100 Years Strong: 1919–2019

Chapter One · Chapter Two — From Professional Association to a Union



Chapter Two — From Professional Association to a Union

The Foundingof OSSTF/FEESO

OSSTF was founded in 1919 during the “red scare”. The Bolshevik revolution had thrown Russia into a civil war and socialism and labour activists were not in favour.

In Winnipeg, they called the General Strike labour leaders “alien scum” and the government condoned a bloody charge by the Mounties into a crowd of strikers. It was tragic.

So when a group of Ontario high school teachers, principals, and vice-principals chose that year to organize a federation, they likely wanted a president who wouldn’t be an easy target.

Therefore, W.C. “Billy” Michell made the ideal candidate for the first President of OSSTF.  Michell was a Lieutenant-Colonel during World War I. His service record made it hard for the establishment to accuse him of sedition and demonstrated his commitment to a cause and unwillingness to back down from a fight

Neither would a lot of other educators. Earning as little as $500 a year on short-term individual contracts, teachers could be fired at any time without cause. The profession needed to claim the respect it deserved, and personal and professional loss was the price they were all willing to pay.

Walter Clarke, Walter Keast and others created the OSSTF constitution and reached out to potential members. In weeks, despite the risk of immediate dismissal, 123 brave souls signed on.

On a snowy December 30th, 62 delegates came to the founding meeting at the Oddfellows’ Temple Hall in Toronto. To avoid suspicion, they arrived in small groups of two or three. 

By the end of the meeting, W.C. “Billy” Mitchell was confirmed as president and positions had been established around the protection of classroom conditions and teacher professionalism.

Their courage paid off. In a year, 95% of high school and collegiate teachers became members and the federation put out a minimum salary schedule to guide members in their negotiations. With no real bargaining power, it was another big risk, but within a year, almost every board had agreed to the terms.



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