University Workers in Toronto Fight Back!

Hundreds of members of CUPE 3902 meet in Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto, just before voting 98% to reject their Employer’s final offer.
Hundreds of members of CUPE 3902 meet in Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto, just before voting 98% to reject their Employer’s final offer.

Strikes for social justice have taken hold of Canada’s two largest universities. 6,000 members of Local 3902 (unit 1) of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) are on legal strike against their employer, the University of Toronto (U of T). “We are poor, precarious, and need improvement in our standard of living,” Union Chair Erin Black said after her members overwhelmingly rejected U of T management’s terms at the end of February. The 3,700 members of CUPE Local 3903 hit the bricks on March 3, taking on their bosses at York University. At a special membership meeting held a day earlier, members voted 71 per cent to reject the university’s last offer and to commence strike action. They want protection against tuition hikes and an end to precarious, one year at a time, teaching contracts.

CUPE 3903 members set up picket lines outside the main entrance at York University.
CUPE 3903 members set up picket lines outside the main entrance at York University.

“Now that the two largest universities in Canada are on strike, the funding crisis of post-secondary education can be better identified and addressed”, said Yasin Kaya, Secretary of CUPE Local 3903 and a leading member of Socialist Action. “The government at Queens Park believes that education is a privilege that only the rich can enjoy, not a right for all. Ontario should immediately increase funding for education rather than subsidize big business and the super- wealthy.”

University workers face dire circumstances. Thirty years ago about 80 per cent of university operating budgets were covered by government funding. Today, government spending comprises only about 50 per cent of costs. To make up the difference, universities have forced students to pay higher and higher tuition fees – creating massive debt for students, at the same time as undermining the quality of education. Management chooses to employ precarious academic labour to reduce labour costs. For example, contract faculty do over half the teaching at York University, but enjoy almost no job security. Contract faculty must apply for their jobs every 12 months, regardless their length of service to York U. These strikes show the way forward – that workers need no longer accept sub-poverty line income and disrespect.