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Working Together to Make Our Voices Heard

Sam Hammond

In recent years, ETFO has shifted as an organization. While we have always been committed to equity and social justice, we, as a union of educators, are increasingly recognizing the importance of our solidarity with other social movements. This means not only fighting to ensure that we have safe and healthy classrooms, but also actively working to ensure that our students and their families, the communities in which we teach, have their needs met and their social safety nets intact.

This solidarity work, the commitment to being a good social justice ally as well as an advocate for publicly-funded public education, is key as we move forward in a political climate where extremist views are increasingly being given permission to be expressed. As we begin a new school year, we reaffirm our commitment to stand with those fighting for an increase in the minimum wage and for better working conditions for all Ontarians, groups fighting for the environment and Indigenous rights and those standing strong against anti-Black and anti-Muslim racism. Standing in solidarity with our communities creates better living and working conditions for all of us.

Our commitment to safe and healthy schools for all our students was the impetus for an annual meeting motion regarding renaming schools currently named after John A. Macdonald. Our goal was to open up an honest conversation about the role of Macdonald in the creation of residential schools and the Indian Act and the impact that these have had on all of our students, but specifically on FNMI students. The strong public debate in response reaffirmed how important it is to have these conversations.

Commitment to our schools and students is also the reason ETFO will continue to work to address violence in schools and continue to push the government to redress the impacts of a funding formula that is lagging far behind student need. We will continue to lobby the government, work on advocacy campaigns, offer supports to members through new resources, and work with community groups and providers of children’s mental health services.

These will all be issues in the next provincial election in June 2018. Recent polls show the possibility of a Conservative government, but we all know that campaigns matter and much can change between now and June. Together we must work with our communities to ensure we elect a government with progressive values at its core. As we move forward, it’s important to remember that with changes to the election finance rules we are not able to release members to work on campaigns and our advertising is restricted. We will need to focus our efforts internally and rely on members to actively engage in the election campaign to ensure our priorities are front and centre leading up to election day.

This was an election year at our annual meeting and I would like to close by welcoming new members to the executive. We have a great deal of work ahead of us as an organization, and I couldn’t be happier working with this leadership team, our local leaders and our members.

Whether we are working together to build capacity within our locals to work on the provincial election or reaching out to community groups and allies to build networks of solidarity, we know that democracy, as Unifor Sam Gindon Chair in Social Justice Kiké Roach has said, “is something that happens when we make our voices heard and our presence felt, when we not only identify the problems we see but work together to find the solutions.”

- Sam Hammond