Letter from a privileged person

The following letter was sent to me by a good colleague and friend named Cory. I hope you all appreciate it as much as I did.

SMS


 

Letter from a privileged person

Dear Fellow Strikers,

Throughout this strike, I’ve been acutely aware of how lucky I am. Do you know how many things have lined up so that I could enjoy a comfortable life? So many things. Probably the main thing is that I have a wonderful and supportive family, who helped me through every stage of my education. I didn’t earn that, it’s just where I happened to be born. I’m also a white anglophone male with an able body and so on and so forth – all completely un-earned factors which made things easier for me. On top of that, I also ended up with a great thesis advisor, who has made every effort to keep me afloat and above the minimum funding package.

So I feel a bit of discomfort at identifying with our collective claim that we’re being treated unjustly. Forget justice, I personally have been treated with favoritism.

But realizing this doesn’t make me any more inclined to accept UofT’s terrible offers. Quite the opposite. People shouldn’t have to be as insanely fortunate as me to go to grad school. If we accept anything below a living wage as the minimum funding package, we are saying that you need to have privilege like mine to get a graduate education. You need the right citizenship, and a family that has both the resources and the willingness to support you, or a credit rating good enough to get a big loan, or some other form of access to support.

Anything less than a living wage as the minimum makes a load of privilege the requirement for participation in the academy, and that’s unconscionable.

It’s also detrimental to UofT, and to Canada. For a few measly million dollars, we can invest in people who enrich the intellectual culture of our country. It’s an investment which has paid off enormously in the past, and I refuse to believe that as a country we’re in such a crisis that we can no longer afford to invest in the future. By making the minimum funding package less than a living wage, you restrict the recruiting pool of talent to the small cross-section of the population who both have cash to burn and a desire to work furiously on hard intellectual problems. You exclude a huge number of people from Canada and abroad who have real contributions to make, if only they’re given the opportunity.

So as a privileged person, I think I have an obligation to spend something of what I have been given on making sure other people get to have some too. I’m willing to fight this out, until we secure a living wage for current and future UofT graduate students.

Best,

Cory

Feelings and Fatigue

Dear Friends,

This post will be quite short. I am taking the week off to rest and prepare for my qualifying exams. I have become quite ill and it is time to rest.

I leave you with two notes:

  1. I was not at the town-hall meeting. I have only observed some of the virtual results. I encourage everyone to treat themselves and others with great care and kindness right now. It is not just about being strong on the picket lines for the sake of how the employer or the media perceives us. More important, I think, is that we do not harm ourselves or others during this hard time. We are all feeling a lot right now. The situation is intense and emotions can be very raw. Please be gentle with yourself and with others.

  2. If anyone wishes to post a blog to this thread, please email me at the contact provided below and I will make sure to get it up on the site in short order.

Lastly, I leave you with this:

With love and in solidarity,

SMS

Emotions, Power and Moving Forward

Hi Everybody,

How’s it going? Me? I’m alright. I have to write my qualifying exams in less than two weeks and that is a bit silly, I don’t mind telling you. But, it makes me happy that I get to share my thoughts on things through this platform, and so…

One of the things that I have learned these last two weeks is that it feels good to be right. I get so high on my horse it’s ridiculous. I/we am/are so right about the nature of this dispute, that I have become elevated to Platonic levels of certainty. I look down upon uninformed opinions on this matter like clouds below the threshold of an insanely high mountain of rightness. They just float pass like so much ephemeral flotsam.

Being-right-sucks

I’ve got so much self-righteous indignation towards the University right now that it’s pouring out of me in all kinds of interesting ways, mostly in the form of chanting myself hoarse on the picket lines and being derisively sarcastic and dismissive about the University’s bargaining position and media interactions. Wow, being right is awesome! Well, kind of…

I’ve also been noticing that being right also feels not good.

78307-ouch-right-in-the-feels-meme-cjiS

Let’s face it, many of us are feeling pretty agitated. I will only speak for myself, but I strongly suspect that others would agree. Being right is highly agitating, especially when those in power with control over your immediate financial future, are wrong. But the agitation I am trying to point towards is a bit subtler than the obvious agitation that comes with living in an unjust world and dealing with problematic, entrenched power structures that systematize that injustice. I think that there is something else going on here.

