Apr 6, 2015

Inspiring solidarious academic strike win report

I am thrilled to report that after a month on the line, last week workers/students won the strike at my university (York U in Toronto, Canada). They won basically all that they asked for, which, as I described in a previous post, were very solidarious asks.

Yes, I know that the word solidarious doesn't exist in English - I'm importing it from the Spanish solidario because it's useful to have a way to describe strong solidarity like that shown in this strike, where the 'an injury to one is an injury to all' slogan was really taken to heart and folks walked out largely for issues that either affected only a few (people with kids, LGBT folks, international students), or only affected future students, not themselves.

As someone not on strike but who showed solidarity by not crossing the picket line, I was also inspired by the impact that our solidarity had.  At first classes were cancelled, but after a few weeks faculty were ordered to cross the line and start teaching again, or risk our jobs.  I wish that more of had stayed out, but enough of us did that it had an impact. I'm sure we were not the only reason, but it was shortly after many of us ignored the final order to cross that the administration started bargaining again.  I'm sure that various construction worker unions and the bus drivers union not crossing the line also helped pressure the administration.  I was impressed to learn that those unions have negotiated into their contracts the right not to cross a picket line - since by Canadian law you can lose your job for not crossing if ordered.

This is an important victory that I'm sure will inspire the academic workers and students that are rising up at other universities across Canada and across the world to defend quality, accessible public education.  Sessional instructors and TAs at Simon Fraser, one of the other large universities in Canada, just voted 92% in favor of strike authorization, with a record turnout.

I hope that it will also inspire students to be more supportive of unions in the future.  In our first week back I opened discussions with students in all three of my classes about what they learned from the strike. I was heartened by how many of them took away the power we all have to create change when we come together and stick together. They were also impressed by the idea that grad students were on strike so that it would be more possible for undergrads to go to grad school themselves in the future.

I personally also learned a lot about how the ratio of administrators to faculty is growing at universities across the US and Canada, how the pay of administrators has been growing at a much higher rate, and how the contracts of university president's are increasingly looking like those of CEOs (with chauffeurs, personal entertainment budgets, and bonuses). I learned to see this as part of a growing stealth privatization of public education.
me on the left, YUFA is our faculty union

I also gained a growing sense of being part of not only a national but a global movement fighting the neoliberalization of the university. It was exciting to be in a city with two of its three universities on strike (one of my favorite chants was "On strike! Shut it down! Toronto is a union town!), while a third major academic strike happened at the same time at a university across the country (UNBC).  It was also fantastic to read all of the strike solidarity statements sent in from far and wide, and to feel connected to the sit-in and free school in Amsterdam, a one day walk out by adjuncts around the US, and student actions across the UK.

Many geographers from around the world stepped up and signed an open letter pressuring the president of the University of Toronto, himself a geographer, to negotiate.  That strike ended by both sides agreeing to binding arbitration.  Hopefully they built some of the organizing capacity to win next time.  Even when there is not a clear win, strikes build organizational capacity- and people make all sorts of connections with each other on the picket line that make not only the union and the struggle for quality accessible public education stronger, but it also, since many of those activists are or go on to be involved in other social change projects, helps to build connections across various social movements.

photo courtesy of Alex Felipe
I am left believing even more deeply that public education should be considered a right and a public good all the way through graduate school. This is true in some countries, and some, like Argentina and Germany, even offer free tuition to international students. The wikipedia entry on this is sorely lacking if anyone is inspired to add to it, or make a map for it. I am left wishing there were a wikipedia entry on academic strikes where we could collate and connect with all of these actions around the world.  I would appreciate any recommendations (in the comments) of recent academic work that draws lines of connections between our struggles and the similar dynamics that we face as academic workers and students fighting for accessible quality public education.

(fantastic photos of the strike by Alex here)

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