Spoiled Opportunities: Insights from the 2015 Strikes at York University and the University of Toronto

Thomas Chiasson-LeBel and Christian Pépin

Employers are clever. They use the fact that public services are increasingly financed through regressive user fees instead of progressive taxation to divide us­—we are either taxpayers wanting more services for every dollar we pay, or workers defending undue corporatist privileges causing deficits and debts—often pitting worker against worker. This divisive scheme creates anti-union sentiment and legitimizes both “back to work” legislations and the privatization of public services. In the face of this hostility, conflicts in the public sector take up the strategic challenge of transforming immediate battles for better collective agreements into struggles for the improvement of social rights and services for society as a whole.

This political concern was at the centre of a movement within our union during the winter of 2015, when simultaneous strikes disrupted the two largest universities in the country. As their collective agreements had expired around the same dates, and negotiations were similarly stalled, the majority of academic employees in their respective universities, members of theCanadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Locals 3902 (University of Toronto) and 3903 (York University) went on strike to win a living wage, improve job security for contract faculty, and solve equity issues.

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