We knew from the outset that the struggle to defend Ontario’s publicly-funded education system against the devastating agenda of the Ford government would not be a short one. We also knew it would not be easy. The one-day, province-wide full withdrawal of services that Federation members were compelled to undertake in early December marked the first province-wide strike by OSSTF/FEESO members in more than 20 years. Since then we have taken a measured approach, with a series of one-day walk-outs in targeted locations around the province.
Now, as the winter wears on and we find ourselves several weeks into one of the largest job actions in the history of the Federation, OSSTF/FEESO members around the province are gaining a new appreciation for words like “resolve” and “solidarity.” These are words we reference frequently, but they are anything but clichés or hollow platitudes. More than a hundred years of Federation history tells us that the resolve and solidarity of the members have been at the heart of every success and every victory OSSTF/FEESO has won.
In 1919, 123 educators took a significant risk by standing together to form OSSTF/FEESO. They understood, as we do now, that the risks involved in defending publicly-funded education are risks worth taking.
In 1973, thousands of OSSTF/FEESO members stood together when their rights were under attack. Their determination to remain united allowed them to push the government to increase funding for the system. In 1985 and 1997, and in several local actions in years since, Federation members have repeatedly stood together, not just in defence of their rights as workers, but also to protect the integrity of the education system in which they worked.
Over and over again, the history of OSSTF/FEESO tells us that solidarity and the resolve of the members have been central factors in every significant accomplishment. Our current struggle is no different. Yes, we are facing a government that seems determined to avoid the real issues and cloud the discussion with disinformation and outright lies. But those tactics simply do not resonate with the public. Ontarians instead, according to all available polling data, have seen the passion and determination with which teachers and education workers have come to the defense of our world-class public education system, and a significant majority have sided with educators. The public understands, it seems, that the current dispute is about those key issues that the government doesn’t want to talk about—issues like class size and mandatory online learning. Issues that have huge consequences for the quality of the learning environment and the integrity of the system.
In a highly politicized dispute, having the public on our side is no small thing. It doesn’t guarantee us the victory we need, but it gives us a distinct advantage. The public has seen our resolve and our solidarity. They have witnessed the passion with which OSSTF/FEESO members have stepped up to defend what is arguably the province’s most important asset—a world-renowned public education system. And many, many Ontarians have now come to understand that when we fight to defend our students’ learning conditions, we are really fighting for the future of the province.
OSSTF/FEESO members, of course, have always known that. Our history tells us that our victories lay the foundation for the future of education in Ontario, and the current struggle with the Ford government is already part of that tradition. This is our history in the making.