Ontario teachers’ protests against Bill 115 have garnered immense attention. Arbitrage Magazine gets a glimpse at the people behind the movement.
By Meghan Tibbits, Staff Writer
If you happened to pass the Maple Leaf Gardens on Jan. 26, you might have noticed something unusual: 20,000 protesters gathered outside.
Their red signs, vibrant against the grey Toronto buildings, would probably have been the first thing you noticed.
“If you can read this, thank a teacher,” reads one of them.
That’s a rather smart quib, given that the 20,000 protestors were nearly all teachers.
Their presence probably has something to do with what’s going on inside the Gardens: the 2013 leadership convention of the Ontario Liberal Party, who recently introduced Bill 115, a legislation that could curb the teachers’ collective-bargaining power.
… it is not the whole that spawns the parts; it is the 20,000 protestors that give their cause life.
The two sides have been going at it for quite a while. The issues — namely pay freeze and collective bargaining — are all too familiar, and they have come to loom larger than the ones who raise them. Like the Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
The idea is bigger than those behind it. That sounds noble, but the Guevara-esque mantra also robs a movement of its face. We know why the teachers are there; we know what they want, but somehow, we know little else.
We know them only as a collective: members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) and the Elementary Teachers’ Foundation of Ontario (ETFO).
But who are these people really? What motivates these them to trade chalk and textbooks for picket signs and ankle-deep slush?
If you ask Dunja, a Grade 6 teacher from Thorn Lodge Public School, she would say that the implication of Bill 115 is “undemocratic.” Dunja, who only wants to be known by her first name, says that people have a right to bargain with employers about the conditions of their work.
If you ask teacher Istvan Szentes over the pounding drummers and chants of “Solidarity!” he would shout back that public reaction to the movement protesting Bill 115 makes him question the values of our society. “A society that doesn’t value education and respect teachers is lost,” says Szentes.
If you ask Jen Fabrif, a high school teacher from Oshawa, she would find it challenging to reply without swearing. Fabrif says the protests had been worth it, but she wishes they had done more. She says that it is important to express discontent, since she believes the teachers are making a statement for the rights of everyone in Ontario.
If you ask Kelly Iggers, a Grade 5 and 6 teacher from Annette Public School, would say that teachers haven’t been respected by the Ontario government. She says most teachers can accept the pay freeze imposed by Bill 115, but they are outraged at not being given a fair chance for negotiation. She says she is disappointed that the profession has been “disrespected and devalued” through this process.
But if you asked any of them how Bill 115 has changed the way they feel about their jobs, they would all give you the same answer: it hasn’t. They still love what they do and they still love their students.
Maybe Aristotle was wrong. Maybe the parts are actually greater than the whole. After all, it is not the whole that spawns the parts; it is the 20,000 protestors that give their cause life. And it you view them all as a collective, you will see nothing but a faceless mob.