Community picket line held at Hamilton high school

Around 30 people walked the picket lines at Sir John A. McDonald highschool in Hamilton Wednesday morning. Rather than representing an official union on strike, the picket was organized by an assortment of community members acting autonomously. Cars were held for 2 minutes each, snarling morning rush hour traffic on Cannon Street, and created a line up which lasted into first period that day. The action served to demonstrate the potential for acting outside of official bodies meant to represent workers, and the laws that inhibit them.

Wednesday January 16th had been slated for a one day strike by the Ontario Secondary School Teacher Federation (OSSTF). The action had been called by the union as a result of a rank-and-file petition demanding the leadership respond to the imposition of Bill 115. Following the announcement of a similar action by elementary teachers for January 11th, the provincial government went to the Labour Relations Board to have both declared illegal. Unfortunately the unwillingness of labour leadership to openly defy such a ruling meant that both unions backed down from the threatened job action.

The complicity of the state and the official channels meant to mediate labour conflict in acting against workers is a defining feature of our current era of austerity. Bill 115 and other such legislation have implications beyond the workers which they target, and therefor are in the interests of our entire class to find creative and militant ways to defy. The pickets at Sir John A McDonald exemplified an effective and easily reproducible tactic capable of, if they are to spread geographically and transcend particular workplaces or struggles, seriously throwing a wrench in this process.

The picket line on the 16th was met with an overwhelmingly positive response from teachers as they made their way into work. Police had one unit stationed keeping watch on the situation, but the picket line continued uninterrupted until they were voluntarily taken down shortly after 9:00AM.

Below is an article from CBC Hamilton on the action and the text of the leaflet distributed to teachers and students.

Community members picket downtown high school in support of teachers (CBC)

Our community, our schools, our struggle!

Community members are standing outside your school today because the government said you can’t. The teachers are not alone in this struggle: first the Federal government ordered the airline workers back to work, then the postal workers, and finally the Canadian Pacific workers. Now it's the teachers turn. The trend is clear. Government and business are on the offensive moving labour relations (and everything else it seems) from a framework of consent to coercion. Those of us in non-union workplaces have long been here.

The response from our union officials has been ineffective. Gone are the days when the leadership of the unions would call on members to defy unjust governments, as when the teachers’ unions staged illegal walkouts during the Mike Harris era to great effect. Our union leaders, and too many union members, are willing to accept the rules laid down by governments. We should all be able to agree that we are never going to win rolling out the same failed union strategies over and over again--that of negotiation & legal manoeuvring Governments and business are changing the rules. We adapt or we end up like our sister movement across the border where unions are virtually non-existent and school are figuratively and literately falling apart.

Our presence today at your school shows that we can respond creatively to governments that make it illegal to withdraw our labour. We hope our community picket can be the start of a conversation about how we all find creative and effective ways to fight back beyond the straightjacket of labour law and special laws. What if communities across the city and across the province picketed our schools? What if we shutdown government buildings and the corporate operations of their business backers? What if students went on strike as they did for over 6 months in Quebec (and won)? What if the teachers went on strike for a day and the teacher unions organized childcare drop-offs for parents? What if teachers taught extra-curriculum activities during class time, say by cutting each period 15 minutes short? What if teachers, students and the community took over our schools on PA days and used them as spaces to organize and educate against austerity?

You don’t have to agree or like all of these tactics. The point is that we have options and can come up with new ones. We don’t have to accept defeat because our union leaders can’t or are afraid to come up with better, more militant strategies or because the government is changing the rules of the game. In fact, as teachers surely know, social movements have always made gains when they refused the established rules. By fighting against Bill 115 teachers have been saying that they must fight to defend the democratic rights that they teach their students about in class. Now we are standing here outside your workplace to teach by example that when the law becomes unjust, the just must refuse to obey the law. And if teachers fight effectively and make this fight about all of us, about students, about parents, about the quality of education, the community will come to stand behind you.

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