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Volume 91, Issue 33

Tuesday, October 28, 1997



Teachers walk the walk on first day of strike

©Geoff Robins/Gazette
ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL. Hundreds of London and area teachers stood shoulder to shoulder in the drizzle yesterday afternoon in downtown's Victoria Park.

By Sara Marett

Gazette Staff

Day one of the province-wide teachers strike yesterday witnessed hundreds of teachers from London, Middlesex and Elgin counties marching in London's downtown streets as they united in political protest against Bill 160 in Victoria park.

Although the wind was bitterly blowing and rain threatened to turn to snow, teachers, students and parents put on their woolies and boasted their weather-proof signs to provide a united voice against the provincial government's Bill.

The Bill includes reform to areas such as class size, less preparation time and increased teaching time for teachers, control of education tax rates and replacing some teachers with non-certified professionals.

The protestors marched into Victoria park holding signs reading, "Cuts don't heal" and "Tories lie, Bill 160 must die" and huddled around the park's stage to hear words of encouragement from teachers groups and union members.

"Your fight is our fight," said Rick Witherspoon, president of London's district labour council. He explained his council is in full support of the teachers' protest and if the government implements back-to-work legislation, they would join them in their strike.

"What the government will hear if they take any aggressive action is, 'Hey Mike, Hey Mike, how would you like a general strike?'," he said.

Jim Squires of the London district of Canadian Union of Public Employees agreed. "CUPE marched with you today – we support you and you are right to protect our childrens' future."

Mike Walsh, the provincial representative for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, told the crowd they were engaged in a political protest of civil disobedience. "It is our right and responsibility as citizens to exercise this type of action when the government goes beyond its boundaries – it is the government that is involved in law breaking here," he said to a roaring crowd equipped with ringing cow bells.

Walsh said the public opinion polls currently sit at 50 per cent in favour of the teachers. "Be prepared for the polls to slip, however, as parents get angry."

He encouraged teachers to provide parents with a copy of the Bill so they are correctly informed on what it plans to do and so they do not think we are striking about prep time, he said.

Fred Moroz, president of district 41 of OSSTF criticized the information provided to the public about the Bill by The London Free Press.

"I have to mention the scurrilous rag in this town that calls itself a newspaper," he said. Moroz expressed his concern that public opinion would be shaped by what the paper was presenting, which he said is not accurate to what the strike is really about.

The public does appear to be behind us, said Maureen Tipping, a teacher at Lord Dorchester Secondary School. "We had a lot of people honking their horns in support."

Marie Hamzo, a student at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, said she felt the public is not well informed on the Bill, which is exactly what the government wants. She said most students at her school were in support of the teachers and served them coffee and donuts this morning on the picket lines.

As the rally ended, the protestors began their march down Wellington Street and planned to visit some of the Member of Provincial Parliament offices. Lynn Watson, a constituency assistant at MPP Dianne Cunningham's office, said there were no teachers at the office yesterday but they received many calls expressing support for both the teachers and the government.

The Ministry of Education is providing learning material for grades one to eight for parents at government offices and on their website at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca. The Ministry was not available for comment.

To Contact The News Department: gaznews@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1997