I suspect that the kind of (justified) self-righteous indignation that much of us feel right now, is itself a kind of agitation, regardless of what catalyzed it. I (at least) get very ‘puffed up’ when I am up on my proverbial horse of rightness. It’s hard not to in the face of such willful ignorance and greed. Nevertheless, I think it’s probably a bad deal for me in the long run. Being right might be bad for me. It might be bad for you too. For example, I’ll probably lose my hair quicker, and that would not be a benefit for anyone, because I have a strangely shaped head.

9._hammerhead

In all seriousness, I wanted to write briefly about this because I think it’s important to take care of ourselves emotionally right now. The initial psychological impact of the University’s decision to spread misinformation about the nature of the grievance was very difficult to stomach. Though, I think we’ve done well in taking this difficult first-step in stride.

funny_celebrity_pictures_swallow_sadness_like_a_boss-s500x372-156544

The natural response is anger and self-righteous indignation. It helps one deal with the hurt by throwing back anger in the face of a hostile institution and and misinformed media. I can also obscure and cover up the sadness and hurt in a way that obscures them from view (or so I think). Anger is easier than sadness because you direct it outside of yourself towards others. It is easier to motivate yourself and take action when you are angry than if you are sad or hurt. But I think it’s important to stay with the sadness and pain in all of this. I think this, because what is at stake is more than just our annual wage. What is at stake is our faith in the ideal that higher education is more than a commodification of the pursuit of knowledge. Given what has happened, my faith in this ideal has become quite shaken up.

yoda

However, not all is dark and bleak. One great thing that has happened is that the media coverage has really started to balance itself out. Most of the articles I read now are supportive of our position. I think this is indicative of a changing tide in public perception that can be seen not only in the print media but in the interactions with undergraduates on the picket lines. Such has been my experience at least. I hope that others have felt this as well.

So, what now? Well, now that we’ve spent some time on the picket lines shouting ourselves hoarse, one suggestion I have is the following: we need to buckle down and find ways to prepare for a protracted strike that won’t tax us too much on the emotional level. To this latter end, I propose more music on the picket lines, dancing and good cheer. 4 or 5 of us had a dance party in front of Bahen and Robarts yesterday, and it was the best. Today we did the same in front of Sid Smith. It was so much fun and we got a lot of signatures for the coworker petition and the crowd interactions were immensely positive (modulo a statistically invariant flow of awkward indifference). There is a lot of love out there and I think tapping into that will help us sustain the strike in a positive way that will connect more to the undergraduate community

dave on strike

In closing, I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to the great work being done on the satellite campuses. The following is a summary of some awesome picketing that was done out at UTM over the last few days. Well done, everyone.

http://thepage.ca/tas-fight-for-their-funding/

Pretty awesome.

Stay strong everyone.

With love and in solidarity,

SMS

CUPE Calls on U of T and York to Play Fair with Working Families

What: Parent/Caregiver Rally in Support of CUPE 3902 and CUPE 3903 Strike
When: 3:30pm on March 11, 2015 Where: King’s College Circle, will march to Queens’ Park afterwards

Striking parents and caregivers who make a living as adjunct instructors, teaching assistants, or graduate assistants from around the GTA are calling on the province and university administrations to play fair with them at the bargaining table. “Academic workers are doing more than 60% of all teaching in different colleges and universities in this city, but aren’t being treated with dignity. On top of this, many of us are parents trying to raise children,” says Kole Kilibarda, an adjunct professor at York University. “Most of us don’t even know when we’ll land our next contract and we have to reapply for positions every four months. How are we supposed to support our families with wages that are often below the poverty line?”

York University’s teaching staff are partially striking over the employer’s refusal to increase daycare subsidies and the poor conditions for parental leaves. Similarly, University of Toronto teaching assistants are frustrated by the lack of a funding package that would bring them over the poverty line. Most striking parents, caregivers, and their allies who plan to rally today agree that the problem is much broader.

“Being a graduate student and a parent are two full­time jobs. The University of Toronto has not increased the $15,000 fellowship in over 7 years. Is it too much to ask for a funding package that we can live of off? We call on the U of T administration to come back to the bargaining table.” said Mauricio Suchowlansky, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto and the father of a two­year old daughter.

