The making of 'Brother’ Friedman

ANGELA FERRANTE February 23 1976

The making of 'Brother’ Friedman

ANGELA FERRANTE February 23 1976

The making of 'Brother’ Friedman


Shelly Friedman, a 33-year-old Toronto teacher, used to have a dream—a corny, common, immigrant dream, he hastens to explain—but he’s had it ever since his parents brought him to Canada from Russia at the age of eight. He wanted a good job, a family and a house. Education promised him all that, so while his father worked as a tailor and his family lived in a small downtown apartment, Shelly went to university. Now he is a teacher, an assistant head in a downtown Toronto high school. He makes $15,700 a year and has three kids. Four years ago, he and his wife pulled together a $12,000 downpayment on a $42,000 house just before inflation would have put it out of their reach. It’s a two-storey suburban house, spacious but still sparsely furnished. To keep it up he teaches night school, works his two summer months at a camp and cuts out luxuries such as restaurants and movies.

“This is the first house I’ve ever lived in and I value it," he says.

“Some people might not understand that, but it means a lot to me.”

But like many whitecollar workers in these days of inflation, Shelly Friedman is finding it

harder to judge the -

value of things. His job, for example, is still respectable, but compared to other jobs it doesn't pay as well as it used to. His house is worth $100,000 now (“It’s the same damn house—I don’t understand it”) but cheapness creeps out of the woodwork. He finds it harder to keep up the $410 monthly mortgage payments. More and more, he is buying on credit. Like many professionals he feels “misunderstood, degraded and unrecognized.” And he feels betrayed, because even though he has played by the rules of the system he has fallen behind blue-collar workers. He's not poor, just disappointed.

Last November, Shelly Friedman was one of 8,600 Toronto high-school teachers who overcame their professional scruples to go on strike for the first time. It was an unpopular two-month strike which gained the teachers little and ended in a provincial back-to-work order. (The school board’s last offer would have given Shelly $20,976 a year.) The teachers, than'


mate o'

ticians, publicShd gry and not caring about their 140,000 students But for Shelly the strike was just the

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last straw in his slowly deteriorating economic position. “After five years of government restrictions on teacher salaries, how much am I supposed to take before I get up and do something about it?”

The decision to go on strike was nevertheless difficult for him. Like most other professionals using the traditional trade union route for the first time, he was assailed by doubts. He worried about the effects of the strike on his students, and has an ulcer to show for it. He’s the kind of teacher who adorns his living room with the accomplishments of past students—a basketball championship pennant, several paintings from a boy who once could hardly write, a plaque from a class promising to remember him. "We’re not dealing with commodities,” he says. “They're not envelopes left unopened or machines left quiet. This strike has taken a lot more out of me emotionally than it would have on a bluecollar working with machinery.”

Along with these “professional hangups,” as a more seasoned blue-collar labor leader put it, the teachers also displayed naïveté. On-

tario teachers have

grown militant in only the past three years. It was just last summer that they won the right to strike. They were “hurt and surprised” to find the public had little sympathy for them. “People said we are not worth the money we asked for, ” says Shelly. "That’s very strange coming from people not living in my Shoes.” Unlike blue-collar workers, the teachers found themselves forced to explain the value of their jobs to a skeptical public. Protests Shelly: “I don’t just work 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. I coach basketball until 6 p.m. I take weekends to go on hayrides. I chaperone dances. Who organized debates? Teachers.” He was forced to explain that in an innercity school like his, where the student is as likely to pull a knife as obey an order, a "spare” hour is needed just to recuperate. “I work for a board and what they are telling me is that the effort I’m putting out is not worthwhile. They belittle the kind of service I want to give.”

Shelly Friedman remains ambiguous about Hiding the right to strike becaj|j^||tootnany inthe strike game, were little more nocent people get hurt.” But he is beginning to innocents,” as Ontario NDP leader see there is no alternative. “It’s only the people

wis put it. Doomed to failure in a cliwho are not in big unions or big corporations

estraint, they were berated by the poliwho are suffering from inflation.” He still feels ress for being money-hununcomfortable calling a fellow trade unionist

“brother,” but he’s a lot more willing to take a few lessons from him. ANGELA FERRANTE