Rejection of Ford’s Conception of Agreements Without Consent
– Enver Villamizar –
Ontario Premier Doug Ford held a press conference on Monday, November 7 at which he said he would rescind the Keeping Students in Class Act, 2022 that his government passed just four days prior if the Canadian Union of Public Employees-Ontario School Board Council of Unions (CUPE-OSBCU), representing 55,000 education workers, gives up its right to strike.
In essence this is, in fact, the same demand Education Minister Stephen Lecce made when he tabled the anti-worker legislation imposing a contract on education workers that includes the notwithstanding clause to make all opposition to the law illegal. The adoption of the anti-worker legislation, misnamed Keeping Students in Class Act, 2022, was the declaration that the government would no longer bargain wages and working conditions with the union. Prior to its adoption, the threat of passing such legislation was accompanied by the threat to impose draconian penalties if CUPE-OSBCU did not agree to give up its right to negotiate a collective agreement and its right to strike.
Ford’s announcement came in response to plans by Ontario unions to hold province-wide protests and other actions in support of the education workers’ fight against the legislation. CUPE held its own press conference a couple of hours after the government’s announcement with leaders of numerous other public and private sector unions also in attendance. There, Laura Walton, president of CUPE-OSBCU said the union agreed to call off its political protest in response to a commitment from the Premier, which they got him to put in writing, to repeal the legislation and resume bargaining with the union for a new collective agreement. The government’s tune has not changed however, and in its response CUPE-OSBCU made it clear that the government must now deliver and that the union is not giving up the right to strike.
Walton told the press conference she hopes the union’s gesture of “good faith” in ending its walkout is met with similar good faith by the government at the bargaining table. She said CUPE-OSBCU education workers will be back on the job today, though it is up to individual school boards to decide when schools that had closed because of the protest action will reopen. She added that CUPE-OSBCU continues to be in a legal strike position and is willing to strike if renewed negotiations fall apart.
A statement from Minister of Education Stephen Lecce confirmed that the government will repeal Bill 28 “in its entirety.” As if CUPE-OSBCU were to blame for not being at the bargaining table, the arrogant minister said:
“CUPE has agreed to withdraw their strike action and come back to the negotiating table. In return, at the earliest opportunity, we will revoke Bill 28 in its entirety and be at the table so that kids can return to the classroom after two difficult years,” Lecce said.
The legislature is not currently sitting, so MPPs are being called back for Monday, November 14 to be repeal the law.
The mass actions of the education workers in Ontario supported by working people from all walks of life have clearly chastened Doug Ford and his arrogant government. Congratulations!
The working people won another battle, and this is hugely significant because it shows that our future lies in defending the rights of all. The situation also reveals that this is but one clash of what will likely be more to come.
Ford seems to think that by decree he can overturn the right of workers to withdraw their labour power that is the power they hold to ensure negotiations can take place in good faith. His offer to rescind the legislation in return for an end to the strike shows that he thinks rights are privileges that can be granted for good behaviour. But rights belong to the holder by virtue of their being. They do not fall into the category of privileges that can be given and taken away, denied and negated and then returned depending on how its serves narrow private interests and how the winds are blowing.
Collective agreements cannot be imposed by fiat when there is no agreement or consent. It is to make a mockery of the fact that rights belong to the holder by right. Furthermore, if a person’s No! has no power, then their Yes! is meaningless.
Even as he has to crawl away with his tail between his legs, Ford hopes that his disinformation blaming the unions and education workers for not negotiating and for everything that is wrong in Ontario will disorganize the ranks of the workers, cause confusion and get them to submit to his dictate.
The workers and their unions, however, know they have the right to participate in negotiations without the use of force or the threat of the use of force. Unless their No! means something, where is the agreement? What is the agreement? It is a farce, not worthy of the name.
The objective conditions are demanding more funding for education — more teachers, more education workers, more staff. Teachers and education workers’ working conditions are the students’ learning conditions. The conditions in the schools — the stress, the lack of care for students in need, the lack of sanitary conditions because the custodial staff cannot maintain standards no matter how much individuals forced to fend for themselves try to uphold standards on their own, are not the figment of the imagination of the workers or their unions.
Education workers and, in fact, the working people throughout the province, are saying No! to what the Ford government is doing. A workforce that cannot legally say No!, and enforce it, is enslaved. The Ontario working class will not agree to this. Ford and his retinues and mouthpieces in the media and the narrow private interests he serves should get that into their heads.