Getting The Facts Straight In The York University Strike - Guest Blog Post
Well, it’s been a hectic school year so far at York University. Half of the first semester has seen a cross-campus strike of contract professors, teaching assistants, graduate assistants and other notable faculty. What is the cause of this strike? From CUPE 3903 (their union) themselves:
Significant issues include wage increase corresponding with cost of living increase, funding guarantees for graduate students (who also form significant number of workers at York U), improved working conditions (which mean improved learning conditions for students), and job security for contract faculty (some of whom have been teaching for several years on a sessional basis, carrying 1.5-2 times the load of the permanent faculty at 1/2-2/3 of the cost for York U). Find a summary of all outstanding issues here.
The issues are obviously significant for the workers at York University to strike over. Their significance goes beyond York U however. These are issues facing non-permanent teaching and research workers in all universities, who are estimated to carry 40-60% of the workload at low exploitative wages and benefits, in poor working conditions and without any job security. This is the reality of labour in higher education institutions functioning as for-profit corporations (as is York U) governed by BoDs composed of representatives of other corporations…
What is the underlying problem? Neoliberalism. Corporatization of post-secondary institutions. The strange thing is that the administration, which has been crying poor since the beginning of the strike gave themselves a hefty (circa 15% pay-raise the year before). Immediately once the strike started there was an anti-strike backlash. Various undergraduate students, frustrated at having their classes cancelled temporarily, started pointing the finger at CUPE 3903 (funny how students like their TA’s until they are inconvenienced and wont support that they make a decent wage) and YFS (York Federation of Students), that is our undergraduate students’ union. Now, YFS never endorsed the strike, just the demands of the union for decent wages and job security. Of course, I am upset at this suspension of my academic career, one in which I strive to go far in, but I understand the situation and support my TA’s and the contract profs. I may also be one of them some day and I know what they strive for will benefit me. It is one of many fronts against rampant neo-liberals that we’ve got to fight.
There was even an anti-strike rally by like 40 students (mostly from Thornhill) where Conservative MPP Peter Shurman introduced back to work legislation and such. I, personally, have been wandering the campus speaking to different picket lines for the local campus radio. I saw various anti-union slogans written on their outhouses, and also the words YFS and HAMID (the name of the YFS president). Check out the YFS current position, one that was influenced by the NDP@York U.
Now, the Administration has pulled back from bargaining various times already. The YFS had a townhall meeting where both CUPE representatives and administration representatives were invited…the union reps came, the administration refused. I wonder why they don’t even have the decency to meet with the undergrads? We pay so much in tuition every year and they wont even speak with us.
So…some undergrads decided to take matters into their own hands. A sit-in was arranged on the 9th floor of the Ross Building outside of the President’s office. They’ve been there for more than three days at the time of this writing, slept overnight, demanding that the president at least speak to them, wishing to ask him why he can afford a major pay-raise for himself and the top admins but not pay the TA’s and GA’s decent pay…we have no response so far.
A few nights ago a CityTV reporter who had been contacted by the union and its undergrad allies came into the space outside the office to cover the story. The security, on orders from the administration, immediately kicked him out. He left and our media relations head took the cameraman into his car (akin to a scene from the Godfather) warning him never to come back. We filmed the whole thing from outside. Where are we in this country? Why can students who invest major time and money in a campus not receive even a straight answer or discussion from the administration? Why is the quality of education going down while tuition goes up? Why are war criminals for Israel and Sri Lanka invited to speak at the campus? Why are the rich getting richer and the workers struggling more and more? Why is the government not funding universities and colleges, the source of where the talent and innovation from the future comes from? Why can we spend millions on killing people overseas but not educating our own?
The strike will continue and the administration will continue to be autocratic and disrespect the students…and our sit-in will continue for as long as it needs to.
POSTSCRIPT ... The Z-Files also has some film footage of University security and Administration throwing a reporter off campus property.