By Jacob McLean – Unit 3 Rank-and-File
I would first like to congratulate all CUPE members and the exec for achieving what we have: authentic tuition indexation language, LGBTQ equity commitments, and the reversal of the 50% increase in international student fees. This is worth celebrating indeed, as it is a testament to the power in unity. However, as a rank-and-file Unit 3 member, I would like to bring some sobriety to this justified euphoria. The sobering fact is that we have capitulated on one of our red line demands: a $12,500 minimum funding guarantee for Unit 3 members. In the Bargaining Update #25 on March 27th the exec wrote that it was “much to the disappointment of the Union” that the Employer’s most recent offer at that time ignored this demand. The Update went on to detail the list of counter-proposals the Bargaining Team would make to the Employer: among these, of course, was the $12,500 minimum funding guarantee for Unit 3 members. The Exec noted that “many Unit 3 members already make more than this, meaning the Employer should be able to implement this proposal at a relatively modest cost.” Bargaining Update #25 concluded with the fact that “offering Master’s students who are underfunded a higher minimum level of funding will cost little more than the salary now received by York’s president.”
That fundamental fact – that such egregious inequality lies at the core of this institution’s structure – is why I cannot in good faith accept a deal that doesn’t respect our Union’s red line demand concerning Unit 3 funding. It is very important to note that this red line demand is merely an attempt (as with most of our demands during this strike) to recoup our losses from the last five or so years. It used to be that all Master’s students received a full 10 hour-a-week GA or RAship and subsequently made more money. Now, most of us receive only “half-GAships” at 5 hours a week. So, while we might be inclined to call our recent defensive campaign a “historic” victory, the truth is that, historically speaking, we are worse off now than we were less than a decade ago. If we continue to wage strictly defensive campaigns against the Employer (by which I mean campaigns that mostly seek to recoup losses), then it is crucial that we defend all aspects of our employment agreement. If we continue every three or so years to capitulate on this or that supposedly “minor” issue – a thousand bucks here, a thousand bucks there – we will one day in the not too distant future wake up to realize our working conditions have been decimated by a slow neoliberal war of attrition against the public sector. If we are going to play defense at the local level, then we must defend all attacks. To use a sports metaphor: we must not let in a single puck. Look to Montréal (perhaps not coincidentally the home of Carey Price, goaltender extraordinaire): in 2012 when the Liberal Charest government wanted to raise tuition by a mere $1500 over the course of 6 years, the students revolted and went on strike for months. Quebec students are keenly aware of the attritional methods of neoliberalism and we must learn from them.
Also like the Quebec students, we must be attentive to the intimate relationship between local struggle and universal struggle. We must recognize that our fight against public sector roll-backs as manifested at York is also part of a universal, national, and international fight against austerity. There is a dialectical relationship between these local fights and the universal fight against capitalism: the universal fuels the local, but the local also fuels the universal. The former point is obvious if one considers the Red Square donned by us strikers this past month; we wear the Square to show we are fighting York (locally), but also austerity (universally). The latter point, however, that the local influences the universal, is one we need to pay special attention to right now. It is my core argument that by capitulating on the local level, we will be capitulating on the universal anti-austerity, anti-capitalist movement now growing in Québec. If we call the strike off and capitulate on our red line demands, we will return to work and school and our material resources and time will be almost entirely dominated once again by these activities. But if we stay on strike we say to ourselves and to the country that we are united in the decision to dedicate our material resources and time to this important anti-austerity struggle. With Québec as our inspiration, lets let the CUPE 3903 rank-and-file lead the way in Anglo-Canada in terms of putting forth a radical student politics towards free education for all. The choice seems clear to me: a “yes” vote sends the message, “yea, I don’t like austerity and all, but I’ve got work to do and my own career to pursue.” A “no” vote, however, sends the message that, “yea, we’ve got work to do, but we want to eat and pay rent too.” A “yes” vote puts our individual selves first; a “no” vote, however, puts the future of this country’s students first. A “yes” vote will distract our attention away from the universal anti-austerity movement whereas a “no” vote and a continued strike will further fuel the movement. What I am asking for in arguing for a continued strike is a massive sacrifice of time and energy, but it is an essential sacrifice and it is a fight we are destined for. After all, we are the generation coming of age and entering the work force during the age of austerity – the so-called “lost generation.” What this being “lost” means, really, is that we have nothing to lose. This makes us the precise cohort capable and ready to make the sacrifices necessary to take up the fight against austerity. This makes us the people we have been waiting for. Strike to fucking win. No concessions!