In terms of labour disputes, I am of two sets of beliefs that, perhaps, locate me as a kind of Neo-Liberal. As a former (and potentially future) graduate student, my heart goes out to those on the picket lines in Toronto. My frustrations with the University during the bargaining process prevent me from attending classes and school-related activities–and admittedly have spawned a few irritable emails to those whose fundamental misunderstandings of strikes, unions, and negotiations have led to naive or otherwise short-sighted decision-making.
FESA, for example, has reasoned that because class is back in session we should therefore continue holding meetings and ask students to attend because picket lines clear out before the meetings begin. This kind of disregard for the unfortunate leverage that York thereby gains by pushing the university to continue severely angers me. That the University introduced the latest ratified deal without representatives from Unit 3 at the table is frankly regrettable and disgusting to me. That CUPE3903 has since been trifurcated and that members are now being forced back to work and thus forced to cross the picket lines they so recently marched on is disheartening. Thus, as a collective body of future union members and supposed leaders in the community, FESA should show better regard for the issues surrounding the strike. It saddens me that the desire for normalcy and the prioritization of things like the FESA formal over the well-being of underpaid graduate students has caused me to turn on an organization that I have worked so hard for prior.
All of that said, though, I also cannot wholeheartedly support the efforts of the CUPE3902 at UofT, where graduate students have forced undergraduates out of class while continuing to attend graduate courses. I understand the need to serve one’s own interest–indeed I think that need is entirely valid. Graduate workloads are intensive. The program is long and expensive. To forfeit funding, time, effort, and sleepless nights is a lot to ask. Still, the stance taken by the TA union at UofT seems to be one of self-righteousness–that somehow they are confronting and beating down the capitalist agenda. They are not, and while they may need some level of propagandist rallying to maintain morale during the strike, attending classes proves that they are attempting to create a niche within the capitalist paradigm within which they can subsist, rather than striking it down. If they receive a better deal it will not be a victory for the proletariat, only a victory for the TAs at Canada’s wealthiest institution.
Thus, my position is conflicting and conflicted. I do not want to attend class because I do not want to provide the university unfair bargaining leverage. I do not want my TAs to be starved out and to lose in a fight for equity and better pay. But, my belief that by not attending I am somehow offering some meagre support to a likely hopeless cause occupies the same kind of self-righteous space that UofT teaching assistants also occupy.
I can say that I have abandoned my own fears of graduation and success because if these two strikes have taught me anything it’s that the university cares only about money and efficiency. If the strikeruns long I have no doubt that I will be ushered through a ramshackle ending to my program and I will be awarded a motley degree of partially unfinished credits so that a new generation of students can sink their hard-earned dollars into an institution that has endured six strikes in an incredibly short time. The quality of education that I have received so far has often been suspect. The integrity of the institution is now subject to that very same scrutiny.