The fight over Bill 136 may be over but the battle against the Harris government isn’t, with labour groups across the province putting their support behind the teachers’ fight against Bill 160.
All four local teacher federations have joined the Fort Frances and District Labour Council, the most recent being the Federation of Women Teachers’ Association of Ontario and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.
Labour council president Dale Gustafson said if the teachers were to go on strike, support from the labour sector would be “almost automatic.”
“Good support in terms of helping organize things, letting people out to walk the picket lines with them—labour support is high for them,” he said.
Although Gustafson couldn’t speak for the labour unions working in the education system, he was “90 percent sure” that support also meant honouring teacher picket lines.
This feeling of solidarity has spread among teachers. Andrew Hallikas, president of the local Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said last week that support from the district labour council and the Ontario Federation of Labour has been tremendous.
“I think it’s really good we’re all standing together from a local standpoint," echoed local OECTA president Cathy Brindle. ”I know it’s not token support.
“Locally, I don’t think they’ll cross [picket lines].”
Brindle said the OFL was helping to co-ordinate efforts against Bill 160—the Education Quality Improvement Act—and was giving every indication they were in tooth-and-nail with the teachers.
“If the government doesn’t back down on 160, we still have the total support," Brindle said. ”So [picket lines] won’t just be at the schools.
“That’s the message I’m getting,” she added.
Brindle was hoping a strong show of unity would make the Harris government back down on its proposed education legislation just like it did on Bill 136.
And both Brindle and Gustafson believed this unity won’t be short-lived, either.
“We’ve realized the government is not drawing the line between the two groups," Brindle remarked. ”What the government does with one will affect the other.
“And we’re starting to see what reaction the government is taking with united groups.”
“Our membership has almost doubled because of all this legislation," noted Gustafson. "What it’s done to the teachers and the public-sector unions is brought them much closer together than they have ever been.”