The North Star


Ford government commits to repeal Bill 28

“Illegal strike” lasts just 1.5 days

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Last week education workers in Ontario organized with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) filed notice of their intent to strike on Friday, November 4. In response, Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government passed Bill 28, legislation to make this strike illegal and impose a contract on the union which represents 55,000 clerical, custodial, and education support workers – typically the lowest-paid workers in the education sector.

By applying a constitutional loophole called the "notwithstanding clause" or "Section 33," Ford's legislation openly violated workers' right to strike. In defiance, CUPE proceeded to strike anyway, with individual members facing the threat of fines of up to $4,000 per day. North Star received the following report from a correspondent in Scarborough showing wide support for the striking workers in a working-class community:

The vibe I got from talking to people this morning was that people are really happy, it's very good spirits at the picket line. A lot of people are hugging, meeting each other across schools.

We talked to an office administrator, [we asked] "Why do you think this is happening?" and she was like "I think it's reall the Educational Assistants and the ECE workers who are burnt out and have to do things that are really intense. So it sounds like, from her perspective, that's who's pushing CUPE to take a really militant stance. That was very interesting to see. And a lot of the people are people who've never gone out on a picket line before.  One of the women we were talking to was like, "Now I understand why young people go out and do this."

When we were on the streets too, we saw truck drivers, people in cars, garbage truck drivers all honking in support. So there's a lot of cross-worker solidarity and support.


The Ford government's move was surely meant to be a precedent-setting first in a series of bad contracts imposed on public sector workers in the province, with teachers and hospital workers also in negotiations this year. According to a pair of striking education workers in Kanata, Ontario: “It’s shocking... And sadly we’re the first union that they’re doing this with, but there’s many other units – they were out here today – if [Ford's] gonna do it to one, he's gonna do it to all!”

The strike was shaping up to be political as much as it is economic, with OPSEU education workers illegally walking off the job in defense of CUPE's right to strike. Over the weekend, reports emerged of other unions affiliated to the Ontario Federation of Labour joining in the strike in the weeks to come, suggesting that a wider general strike could be in the works.

One of the main issues for striking workers is pay to keep up with runaway inflation, as well as working conditions. An Educational Assist told North Star in Hamilton that told us, “We got nothing for 4 years in a row, 0% increase, then when we finally got an increase it was like 10 cents for most people. That can’t even buy you a coffee for a day. We’ve played nice with these fuckers for years and been so patient. They’re surprised that we’re doing this?”

These workers’ stories are in stark contrast with the narrative being pushed by the provincial government. Staff shortages from resignations, stolen hours and harsh working conditions are the norm. Another worker from Kanata told NS that “We had 12 [Educational Assistants]. We’re down to eight. The children have not gone anywhere. And we’ve also increased with our kindergartens, five new kindergartens that need full time EAs. Where’s the bodies?”

However, after less than two days on strike, the Ford government announced in a press conference on Monday, November 7 that they would rescind Bill 28 if CUPE went back to work. CUPE Ontario has in turn dismantled its "protest sites" and have directed their members back to work. This development, which CUPE leadership is calling a victory, poses critical questions regarding the limits of legal labour action. CUPE has maintained that striking will remain on the table despite Monday's show of good faith.​​​​​​​

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