Working families are put into an especially difficult position, as they need to balance increased workloads with childcare duties, which often means it takes them more time to complete their degrees.

“We’re worried that there is little public acknowledgement that our working conditions are students’ learning conditions.” said, Kristine Kavoukian, a PhD Candidate at the UofT and the mother of a two year­old son. “We’re striking for the future of higher education in this province. Do we want a model where knowledge is treated as a commodity and where education is provided by low wage and precarious workers or are we willing to imagine a more equitable alternative?”

On Politics and media interactions

Dear Friends,

Further to yesterday’s post regarding the obligations of politicians to spend political capital on our behalf, I post the following video with much satisfaction:

A lot of folks have been tweeting the url and that is a good thing. Here’s hoping that the provincial NDP’s continue to exert pressure on the Liberal government and that such pressure eventually amounts to some movement in our favor in the negotiating process.

There has been some concern about the rigor and clarity of our position with regard to public perception. To some degree I share these concerns, but my experience has been that when the media actually asks folks on our side of this dispute what is going on, there seems to be a lot of great things coming out from our side.

For example, in response to the following article,

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/university-of-toronto-teaching-assistants-set-to-take-up-picket-lines/article23241319/

…a colleague of mine engaged in a back-and-forth with a Toronto banker, who was skeptical about the coherence of our bargaining position. The following is a brief record of their correspondence:

Good Afternoon

I found your recent statement in (“We are not saying wages are not high enough, but that our overall funding is insufficient”) to be intriguing because, as I understand it, the UoT graduate student funding package is meant to support research stream masters and PhD students.  This package (comprised of a combination of U of T fellowships, scholarships or awards, and teaching and research assistantships) is not meant to be a living as some students and CUPE would prefer or claim.

As a taxpayer, who went to four of five years of graduate school with a wife who did not work and a child to support and no “funding package” other than very limited support from a not well to do family, working and repayable loans, I resent the level of entitlement or “entitled dependence” exhibited in the current discussion at York and UoT.  Did you and your colleagues not know what the “deal” was when you enrolled and who did you expect was going to pay for the experience?

We are seeing a growing phenomenon in which the young adult wants to study something that is exactly appropriate for him/her, and then starts to dawdle, or chooses something esoteric that has no earning potential. The result is a 28-year-old who is living at home or off of the taxpayer who does not know how to do very much for his or her self.  This is a very contemporary phenomenon, one we have never seen before. The idea that everyone has to find exactly what is suitable for him/her is new and the reality is a group of people incapable of functioning in society in good part because they cannot earn a living.

My view is that the funding package does provide adequate support.  The UoT package is rich compared with other research schools in this country and there is no logical reason to expand it.  What is reasonable is that the student take on the responsibility to do their part by working at least 15 hours a week and/or assuming debt.  The result would likely be faster completion times for the graduate degrees which would then open more places for those in line.

I did appreciate your honesty by acknowledging “We are not saying wages are not high enough” and I can see from your website you are very committed to your work.

[SIGNATURE REDACTED]

Dear [NAME REDACTED] (if I may),

Thanks for your thoughtful email. Before I respond, let me just note that I’m not an official union representative  — the reporter just approached me on the picket line — so please don’t take anything I say below to constitute an ‘official’ union position.

You make what I take to be three separate (though related) points:

  1. The funding package isn’t meant to be a ‘living’, but instead ‘support’, where the latter isn’t governed by the same norms as the former (i.e. it needn’t cover the *total* cost of living for a year as a student in Toronto).
  2. The funding package, set at a minimum of 15k p.a., is adequate. You offer two reasons in support: first, UofT’s package exceeds that of comparable Canadian institutions; second, students could (and should) supplement their income through a combination of part-time non-TA work and loans.
  3. The union demands spring from a kind of unwarranted entitlement to study what we want, without regard for long-term employment consequences or the acquisition of potentially useful skills.

I’ll discuss these points in order.

