We hear that Ontario's ongoing dispute with teachers is about extra curricular activities and the deficit. It's about neither. Tom Walkom writes in the Toronto Star:
At its heart, this fight is about work. It is about the implicit deal struck between governments, employers and employees more than 50 years ago to make the workplace a fairer place.
It is about the unravelling of that deal.
Fifty years ago, a carefully constructed set of rules applied to labour negotiations:
Ontario’s law established criteria under which unions could organize a workplace. Employers, in turn were required to at least talk to a union that had met this threshold.
Each side was allowed to use the ultimate sanction, a work stoppage. A union could strike. An employer could, by locking out its employees, bar them from working.
But there were rules to this game. Bargaining had to be conducted in good faith. Strikes and lock-outs could take place only when a collective agreement had lapsed. A government board was established to act as umpire.
Employees deemed essential, such as nurses and police officers, were barred from striking. In return, decisions on their wages and working conditions were set by neutral arbitrators.
Throughout, the legislature always retained the right to end, through back-to-work laws, any labour dispute it deemed harmful. In virtually all such cases, though, those ordered back to work received wages and benefits decided by a neutral arbitrator.
But, last year, the McGuinty government trashed that system. The man who billed himself as "The Education Premier" decided that Ontarians could no longer afford the rules:
The Liberal government of Wynne and Dalton McGuinty changed all that. Its Bill 115 gave cabinet alone the right to set wages and working conditions for teachers — without letting bargaining run its course, without neutral arbitration.
This settlement, whether agreed to or not by teachers, was deemed a legal contract. Any action to protest that contract by withdrawing paid labour services through a strike is therefore, by definition, illegal.
Stephen Harper has taken the same approach at the federal level. Government has declared war on labour -- and decreed that labour must bail capital out.