While the first strike day in the Townships held on Oct. 28 saw Common Front affiliates in smaller groups in front of their respective establishments, the plan of action for yesterday’s strike was a show of force.
Appalachian Teachers’ Association (ATA) members from Eastern Townships School Board schools across the region gathered together in Magog at 9 a.m., marching to Orford MNA Pierre Reid’s office on Sherbrooke Street before making their way to the school board office on Jean-Bosco. Two groups of ATA members held back at Massey-Vanier High School and Sutton Elementary to maintain picket lines and deter Fédération Autonome de l’Enseignment (FAE) members, who share the campuses, from entering the schools.
ATA president Megan Seline delivered a letter to MNA Reid, accompanied by hundreds of other union members.
Mostly a symbolic gesture, Seline said the letter points out that all students deserve an opportunity to succeed and asks, “Why has this government chosen to abandon them?”
The letter goes on to ask MNA Reid to reaffirm that public education is an investment in Quebec’s future.
Upon arrival at the ETSB office, Richard Goldfinch, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, gave a speech to the crowd.
Having lost his voice that morning, and without a megaphone, Goldfinch employed an old activist technique, creating a human megaphone. He had a handful of the loudest crowd members repeat his speech in unison, delivered in short sentences, so the crowd could hear.
He began by saying that the group in front of the ETSB office was part of a larger group of 220,000, and that by the end of the week, 460,000 people would be out striking.
“Things are moving at the table now,” Goldfinch said, crediting the strike action and the work union members have been doing for the past 13 months.
“Mr. Coiteux is slowly paying attention,” Goldfinch went on.
He informed those who were unaware that Martin Coiteux is the President of the Treasury Board.
“The Quebec Liberals have drunk the same austerity Kool-Aid,” he said,
“It’s our job to wake them up.”
Goldfinch went on to say that QPAT will continue to defend quality public education.
“Stay strong and stay together. Solidarity is what’s going to break this nut.”
According to Goldfinch, the education sector has met 65 times at the negotiating table.
“Class size ratios will probably stay the same, “Goldfinch said, emphasizing the word probably, and adding that nothing to that effect has been written yet. He went on to say that there is nothing extra on the table being offered, and teachers can expect status quo at best.
“We need more,” he said.
“Who knows what a classroom is like? Teachers know what a classroom is like,” Goldfinch said.
“Stay together; solidarity. Keep up the good work, folks,” he concluded.
At the midpoint of Goldfinch’s speech, Kandy Mackey, Assistant Director General and Director of Pedagogical Services, and Jeff Pauw, Director of Human Resources, surfaced from the office and watched in silence.
As the crowd dispersed, one teacher (who asked to remain anonymous) wondered if it were sheer coincidence that a moment before Mackey and Pauw came outside, she had turned off her caller ID and phoned the board office to inform them that a group of teachers was outside and that they would appreciate being greeted.
“I feel like that was a show of support,” she said, adding that if they had come outside voluntarily it would likely have been more of a contrived gesture.
“This was more spontaneous. We called, and they came,” she said.
Seline said the ATA had no demonstrations planned for Friday.
As for the remaining three days of strike action, scheduled for Dec.1, 2 and 3, Seline said the ATA has yet to vote on whether or not they will participate.
Goldfinch pointed out that even though the 39 French and 10 English teachers’ unions are working collectively, each locale has the right to manage itself.
Some unions voted in favour of a six-day strike mandate, while others approved the strike action, but with a stipulation to hold a second vote after the first three days to decide whether to continue.
The ATA will hold a vote on Monday at Lennoxville Elementary School, Tuesday at Heroes’ Memorial in Cowansville, and Wednesday at Richmond Regional High School, between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. each afternoon.
When asked what would happen if the ATA were to vote against continuing the strike while other unions in the region move forward, Goldfinch and Seline said it would depend entirely on the members whom they serve.