First, the distinction between ‘support’ and a ‘living’ misconstrues the purpose of the funding package. Research students are full-time researchers, part-time TAs. The ‘deal’ that you refer to in your second paragraph is that the funding package frees graduate students to pursue research full-time. Furthermore, the relationship between the university and its graduate students isn’t primarily that of business-to-client. Graduate students contribute to the prestige and success of the university through our teaching and our research. The strong graduate students act to attract faculty and funding to individual departments and the university as a whole (in my case, which is hardly unusual, the university has made upwards of 50k from my research success). So what you are asking us to do, in taking what amounts to a cut in our funding package (due to inflation and cost of living increases since 2008, and moving forward) is to subsidize the university. And I see no argument for why the burden should rest with graduate students to take the hit on behalf of the university.

Second, given that the funding package is meant to enable graduate students to pursue full-time research, at least one of your suggestions for supplemented our overall income won’t be feasible: we already have a part-time job (TAing), so to ask for another would be to require graduate students to take on what amounts to a full-time job in addition to an already full-time research load. This seems both unfair, given the role graduate students play in the university, and counterproductive. The more we are asked to work, the more our other tasks will suffer: graduation will be delayed, and teaching will suffer. These are outcomes significantly more costly in the long-term than a relatively small increase in the minimum annual compensation for graduate students.

If you accept that graduate students provide more to the university than mere TA work, then the ‘take out a loan’ option also falls short, since again you’re asking the graduate students to incur costs in order to subsidize the institution. On a more pragmatic level, if the university requires students to take out loans, top graduate students will not attend. Most of those I know had other offers, and most of those offers far exceeded what U of T offers. Comparing the university to others in Canada is a mistake: we aren’t competing with other Canadian universities, but with top schools in the U.S.

In any case, fifteen thousand dollars has become an increasingly small amount of money with which to support oneself in Toronto. Adjusted for inflation, the buying power of graduate students in the city has decreased by 10% since 2008. And once you factor in the cost of living increases special to Toronto, that figure only [increases]. So at the very least, the deal offered by the university entrenched a long-term decrease in support to graduate students.  I’d be interested to know how you see someone supporting themselves in Toronto on 15k a year, given that rent now often exceeds $1000 per month.

Lastly, you make the point that the demand for an increase to the funding package springs from an unwarranted sense of entitlement. I hear this point a lot, and I must admit it irks me. The focus on ‘taxpayers’, for one, misrepresents the structure of the social contract. We all pay taxes. The purpose of taxation is to solve a collective action problem: we all require services and goods that we cannot feasibly afford on our own, or at least not at the appropriate stage in life. Yes, your taxes help pay for the university (though to a lesser extent than they used to), just as someone else’s taxes helped pay for your university education (unless you went to a private university). Your tax dollars aren’t being grabbed by entitled graduate students, they are going towards a system — the university system — that needs graduate students in order to function. If you would rather graduate students weren’t funded, you might lose that which you seek to fund. At the very least, the university would become more expensive to run, since much of the ‘cheap’ labour that props it up would be gone. Paying graduate students keeps your taxes lower, in the long run, since we are the body of cheap labour (both at present, and later as sessional instructors) that enables the government to slash funding to post-secondary education.

Anyway, I hope these replies have managed to address your concerns, and apologies for their somewhat rambling character.

Best,

Dominic Alford-Duguid
PhD Candidate, Philosophy


 

I think you’ll agree, the the clarity and precision of this response is applause-worthy. I think that this level of engagement has been fairly typical of most of the news pieces I have seen that actually represent our side of the dispute. Of course, it is true that the University has seen fit to engage in a media strategy of misinformation. However, we cannot control their actions in this regard. All we can do is respond with the same kind of tact, class, and logic demonstrated by my colleague in the aforementioned exchange, as well as many others from folks inside the union.

Good luck everyone. Stay healthy and happy.

In solidarity,

SMS

Politics, Protest Songs, and Batman

Greetings Friends,

Note: In spite of the blog now being integrated into the main content spread of this website, my intention is to continue to post first-personal reflections on my experience of the strike. So, in this way, the blog will continue to be a digital record of my reflections on the strike more than it will function as a database of newsworthy factoids (though, these two things are not mutually exclusive and much of the subsequent content will certainly be info-related). Also, if anyone has any suggestions for topics of discussion, please get in touch. If you click my name at the bottom of each post, it will take you to a page that has my email on it.

