Out of the Classrooms & Into the Class Struggle

By: Devin K

With the recent resignation of Dalton McGuinty and the decision to prorogue the Ontario legislature, the future of the Ontario Liberals fight with the teachers’ union may be uncertain. The Premier's decision comes amidst the ongoing dispute with elementary school teachers and Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), which has lead to the imposition of Bill 115. Cynically named the “Putting Students First Act”, Bill 115 bypasses the collective bargaining process forcing a 2-year wage freeze and ban on strikes, along with a host of other concessions from on the teachers’ union. In the current context of austerity measures being imposed by all levels of government, Bill 115 is part of the now routine use of anti-strike legislation in both the private and public sector.

Bill 115 came under heavy criticism from a number of major unions, but teachers found their options limited in responding to the attack once it was passed on September 11th. While the OSSTF and other unions went forward with a legal approach to challenge the legislation, teachers in a number of regions across Ontario bypassed official union control and withdrew their unpaid extra-curricular work, and stopped participating in select meetings.

These small-scale actions provided teachers with a means to demonstrate dissent, however without escalating tactics or shutting down classes by withdrawing their labour fully, pressure mounted on the government has been minimal. High school students, on the other hand, proved willing and capable of shutting down classes on their own. Beginning in mid-September a wave of walkouts swept the province, shutting down classes as students rallied and marched with bristol board placards against the Liberal government. These walkouts eventually involved dozens of high schools (and 1 elementary school) culminating in a protest at Queens Park on September 29th, and a citywide walkout in Windsor on October 3rd.

Given the absence of high school student unions or formal organizing bodies, students made use of social media as the means to coordinate logistics and spread word of their walkouts. Facebook walls and Twitter feeds also provided a space for debate between students determining the political nature of the walkouts, decidedly anti-government and pro-teacher one wall-post stated: “I don't blame the teachers. I blame the government and Bill 115 for the cause of these divisions. Bill 115 is undemocratic, unconstitutional and therefore it should be revoked!”.

Following the initial wave of walkouts and demonstrations the energy that had prompted students to self-organize and disrupt their classes has since receded, but their efforts are nonetheless noteworthy. High school students acted together as an autonomous force that was not bound by rigid labour laws or bureaucratic organizing methods, and were as a result able to take action outside the scope of Bill 115. If students were to go further – organize themselves into committees, stage larger scale walkouts, build toward a student strike, and combine teachers demands with their own – things could get really interesting. But for now their actions illustrate the potential of pushing struggle forward by building networks and committees in our neighbourhoods, schools, and workplaces that can defy both legislation, the standard legal limits of struggle and eventually disrupt the state's ability to enforce austerity measures generally.

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