Teachers should avoid the McGuinty trap

Stripped of the right to access the traditional levers available to labour in collective bargaining negotiations when the McGuinty Liberals and Hudak Conservatives joined forces to pass bill freezing teachers’ wages, removing their right to strike into the bargain, teachers in this province were largely left with only the unpalatable course of withdrawing voluntary supervision of extra-curricular activities in order to put pressure on the government. This is clearly a trap and teachers should recognize that fact and refuse to play the government’s game.

Teachers are already a made-to-order target for a government facing immense deficits and a bill for health care that is going anywhere but down over the next two decades. Already a source of envy for many voters who look back with wistful nostalgia upon the long summer vacations of their youth, teachers’ remuneration figures only feed those flames of jealousy. Teacher’s wages are usually cited using figures from the top of the teachers’ salary grid and most parents perceive teachers’ wages as being far in excess of those found in their own stressed-out pay packets.

This is certainly not the first time teachers have been driven forward into the firing line in the battle against burgeoning provincial deficits-it happened under both the NDP and Conservative banners. The Bob Rae NDP and the Mike Harris Progressive Conservatives are reviled in teacher lore, the first for foisting unpaid workdays on public servants (including teachers) and the second for forcing teachers back to work after barely two weeks on the picket line, although this last was a wildcat strike in protest of cutbacks to the education sector and was generally supported the public.

Parents are well aware of the provincial deficit, and many have seen increases in their own wages slow to a crawl or even roll backwards. In the view of the average voter, years of labour peace have seen a significant increase in teacher remunerations—concurrent with a significant drop in teachers’ workloads. In this atmosphere, using students as pawns in labour negotiations will more likely backfire on the teachers than hurt the government’s image.

Teachers should recognize the trap the government has maneuvered them into and turn the tables on the province by taking the high road.

By maintaining extracurricular activities and continuing to put pressure on the government through political activism and protest, teachers would be far more likely to win the battle for the hearts and minds (and the sympathy) of the electorate-that is a course which is far more likely to pay dividends over the long term than any withdrawal of services from innocent children, especially just at this time in the province’s history.