I am going to address each topics in the title in reverse order.

i. On Batman

This week was interesting. I got to play superheroes with my kid on Saturday morning after swimming lessons. I was Batman. I wanted to be superman because most of our hero masks make my face sweat, but I was informed in no uncertain terms, that I was to be Batman on this particular occasion. There’s something about running around in a cape and mask with a spazzed-out five year-old that really puts things in perspective. Activities like this can remind you where real value lies in life.

I know a lot of folks are feeling the fatigue after the first week. I spoke to one person who told me that they had pulled 16-hour days the whole week and that they were still operating on only a few hours sleep a night. An addled mind makes for little rest, even when the body is utterly taxed. People are feeling the weight of all this in different ways. I think it’s super important to find ways to exorcise the frustration and angst, to channel and sublimate what can be helpfully transformed and then expunge the remainder in non-toxic ways. Everyone has their preferred methods. Here are a couple of suggestions by way of things not to do:

i. binge drink
ii. shout profanities at strangers
iii. spontaneously combust

Easier said than done, obviously.

I have two positive suggestions to offer as well:

  1. I suggest that all of those folks out there who might be feeling down try playing superheroes. Find a cape (use a bed sheet, if a cape is not readily available), and go to town. You can come to my place and play with my kid if you want. We can make a bat-cave out of couch pillows. Seriously, go be Batman. Right now.

  2. Let’s go dancing. I blew my voice out pretty hard this week but my need to commune with my fellows persists and is indeed, stronger than ever. The only solution I can think of is to dance. I need to dance. Folks, let’s go dancing. There was going to be dancing at the party at the Rhino this past Saturday, but there pretty much wasn’t. That’s OK, it was somewhat of a last minute thing. No judgement. Nevertheless, I think we need to have a proper dance party somewhere with a DJ who knows that there is never a bad time to play Whitney Houston.

ii. Protest Songs

Speaking of music, I have heard tell that there has been some discussion of appropriate ways to enjoy or not enjoy some protest songs. For the record, I think there are some great protest songs. Here is one of my favorites:

The tough thing about some of these songs is that they represent struggles that many of us know nothing about. I have worried from time to time about groceries week to week, but my partner and I have always managed to keep our family fed, we just have a credit card balance to show for it. There is poverty and prejudice out there that no cis-gender white male in his early 30’s, attending the top university in the country, can understand. Much of the angst and beauty that comes out of songs like the one I just posted come from places like that.

For me the important point is that the power of the music speaks for itself. It comes from a complex situation that is foreign to me, yes, but it helps me sublimate my own suffering in a way that keeps me going. As long as we are not ignorant about the relevant asymmetries that separate us from those that inspire us, from across different sorts of divides (cultural, economic, temporal), then I think we can enjoy the art and take solace and motivation from it in ways that resonate with our own difficulties.

Here’s another all-time favorite of mine:

Again, the actual context that motivates the song is far more intense than the one faced by strking TA’s. Yet, there is a strong generality to the lyrics that I think allows them to apply meaningfully in multiple contexts, including ours. Thus, as I mentioned above, I think that as long as one remains sensitive to relevant contextual factors, that music from different times, locations, struggles, and political climates can meaningfully inspire us without being tactless, insensitive, or ignorant.

iii. Politics

Speaking of political climate, I want to close this point on a critical note. This past week there were a number of politicians, especially from the provincial NDP party, on the lines. A few gave short statements at the King’s College rallies and walked the lines for a little while. Some have issued letters of support that can be seen in the ‘Endorsements and Letters of Support’ section of this website. I am sure I am not alone is thanking them deeply for their support.

However, I must say, that if the support of elected members of the provincial legislature, or any other government (municipal, provincial) for that matter, want to show solidarity with our strike, then there is only one way to meaningfully do that. It is by wielding their political clout and lobbying the administration who continue to refuse to negotiate with us. Showing up on a picket line having not done anything to that effect is somewhat problematic.

Why problematic?

