As members of the Geography Department at Queen’s University and PSAC local 901, we are inspired by the labour actions by members of CUPE 3902 at University of Toronto and CUPE 3903 at York University. We wish to express support and gratitude for our friends and colleagues on strike. These actions represent an important form of resistance against disturbing trends in university restructuring that threaten the quality of post-secondary education and leave us, as academic workers, with precarious employment and financial distress.
Government mandates and university administrative demands force graduate enrolment to grow at unsustainable rates, despite departments’ inadequacy to support such enrolment. Academic career opportunity upon graduation is increasingly dismal. The use of graduate and sessional labour for cost-cutting in course delivery is deeply troubling and shameful. The corporatization of Canadian universities is resulting in increasing economic inequality between high-level administration and academic staff, as well as rising tuition rates despite stunted education quality. Amidst this environment of inflated tuition and decreasing quality of education, graduate funding remains relatively stagnant in the face of the steadily-rising cost of living in cities like Toronto.
Teaching Assistant wages have been taken out of context by university administrations and governments to distract the public from universities’ exploitation of cheap, vulnerable labour. In reality, we earn a high proportion of our graduate funding through work as Teaching Assistants and course instructors. TA employment is restricted by capped hours, enforceable by way of threat to pull already inadequate funding. Universities’ growing dependence on precarious labour to teach a substantial portion of undergraduate courses causes major strain on our academic energy, time, and resources. Furthermore, it limits opportunities for contract employees to engage in their own research that could otherwise help to raise the profile of academic institutions. The effects of these measures ripple throughout the university, and impact education on all levels. If successful, CUPE 3902 and 3903’s fight to strengthen tuition indexation will set a precedent for all TA and TF collective agreements across Canada and will represent an important step towards protecting our standard of living against net income decreases.
University administrators must be held accountable for the financial, mental, and physical well-being of all academic workers who do such vital work for our educational institutions. We recognize that the localized actions being taken by those on strike at U of T and York extend far beyond these institutions. The decision to strike is never taken lightly and it represents a tremendous sacrifice on the part of your membership. We commend your fortitude and commitment to improve our working conditions, graduate funding, and academic integrity.
To the striking members of CUPE 3902 and 3903: we support you, we respect you, and we thank you.
Queen’s University Geography GSC