Sunday, December 2, 2012

# 26 The Ambush

    Public education in Ontario is driven by the politics of money and power, and with those elements, comes the dance for position. It's seems everyone has a strategy for out maneuvering an abstract opponent. I'm so use to reading between the lines of the behaviours in education that by the time I get into the classroom, any behavioural struggles with the kids is like an evening bonfire at the beach. Unfortunately, when we work in such a politically charged environment someone can expect to get caught in the crossfire. To avoid injury to the ego or career you always have to be alert to a potential ambush by a hidden agenda.

    I'm in the middle of the third strike of my career and I can feel the heat of political rhetoic in the atmosphere. At this point, I'm guestimating we will experience the end of the dispute in the new year and if we are lucky, closure by early spring. It hasn't been a battle for wage increases as the media so carelessly reports, nor has it been a fight about a decreased work load; this battle is about an idea.

   I don't want to shed too many words describing the cloak and dagger dynamics of the union/employer relationship because I commented on these a couple of months ago in posts 13 and 14. I'd rather focus on unveiling some of the ugly specifics utilized by our government in the form of Bill 115 and its influence on teacher's jobs, as well as, the implications for the remaining work force in the province.

    Normally, our contract negotiations take place between the teacher's union and the local board of education. However, in this current scuffle, the provincial government decided to use the negotiations as a weapon in their quest for a majority rule in the province, it didn't work. They introduced legislation, BILL 115, which removes some important rights from both the boards and teachers, and with the help of the desperate conservative opposition, it passed into law. It essentially tells the two parties that they can negotiate, but the outcome must arrive at a destination determined by the government. Kinda like "negotiating with a gun to your head". The local boards hate it and want it repealed, as do the teacher unions. The public is slowly coming to the realization if successful, this draconian legislation will spread to other labour groups across the province and they too will suffer a blow to their bargaining rights.

    There is another participant in this confrontation though, the mainstream media. I am sure many teachers would think me crazy, but I have intentionally followed all sides of the propaganda war starting in the summer and I will continue until we have signed a new contract. I selected four mainstream news media outlets as my information sources and after five months of ingesting the reporting of sensationalized half truths I have developed more disdain for the lazy jounalism than I have for the inconvenience of the labour action.

   The mainstream news media is not about reporting objective accounts of events, they too have an agenda. Their agenda is about selling advertising, and to accomplish this task they will print almost anything, as long as it attracts readers. For example, now that labour sanctions have begun, the media have consistently identified our motives as job action against "wage freezes" or we are doing a"work to rule", and a few other inaccurate and willfully uninformed reporting. I won't drain your interest here with all the weak research and opinion I have read over the past five months, but I have come to view the mainstream news media as The Ministry of Propaganda.

   Ontario's major income has been manufacturing for decades and that income source has been steadily declining for the past decade. Consequently, the government is looking for ways to refill their coffers. For example, notice the increased promotion of previously socially unacceptable industries like provincially run gambling, and movement toward legalized prostitution. In addition, they have introduced numerous little tax hikes across the province from fishing, boating licenses, to infrastructure taxes. They have dug themselves into a financial hole and are now looking for someone to bale them out. Oddly enough, they never mentioned that elite economic lending institutions and insurance companies are taking in record profits as are all levels of government. Instead, they have chosen to instigate an abusive war on their public servants. The public seems to have bought into the campaign, but I sense the support is waining.

  The whole charade causes many teachers a lot of emotional stress. For me, the stress I suffer is  self-inflicted because I made a commitment to read and listen to as much about the issue in the media as I could stomach. In terms of my immediate work day, nothing has changed. I attend more union meetings than usual and the particular staff I work with have come together to form a very strong working bond. As with any large groups of workers, there are a handful of self serving malcontents who can't see the bigger picture, but they are a small group.

    As I mentioned above, this dispute is about rights and in a broad stroke; it is the most important issue. I don't know about the situation in most other countries, but in Canada "rights" seem as transient as they are intangible. It seems the idea of "rights" should be hyphenated with a word like temporary because they can be taken away from citizens with little notice. This fact has been demonstrated countless times in Canada. If you believe you can't have your rights removed at any time, then just consider these few glaring examples: the expulsion  of the Acadian's (ethnic cleansing), the internment Canadians with Japanese ancestry during WW2, Anglophones in Quebec (revenge does not equal justice), Louis Riel (don't piss off the Protestants), Canadian protesters publicly beaten by police at the G20 protest in Toronto, 2010 (intimidation), and of course the "Indians". All of these examples involve the removal of rights.

   There are also many examples, from every province, of workers in Canada who either fought for rights or battled to maintain them (there is a lot of print of this topic). The fact is, any rights Canadian workers enjoy now have been fought for by large groups of people who have followed strong fearless leadership. So, in terms of "rights" that educational workers have earned over the last several decades, they were not a given, but rather they were earned, mostly in labour battles. Bill 115 is a sudden assault on the rights workers have earned, and it needs to be repealed before the next labour group gets ambushed.

   Realizing that rights are temporary should change the perception that all citizens hold of their governments. If a battle for worker's rights needs to be chosen, then it is easier to fight for them while they are in existence, retrieving them will be even more costly. If you allow yourself to become complacent about what is being removed from you, expect it to suffer the consequences. You snooze, you lose!

    When this dispute is over, I will definitely stop ingesting information from: The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Ottawa Citizen and The Toronto Star. The fact that everything Canadians read, watch and hear through the mainstream media is controlled by such a tiny group of people who use the media to promote their corporate agenda has also helped in that decision. They all routinely print misinformation to unsuspecting customers, and the uninformed angry reader comments are enough to make me feel ashamed that I have patronized them for so many years. 

    For me, most work days begin with the C.B.C. news. Half asleep I wander through my morning rituals and then as I plug in the kettle the news fills the kitchen. Today, to my surprise, I hear York and Niagara teachers have rejected the contracts offered to them. I am pleased! I feel ambushed by colleagues I have never met and probably never will.  They said NO! They said, we aren't buying in to: the assault on our rights, the bullshit, the dancing for political position. It makes my morning!