Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

3/4/2005

My union just served 72 hours’ strike notice.

File under: Righteous Indignation, Those Who Can't, Know Thyself. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:00 pm.

I’m so angry over this that I can’t even work up any sarcasm, if that tells you anything.

Picket lines go up next week, unless a settlement is reached, which seems unlikely: the university president claims (and I believe him) that the administration doesn’t have the authority to meet our demands even if it wanted to, and anyway it doesn’t want to. I’m still optimistic enough to postpone setting Wednesday’s precalculus test, however.

The TA Strike of ‘03 was phenomenally stressful, and that was back when I sympathized with my union and wasn’t even teaching, anyway. I felt little guilt over stopping grading for three weeks (yes, three weeks) when the administration told us that we were just kids and hence didn’t need anything grown-up like health insurance. This time, I don’t agree with my union’s demands, and even if I did, I have a hundred students to keep in mind. And if did…I’d be torn up about being in a situation such that only by abandoning the people I am responsible for, could I be provided with the means to continue my work.

So here’s how it’s going to go down, if it lasts more than a few days: my students will later have to cram n classes’ worth of work into n-k classes - if they’re lucky enough not to lose the term entirely; I’ll have to work overtime figuring out which parts of the course are essential and which can be left out for when work resumes; the secretaries, who make half of what I do, will have to respect picket lines, but won’t get paid for their trouble; the administration won’t be affected. And in the end, we’ll all get legislated back to work anyway, because that’s what this government does to striking workers. (Back in ‘03, when the back-to-work legislation was tabled, the provincial government argued - in the same breath - that we TAs were a bunch of spoiled kids who were doing useless, low-skill work that didn’t deserve a cost-of-living wage increase; and that we were essential workers who therefore needed to be legislated back.) I’m having trouble working up the mandated solidarity over a losing battle that I don’t even think is worth fighting.

10 Comments

  1. I hope the strike does not materialize. Best of luck!

    My comment, directly solely to the union, is who is looking out for the students? Seems to me the union never has the best interest of the students in mind.

    - elizabeth — 3/5/2005 @ 3:07 am

  2. I hope so, too. But regarding your comment, it’s more complicated than that, and that’s what I was getting at when I wrote, I’d be torn up about being in a situation such that only by abandoning the people I am responsible for, could I be provided with the means to continue my work. Unethical employers - like mine back in 2003 - take advantage of their employees’ dedication to their employees’ dedication: if we’re so dedicated to our students, they say, we’ll work for peanuts rather than abandoning them. It’s lose-lose: two years ago, I had to choose between health insurance and doing my job. In that case, unions do have their students’ best interest in mind, because when employers who treat their employees like crap (and pay them as much) tend not to attract the best and the brightest. They tend to attract people who can’t find better work.

    That said, I know that many faculty unions go through binding arbitration rather than striking whenever there is dispute over contract issues. I wish mine would do that: I’ve seen no indication that it’s less effective, and it doesn’t inconvenience the students. Moreover, it allows the employers and employees to present their cases and evaluate it by its own merits, rather than by who cries “uncle” first after the pickets go up.

    - Moebius Stripper — 3/5/2005 @ 8:53 am

  3. Unless the union (sigh) doesn’t like the binding arbitration and starts refusing it. Not that I’m bitter, mind you.

    I’m actually curious about the secretaries — I assume they’re unionised, too, which is why they can’t cross the picket line? I’d sort of assume they’d go on strike, too, so at least they’d egt strike pay. But it seems odd.

    - wolfangel — 3/5/2005 @ 9:21 am

  4. When my university lecturers went on strike last year, I was dismayed that nearly all my fellow final year students were unsympathetic. They said, “I understand where the academics are coming from but it’s not fair that the strike impacts on us. I can’t support them after this.”

    They were worried about their own work, and less concerned about the sustainability of the current teaching arrangements.

    - joanium — 3/5/2005 @ 10:07 pm

  5. I was wondering about the secretaries, too. Why must =they= honor the pickets? How about other workers — the janitorial staff? Security staff? Must they honor the pickets?

    - meep — 3/6/2005 @ 2:34 am

  6. Not accepting the arbitrator’s decision? ARGH ARGH ARGH.

    Regarding the secretaries - they’re part of a different union, which means that they have to respect picket lines wherever they see them (cf “solidarity”, previously). Janitors have to respect them too. I was talking to one of my colleagues, who made a good point: when we’re on strike, we want the administration to suffer, right? So - wouldn’t it be best if the secretaries and janitors continued to get paid, even though they didn’t have any work to do (since the teachers aren’t working)?

    Joanium, I can’t really blame your classmates. Back in ‘03, I was actually surprised by how much support we got from our students - they seemed less ambivalent about the strike than I was. Yes, we were striking for more sustainable teaching arrangements, but I sure can’t blame the students for being angry that they were the ones who were suffering the brunt of our action.

    - Moebius Stripper — 3/6/2005 @ 9:41 am

  7. Yeah, the blue-collar workers here (in Montreal, though, really, where *else* would this happen?) had an increase in their hours (I *think* from 35 to 36) at some point post demerger, which came about through binding arbitration, and they were not happy and refusing to follow it. Which sort of kills the whole point of binding arbitration (something I tend to be in favour of). It was a big deal in January; I forget what happened, exactly, but there was no strike or renegotiation of the contracts.

    Multiple unions on the same workplace = bad idea, for these reasons. I guess the secretaries could all call in sick a lot — and perhaps if neither they nor the janitors show up, it will push the administration to give in faster? I have no idea, really, but the “other people are on strike, so you don’t get paid” thing seems to be a *huge* problem.

    Post-secondary students here seem to always support strikes. It’s different in primary and secondary schools, though, which usually go on work-to-rule for up to an entire year, and have sort of middling support: people agree with the idea of their wants, but it ends up a lot like punishing the kids. It feels less bad to do this to adults, even the just-barely-18-year-old ones.

    - wolfangel — 3/6/2005 @ 10:52 am

  8. How does university staff going on strike actually work? I thought that a strike worked because employees denied the employer of productive output and hence revenue and the people at the top suffered somewhat. When it comes to a university arnt all the fees paid already and so the detrimental effect is passed onto the clients, ie the students. So the effect is a slight drop in grades depending on the length of the stike and perhaps a drop in applications for the next year though this is doubtful.I get the impression academic strikes are just symbolic if not utterly pointless.

    - Robby C — 3/7/2005 @ 10:22 am

  9. Robby, I used to wonder that as well. Two years ago, when our (rather small and puny) union went on strike, we had the advantage of being at a large school that was economically quite significant. Also, this is where solidarity kicks in: we instructors aren’t making anyone (besides ourselves) any money, but every single unionized worker on the campus was required to respect our picket lines. During the strike of ‘03, that amounted to 10,000 who might be put out on any given day. And that group included not only teachers, but also janitors, secretaries, bookstore employees, computer technicians, servers at restaurants…Also, there’s a provincial election coming up in 10 weeks: the incumbent Liberals (which have been known for union-busting throughout their term) can gain or lose depending on how they handle this one.

    Of course, as wolfangel suggests, this can backfire, because only the striking workers get paid if they don’t work, so our brothers and sisters in solidarity can easily grow bitter. Two years ago, two other unions coordinated their strikes to coincide with ours, and joined us on the picket lines - this increased our influence (to the point that we were so disruptive that the government legislated us back to work - always an option, alas).

    - Moebius Stripper — 3/7/2005 @ 3:50 pm

  10. The Carnival Of Education: Week 5
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