We support one another…

By Calvin Fraser
February 15, 2013
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As I write this, another Globe and Mail article reported the comments of yet another Minister of Education decrying her ability to speak directly to the teachers of the province. The divide and conquer mentality remains a favourite bullying tactic.

It is a basic truth that the smaller the political alliance, the easier it is to overwhelm. Groups are stronger than individuals; cities are stronger than towns; provinces/territories are stronger than cities and countries are stronger than provinces/territories. Public companies are stronger than individual businesses; large corporations are stronger than companies; multinationals are stronger than nationals. Large power groups can always find some members of a smaller group break ranks and support a position that they see to be in their personal self-interest (however short-term) even at the expense of others. It is in this vein that we hear Ministers saying, “Why I talked to a teacher just the other day and …” This abhorrent, value-driven, power play is all too common. Power always loves to start others in a race for the bottom.

This tactic is being used by power brokers in both levels of government while the private sector insists on smashing unions across North America. They use such dissident voices to gain public support by convincing non-unionized people that unions get benefits only for their members that others don’t – perhaps should not have.

Instead of pressing governments to get similar benefits for all people, voters agree to change laws and act against unions. To date, this has been more successful in the US than in Canada. But we have seen (and are seeing) the same tactics in operation here.

The workforce in Canada continues to be more than 30% unionized although most of that is in public sector unions[1]. This is down from a peak of 38.6%[2] in Canada in 1982. By contrast, the US peaked at 20.1% in 1983 and was down to 11.8% in 2011[3]. There is little doubt that the average worker in Canada is better off than the average worker in the US (or most of the world).

It was inevitable that unions, including teacher unions would become targets. Recently, we have witnessed federal government legislation in Canada targeted directly at weakening unions in the form of Bill C-377. Examples can also be found from most provinces and territories. We can expect this type of pressure to continue. While we were fighting C-377, people in the heavy industrial state of Michigan voted to allow “right-to-work” legislation – i.e. to allow lower wages, no benefits and no pensions. We have heard Canadian politicians suggest similar legislation is needed in Canada.

Canadian society continues to have a reasonably strong commitment to the collective good. Most people are familiar with the 1946 poem that begins, “First they came for…”[4]. So long as we can work together to send common messages and focus people on the issues, we can maintain significant public support. We are teachers. We can educate. We can inform.

We will be successful only if we maintain solidarity in support for our teacher organizations at the provincial, territorial and national levels. Our organizations are democratic, seek our input and reflect our values. They truly are teachers speaking for teachers; they are us. We must be prepared to show that we are proud to belong.


Calvin Fraser is Secretary General of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

Canadian Teachers’ Federation
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