Because being seen with us on a picket line is important for the public image of a union supporting, socially minded, leftist politician. Understand, this is not a condemnation of any politician who has thus far done so. I understand that there is a real need for such political operatives to align themselves strategically with causes and voters that can help them get (re-)elected. I don’t judge anyone for acting on behalf of such a need. It’s a basic reality of the social matrix we live in.

However, I think that to do so in good faith means spending political capital on our behalf. It means putting pressure on the government and the university to treat us with some respect. It means holding them accountable for disseminating misinformation to the media about the relevant facts that are at the heart of this dispute.

I maintain that actions of this sort are the responsibility of any politician who wants to show solidarity with us. Telling us things we already know on the picket lines about the justness of our cause might lift some spirits, but we have picket captains who are skilled at keeping morale high. The benefit of political allies can and should go beyond the psychological. Sympathetic political operatives must engage the power dynamics that are at play in this conflict, power dynamics that remain largely opaque and inaccessible to those of us walking the picket lines. The folks responsible for these egregious funding policies are human beings, after all.

The good faith of the striking members of this union is measured by our actions and energy on the picket line. This is because we are the ones on strike and withholding our labor and disrupting the University is how we wield our power. The good faith of the politicians who wish to stand with us must be measured by the moves they make on our behalf in the public and political sphere off the picket lines, because that is where they wield their power. The administration will not meet with us. Perhaps they would meet with elected members of the provincial legislature?

I leave you with one final piece of music to keep your spirits high through the coming days:

In solidarity,

SMS

New Blog Location

Dear Friends,

The CUPE 3902 Unit 1 Strike Blog has changed locations.

From now on I (SMS), and those who wish to contribute, will be able to continue the blog from here at the weareuoft.ca webpage.

This is just a more consolidated way to move forward with things.

I’ll post something content oriented tonight or tomorrow.

Thank you for reading.

In solidarity,

SMS

Writer David Chariandy cancels reading at U of T to picket with CUPE 3902 

 

Dear CUPE 3902 (copied to Margeaux Feldman and Philip Sayers, English Graduate Students Association),

My name is David Chariandy, and I am a fiction writer and member of the department of English at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. I am writing to inform you of my decision not to accept an invitation to read from my novel on campus this Friday, as currently advertised on the U of T department of English website. I am declining this invitation in order to indicate my solidarity with the striking 3902 teachers — including, of course, those teaching English — who all deserve fair pay and security for the crucial work they perform at the University of Toronto.

Sincerely,

David Chariandy

An open letter from Prof. Paul Downes to his colleagues in the Dept. of English

Colleagues,

Some members of the department have expressed concern about the unholy mix of TA/instructor wages and graduate funding packages in CUPE’s bargaining with the university administration. Some have suggested that CUPE only represents the graduate students in their capacity as paid TA’s or instructors, not as funded graduate students, and that this makes it difficult for faculty members to support the strike. In some cases, our colleagues are only offering observations about the legal “facts”; in other cases, they are expressing a preference. Others, myself included, want to know what other alternative we have given our graduate students.

The administration vigorously objects to the idea that CUPE can negotiate the terms of the funding package; but they are not doing so simply because they object to the legal validity of such negotiation.
The administration’s insistence on this separation proceeds from a political desire to weaken CUPE’s ability to represent our graduate students effectively. The administration does not want to have to deal with any forceful, organized, collective negotiation of the funding package. Like it or not, the question of whether CUPE can negotiate the terms of the funding package is a political question, not just a legal one, and it has everything to do with graduate student representation.

Who represents our graduate students before the administration? Is it us? Is it our Chairs and graduate officers? The truth is that as the conditions and prospects for graduate students have deteriorated year after year, graduate students (especially in the humanities) have been forced to seek effective representation somewhere, and they have found it, for now, in CUPE. Anyone who wants to deny them that opportunity ought to think seriously about what they have to offer in its place. Desperation and a lack of support has pushed grad students towards organized representation — wherever they can find it.

CUPE maintains that the existence of a graduate funding package is protected by language in CUPE’s collective agreement, and CUPE members have been (fruitlessly) discussing graduate funding with the administration over the past three years in accordance with a Letter of Intent appended to the last collective agreement. There would not be a guaranteed minimum funding package if it were not for the pressure exerted by CUPE. CUPE’s approach, however flawed, is the only one that has had any effect at all. Ask our chairs and directors if they have had any luck securing serious improvements for our students by other means. The administration’s refusal, at this point, to negotiate the overall funding package is part of an effort to download the cost of graduate education to the departments and individual faculty members (funding students through grants etc.), and guess which departments will suffer most from such a model?

