Social Movements

Sam Hammond


The election of Donald Trump in the US has had powerful reverberations internationally. His blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic and corporate agenda has given permission to the expression of extremist views and caused a great deal of fear and anxiety. It has also fueled social and political movements that call for justice and urge people to fight state-sanctioned violence, join Indigenous peoples in their call for sovereignty and work collectively to protect our environment. This new political reality underlines the importance of ETFO continuing to work with and support our social justice partners. We must work together to fight against systems that undermine and oppress us.

At the fall Representative Council, we had the honour of having lawyer and community organizer Kike Roach as our guest speaker. She spoke about two movements in particular, Black Lives Matter and Idle No More, focusing on both the issues that they raise and their organizing tactics. “Black Lives Matter has created community, shown us that we are not alone and that we share a common struggle,” Roach said. “Both movements show us how we need to shake up our tactics when the people we are negotiating with are not listening.” Both of these grassroots community movements offer lessons about the intersectionality of our experiences and the universality of our need to build a better future.

Understanding that our experiences are intersectional, that racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia and classism are interconnected and affect people differently, is key as we chart our way forward. A person’s location, their precarity or stability, is informed by the intersection of these factors.

One of the most important trends over the past decades has been the growth of insecurity for the majority of people globally. Millions of workers suffer from precarious, insecure, uncertain and unpredictable working conditions that affect all aspects of their lives. According to the International Labour Organization, “the universality and dimension of the problem call for coordinated and comprehensive action at the international level.”

In the fall of 2016, the Ontario Federation of Labour launched a survey on precarious work. The goal of the survey was to educate people about the Changing Workplaces Review and get a sense of how precarious work impacts Ontarians. While the data is still being analyzed, most of the almost 5,000 respondents said they were either directly affected by precarity or were affected by the experiences of family and community members.

I know I have been talking a lot about solidarity lately, but standing together and continuing to push for progressive values and policies is ever more pressing. We must continue to organize and stand with like-minded groups in opposition to precarity, violence, austerity and extreme-right voices in Ontario and beyond especially as we anticipate a bargaining climate that may be intent on lowest common denominator thinking and the next provincial election in 2018.

ETFO has always been an organization whose members are committed to political action. Now more than ever, we are exercising our power to advance progressive conversations that build a more just society and drive action on the part of the labour movement.

Beyond the work that we do to amplify key voices in our communities and build solidarity with other organizing initiatives, ETFO will be engaging more directly with parents and other public school supporters. In the spring, ETFO locals will be hosting community forums across the province. One goal of the forums is to provide parents and other members of the public an opportunity to discuss how we improve elementary education. How do we “build better schools” for everyone? We want to encourage our communities to be active participants in advocating for more investment in public education, for better schools.

Educators have an important role in building better schools and empowering ourselves and our students to build a better world. I hope you will support ETFO’s community forums and I look forward to continuing our work together.