The 2019-2020 school year was one for the history books. We started the year bargaining with a Conservative government determined to make massive cuts to public education and ended with a global pandemic and our members having to adjust to emergency distance learning over the course of just a couple of weeks.
We’re Keeping the Pressure On in the Fight for Public Education
When faced with a regressive government that consistently demonstrates its backwards logic, we must double down on our commitments to one another, to our collective well-being and to equity and social justice. The summer issue of Voice is our women’s issue. It focuses on women’s leadership in ETFO and the broader community, women’s voices, women’s contributions and women’s unique perspectives.
In 1998, when ETFO emerged from the union of the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario (FWTAO) and the Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation (OPSTF), six percent funding for women’s programs was enshrined in the new Federation’s constitution. This was one of our most significant accomplishments and I am very proud to be the president of a union that demonstrates its commitment to women members concretely. Our commitment to equity, and specifically to the leadership of women members, sets a high standard for all labour unions across this province.
Because ETFO is made up of 80 percent women members, women’s organizing is central to the work we have been doing to create networks of solidarity with parents and other allies in our communities. In our fight to ensure that we maintain the quality of Ontario’s public education system for all students, regardless of where they live in the province, the connections and supports we build now are essential to our efforts as we enter bargaining.
The Conservative government has consistently used upside-down and backwards logic in its approach to education. Plans to increase class sizes will mean less one-on-one attention from teachers and will be particularly harmful to students with special needs. The number of students identified with special needs is increasing every year; at the same time, budget cuts mean there are fewer resources to support them. Massive cuts to public education will impact schools in every community in the province. How many classes will be eliminated in your neighbourhood school? And how many teaching positions will be lost?
Parents, students and educators know that we need more investment in education, not less. Too many kids won’t get the opportunities they deserve to reach their potential. We can and must do better and ETFO members, parents and others know that the children in this province are worth investing in.
In April, we ran an extremely successful member mobilization effort, connecting with members in every local across the province and talking about how we can organize together. As we move into the summer months, I encourage all our incredible leaders, organizers and members to stay connected with ETFO and continue to be engaged in your local. The Conservatives do a lot of their fundraising in the summer. Summer barbeques and other Conservative Party events are the perfect opportunity to leaflet and share your perspective about the importance of investing in Ontario’s children and our collective future.
ETFO is currently creating resources for members interested in organizing over the summer. These will be available at etfo.ca and BuildingBetterSchools.ca. We are creating lawn and window signs that talk about our commitment to public education and reaffirm the message that “Cuts Hurt Kids.” We are working on billboards that will appear across the province. We have released a radio ad that tells Ontarians that despite larger classes, lack of resources, buildings in serious need of repair and dwindling supports, teachers and other educators still manage to make sure that Ontario’s public education system is one of the best in the world. Our ads ask people across Ontario to join the fight for investment in public education and hold their local MPPs accountable for budget cuts.
There is no doubt that this round of bargaining and next year will be challenging. The government will continue to attack public education and other public services. But we are already seeing the power and impact of our organizing, our solidarity and our communities. We are seeing the powerful impact of our women leaders and others who are fighting to ensure that every Ontario student gets the education they deserve, and every Ontario educator has safe, secure and well-funded working conditions.
- Sam Hammond
The summer issue of Voice is always our Women’s Issue. It is an opportunity to recognize the achievements of women members, to talk about the value and impact of mentorship and women’s programs and to acknowledge both how far we have come as an organization and an advocate for social change, and how far we have yet to go.