Teachers take ‘must-win’ attitude in strike

It’s not a question of if they can win in their strike over Bill 160, the Education Quality Improvement Act; rather, teachers feel it’s a question of “they must win.”
Fort High teacher Bill Fisher has been in the profession for 10 years. But like the rest of his colleagues this week, he’s been toting a sign protesting the Harris government’s proposed education reforms instead of being in the classroom.
“It’s the worst thing I’ve seen come from the government since I started teaching 10 years ago,” Fisher said. “We have to win. It’s not a question of can we win.”
“There’s not much of a choice,” agreed Sue Vandenbrand, a teacher at St. Michael’s School here. “[Bill 160] has the potential to destroy the education system as it stands.”
“I think the teachers have to win,” she stressed.
Fort High teacher Rudy Zietlhofer said the fight against Bill 160, which will remove about $700 million from the education system, was not about teachers’ rights but about people’s rights.
“Parents, voters, teachers will never again have a say because all power goes to the lieutenant-governor and the cabinet, which is basically the ministry,” he argued.
“We see this as the beginning of getting rid of public education,” he added. “They’re going to do to education the same thing they did to health care.”
Education and Training minister Dave Johnson has openly admitted his disappointment on the teachers’ “illegal strike” since it began Monday morning. He claims to be gathering evidence for a court injunction to order the teachers back to work.
But it’s still unclear whether the teachers would obey such an order.
“Right now we’re taking illegal action for something we believe in,” Fisher said, noting the threat of heavy fines if such legislation is ignored was being viewed as scare tactics.
Still, the presidents of the local teachers’ federations were out to boost morale Monday afternoon at a rally in the basement of Knox United Church that attracted more than 300 teachers, students, parents and labour supporters.
“I want you all to know that you are doing the right thing,” Andrew Hallikas, local president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, told the crowd.
“When this is all over, as it will be, Ontario teachers and educational workers can say with pride that we stood together,” he said. “We did not back down.”
Sharon Preston, local president of the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario, called on teachers to support each other on the picket line.
“As the days go on, it could get tough,” she warned. “Take care of each other–if somebody needs a hug, give one.”
Teacher solidarity remains strong as the strike entered day three today; the next step is garner as much public support as possible. Both the Ontario Teachers’ Federation and the Harris government have launched million-dollar ad campaigns to win people to their side.
Locally, teachers seem to their fair share of supporters, with many motorists honking their horns and giving thumbs-up signs to teachers on the picket line.
Fort High’s student executive council also has thrown its support behind the teachers. But is there enough for the teachers to win this strike?
“I don’t know,” Zietlhofer admitted. “But I’m terrified what would happen if we lose.”