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Toward Industrial Unionism in the Education Sector

editorial from CLASSroom

by Classroom

Advocates of industrial unionism think that all workers in the same industry should be organized into the same union. This is not to say that all workers or workplaces are exactly the same, but rather to say that, by organizing people doing similar or related work together, all of those workers have more power.
Workers in the education sector across Toronto are extremely diverse in who they are, but also in what they do. They include students (as current and future workers), elementary, middle, and high school teachers, teaching assistants, teacher’s aides, tutors, university and college professors and instructors, and more. Additionally, there are other workers that allow for educational institutions to function, although they are often unrecognized: food service and janitorial staff, technicians and IT workers, and office support staff. While some of these workers are unorganized, others are separated into various student and labour unions and associations: CUPE, OPSEU, UNITE HERE, OSSTF, ETFO, OECTA, CFS, etc.

This all means that coordination and communication, (never mind collective action) as education workers with similar class interests, is extremely difficult. All too often, union officials and staffers are responsible for joint information sharing and planning, rather than rank-and-file workers. When we face struggles at our workplaces, we’re lucky if other workers in our industry even know about it.
We should work within our unions to push for solidarity with others in the industry, as well as to increase communication and engage in joint action. We should also build bodies and organizations that allow explicitly for industrial-level planning and action. Moreover, these bodies should be based on principles of rank-and-file participation and democracy. Such organization would strengthen the position of all workers in the industry, and would diminish the likelihood of conflict between workers and union officials, or between union officials themselves. Most importantly, an organized education industry would be able to sustain a fight back against austerity agendas, struggle for better working and learning conditions, and work toward quality and accessible education for all.

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