So the union has decided that we'll go back to extracurriculars now.
Um, that's good, I guess? A lot of school activities have already been disrupted, and many of my co-workers are not exactly enthused about going back to volunteering so much of our time. I can't say that I'm thrilled myself, since I'll be getting the kids all excited only to abandon them in April again.
The official rationale is a bit confusing. Our new premier, Kathleen Wynne, has made no promises and is continuing along with her predecessor's austerity party line. The new education minister has said flat-out that she won't tear up the contracts imposed under Bill 115. So it's business as usual as far as the government is concerned.
It's also business as usual as far as the union bureaucracy is concerned. I mean, they donated $30,000 to four candidates in the Liberal leadership race, three of whom had voted for and supported Bill 115. That's $30,000 of union dues paid by the rank-and-file who got ass-reamed by the bill.
There is no word about what's happened in closed-door negotiations between the union and the government, and no reports of any concessions made on the government's side. The union leadership's official line remains: "Trust us."
But as a rank-and-file member active in the union, I don't. Why should I? That's been their line since the beginning. Their strategy was to put a bunch of eggs in the Liberal basket, a neoliberal centre-right party largely unconcerned with Ontario workers. Then, when the Liberals betrayed us, they acted all shocked and put on a militant face. The strategy was supposed to be to stop everything we could short of extracurriculars while we were in a legal strike position, and then strike extracurriculars when the government brought Bill 115 down on us. Instead, the provincial leadership blew its load early, making it appear that the government used Bill 115 as a response
to our striking extracurriculars, and leaving us absolutely nothing left to bargain with.
Then they went and donated $30,000 to the party that had just fucked us over.
Meanwhile, we lost the critical support of the public by cutting extracurriculars. There were attempts at community outreach, creative strategies, even talk of a walk-out, but the union leadership nixed all that and insisted on colouring within the lines, much to our detriment.
While we protested in the freezing cold on Jan. 26th, our chief negotiator was reportedly inside the Liberal convention, cozying up to her friends in there.
Basically, all of this sabre-rattling has proven the impotence of organized labour in Ontario against an effort by the government to outlaw collective bargaining. It has highlighted our greatest weakness—what ought to be an organization of workers is a bloated, flabby bureaucracy incapable of thinking strategically or acting on behalf of its membership.
I was against the extracurricular ban as a strategy because it puts pressure in the wrong places and hurts the students while giving political leverage to the government, which is the exact opposite of what we ought to have been doing. It hurt. I actually really love doing extracurriculars. My classroom at lunch is a refuge for kids who dread the noisy, crowded cafeteria, for whom sports teams have little appeal, artsy, nerdy kids, kids who don't have computers at home. It hurt most of my co-workers too, teachers who love coaching or producing plays or running yearbook. But we did it, not because we thought it was a smart strategy, but because any strategy would be completely ineffective unless we all stood together.
And I would have said that it was worth it if we'd got something out of it. Sick days. A fraction of the wages they took from us. Something. But as far as I can tell, we did all of that for nothing, and that makes it so much worse.
So I've been a Wobbly since 2001 (dues paid up and everything, even if I can't be arsed to attend meetings) and agreed in theory with their critique of business unions. But it takes getting sold out this dramatically by one's own union to really illustrate the failure of the model. Our union increasingly resembles the official unions in Mexico, an additional layer of bureaucracy that takes money from below and protects the interests of those above. We need to take a long hard look at the compromises we've made and the people we're in bed with if organized labour is ever to be a force for positive social change again.