University Workers Strike a Blow against Austerity

Teaching assistants at the University of Toronto, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902, voted by a margin of 942 to 318 to send all outstanding issues to binding arbitration. That ends the strike for about 6,000 TAs at U of T. During four weeks on the picket lines the issues in dispute narrowed. Still outstanding are the following: a guarantee of a minimum per-student funding amount, and tuition assistance for members. A ‘neutral’, third-party arbitrator, selected by agreement of the union and management, will issue a decision.

Although it is not preferable to place the concerns of the working class in the hands of an arbitrator – a representative of the capitalist state – CUPE 3902 should be proud of the intense struggle it waged against an aggressive employer, and for already achieving significant gains towards a decent contract. It appears that the U of T bosses opted for arbitration as a face-saving measure.

Meanwhile, it looks like striking educators at York University have achieved an historic victory.

Back on March 9, Unit 2 of CUPE Local 3903, which represents contract faculty, accepted a new collective agreement. But Units 1 and 3, representing teaching assistants, and graduate assistants, rejected the university’s deal and remained on strike. Then on March 29, the CUPE 3903 Bargaining Team (BT) and York University management reached a tentative agreement for Unit 1 (teaching assistants) and for Unit 3 (graduate assistants). The deal, which, as we go to press is expected to be ratified, addresses the three core demands of the Union.

Firstly, York University has agreed to tuition offset language, indexed to 2012 rates. This means that if tuition fees for domestic or international students rise above 2012 rates, the University will increase funding for all in-program and incoming students to offset the tuition fee increase. It also means that the international students will receive increased funding equal to the amount of the recent international student fee increases.

Secondly, York University has agreed to make LGBTQ an employment equity group.

And thirdly, for Unit 3, the Employer has agreed to increase summer minimum funding from $1,750 to $3,000, in addition to previously agreed-upon Graduate Financial Assistance and wage increases. This represents a further increase of $750 over the Employer’s last offer, a rise of over 70 per cent.

The two strikes should not be seen merely as economic disputes; they are also political strikes that challenge capitalist austerity parameters. They essentially confront a hardening, global, corporate agenda. For that reason, workers need to follow suit and escalate these efforts right across the labour movement, and head towards sectoral action, industry walk-outs, and a general strike. If the objective is to stop and reverse the cuts, and to end precarious, poorly-paid employment, it will be necessary to establish a workers’ government, the harbinger of a socialist transformation of society.