Laura Walton, President of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU) who successfully led 55,000 education workers in Ontario to victory over Doug Ford’s Conservative government, shared her inspiring story with convention delegates on Thursday.

“When you’re under attack – what do you do? Walton asked delegates. “You rise up, and you fight back.”

Walton shared the story of the work her union did to build power and mobilize for a successful strike vote, which saw record turnouts and led to a 96.5% vote in favour of a strike. Workers came together to have conversations with other workers, making over 50,000 calls to members.

“We started with member-to-member conversations, and that’s how we built power,” said Walton. “We trained over 1,000 workers on how to have conversations. “When you’re organizing, listening is key.”

As the members prepared to strike, the Doug Ford government attempted to stop them through the unprecedented measure of passing legislation using the notwithstanding clause to force an agreement on OSBCU members. The legislation also included steep fines of $4,000 per worker per day and $500,000 per day for CUPE if the union went on strike.

CUPE members went on strike anyway, with the power of the labour movement behind them as unions from across the province and country showed their support and solidarity. Two days later, Doug Ford and his government blinked, repealing the legislation and negotiating a contract with OSBCU education workers that included $1/hour raise every year for four years.

“55,000 people won their voice,” added Walton. “And that is something that can never be taken away.”

Walton said that empowering workers and member organizing was key in their victory over the Doug Ford government.

“The union is the workers,” concluded Walton. “Collective agreements aren’t won at the bargaining table; they’re won out on the streets.”