What alternatives are there to a centrally negotiated funding package for our graduate students? cuts to the number of our PhD students in English? an increased teaching load and larger classes without TA support for the tenure-track faculty? increased pressure on English faculty to win more and larger grants to help pay for the PhD students we have (in accordance with the model in the sciences and some humanities departments now)? All of the above? Some of us may welcome some or all of these developments; but we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing that what is going on with CUPE won’t have repercussions of one sort or another for our whole department.

Let’s not forget, too, that when we talk about the minimum funding package, it is our graduate students in English that we are talking about. As the administration have reminded people in their press releases, many graduate students at U of T get far more than the minimum (grad students in Economics, for example, have an effective minimum that is ten thousand dollars a year higher than ours and most of them get far more than that). Striking CUPE members, that is to say, are putting a great deal on the line, and they are doing so primarily for graduate students in the humanities — OUR graduate students!

If I had any evidence, after 19 years at U of T, that we tenured faculty members had either the means, the power or the will to really address the declining situation for our graduate students, I would understand the reluctance to support this strike. This strike is a symptom of all the things many of us are most concerned about: the shrinking public investment in education; the corporatization of the university; the marginalization of the humanities; the rise of one or another form of precarious employment; the widespread hostility towards organized labour; and the ongoing disaster of our inability to promise PhD students in the humanities a decent chance of securing a tenure-track job after they have helped us to teach our undergraduate classes, fill our graduate classes, enhance our reputation and professional status as research professors and sustain a vibrant departmental culture. This strike may not be the strike we wanted, it may be something of a blunt instrument, but it is the strike we have helped to produce and we have offered our students no alternative.

I urge all members of the department to support our graduate students and the members of CUPE unit 1, either by signing the letter circulated by David Galbraith or by writing their own letter to the provost; and I encourage you all to offer 45 minutes of your time next week to join our students on the picket line.

Best,
Paul

Letter from Unit 1 Picket Captains to Unit 3 members

Text of the letter:

———————-

Dear members of CUPE 3902 Unit 3,

We write to you as picket captains of Unit 1 who have been actively involved in waging our strike for better academic working conditions at UofT. We write knowing that you are now deciding whether or not to accept the latest tentative agreement negotiated between administration and your bargaining committee. We address this letter to you to share our perspective based on our first week on strike, and we invite you to consider this as you make your decision.

Since we started our strike, we have experienced growing solidarity and confidence that come from our collective action. As the number of strikes increases across Ontario, the significance of our strike – and our leverage – are increasing. This is a critical moment for us to address unsustainable conditions that affect us as educators. The insecurity and precariousness that have become the norm constrain our capacity to contribute to our academic disciplines, and make it difficult to provide quality teaching.

The work that you Unit 3 members do is of great value. You deserve adequate compensation, health benefits, and job security. Any incremental gains made at the bargaining table – for both Unit 1 and 3 – must be considered in this context where we are being forced to accept new conditions of precarious work which are fundamentally unsustainable. Does the current tentative agreement truly address your insecurity? If you think you can achieve more, let us act together to increase your leverage and ours.

The current moment of spreading strike action by 10,000 academic workers in Toronto is a rare opportunity to gain real leverage to achieve meaningful changes. If Unit 3 decides to join Unit 1 on the picket lines, the administration will likely be forced to lockout the university and cancel classes. Cancelled classes at both York and UofT would be an unprecedented crisis for university administrators, leaving them and the provincial government with little choice but to make concessions to make our livelihoods more sustainable. Striking together makes for a stronger, more effective – and thus shorter – strike.

We all know that you are facing a very important decision. As you make this decision, we ask you to consider the potential for collective gains made possible by this moment of unprecedented mobilization. Together, we can win much more than either unit can win alone. Let us think and act strategically, as one union.

In solidarity,

Unit 1 Picket Captains
(signed by 38 picket captains)