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April 3, 2015 - Vol. 4 No. 10

Education Is a Right! No to Neo-Liberal Wrecking!

Education Workers' Principled Stand in York University and
University of Toronto Strikes

York and U of T education workers and their supporters make 10-kilometre march to defend their rights and oppose underfunding of education, March 27, 2015. (Cloud Runner)

Education Is a Right! No to Neo-Liberal Wrecking!

Education Workers' Principled Stand in York University and University of Toronto Strikes
CUPE Local 3903 Press Release on Ratification of Contract
U of T Undergrads Oppose Tuition Hikes and Demand Refund for Lost Classes
York and U of T Education Workers Hold 10-Kilometre March

Education Is a Right! No to Neo-Liberal Wrecking!

Education Workers' Principled Stand in York University and University of Toronto Strikes

On March 31, striking teaching assistants and graduate assistants at York University voted in favour of accepting the employer's latest offer thus ending a month-long strike in defence of their rights. At the University of Toronto a week earlier, striking teaching assistants, tutors, lab instructors and lecturers voted in favour of binding arbitration to settle their struggle against their employer.

The strikers were fighting for their rights and the rights of all -- for accessible post-secondary education for all that is publicly funded; for living wages, job security, working conditions and health and social benefits for the important work that they do as education workers to teach and mentor undergraduate students, as well as contributions to their own fields.

On this basis, the strikes won broad support amongst the undergraduates and faculty. The administrations, in refusing to recognize these just demands, thus found themselves isolated and without a leg to stand on, and resorted to shameful attempts at disinformation, subterfuge and intimidation to try to defeat the strikes. It is the duty of the administrations to defend the integrity of their institutions and the interests of their students, and not acquiesce to the phoney austerity agenda of governments, like the Wynne Liberals, which is totally alien to the interests of the institution. The neo-liberal agenda of the provincial and federal governments is to further privatize the delivery and content of education, especially post-secondary education, and to do so on the backs of students by charging them ever increasing tuition and other fees. This must not pass.

Already the situation is totally untenable. Colleges and universities have long been starved of funding. The youth require a modern education that will enable them to flourish and make their contributions to the society, but this cannot come at the expense of the enormous loans they are forced to take out in order to enrol. Many students and education workers told Ontario Political Forum that the strikes at U of T and York have reopened the discussions about the right to education, the need to oppose tuition fee hikes, and that the content of their education should not be determined by private interests.

Ontario Political Forum congratulates the education workers at York and U of T for the determined battle that they fought to win important concessions. Ontario Political Forum calls on the students and faculty at post-secondary institutions across the province to step up the struggle as an organized force to affirm the right to education and to oppose the austerity regime of the Wynne government.

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CUPE Local 3903 Press Release on
Ratification of Contract

Final day of the strike at York University ends with all picket lines converging at the main entrance of the university, March 31, 2015. (A. Felipe)

Members of Local 3903 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 3903), on legal strike since March 3, have ratified York University's latest offer, ending the strike. The deal passed over 94 per cent in favour. The full results are available here.

As a result of the solidarity of the CUPE 3903 membership, and support from the broader community, the ratified agreement includes important concessions from the university.

Strengthened tuition indexation was a particularly significant gain. A core demand throughout the strike, it guarantees that any increase from 2012 levels will be matched dollar-for-dollar in graduate student funding, resulting in an unprecedented rollback of recent international fee hikes.

"This contract goes a long way in reducing the debt burden of graduate students," says Adam Proctor, an international Master's student and Bargaining Team member. "All future students are now protected against arbitrary fee hikes that claw back wages, and international students who entered York last year will see compensation of about $7,000 to offset these increases."

Donya Ziaee, a Ph.D. candidate and teaching assistant at York, adds, "I'm empowered by our members' commitment to win indexation. This provision makes York more affordable for international students, and creates a more diverse, vibrant and accessible graduate community."

The deal also includes an agreement by York to incorporate LGBT as an employment equity category, a sign of our members' support for improved equity in hiring. In addition, improved funding for graduate and research assistants represents a step in the right direction, making graduate education more affordable.

"Our victory demonstrates that it's possible to defeat austerity measures though strong collective action," adds Proctor. "The support we had from undergraduates, faculty, and our colleagues at the University of Toronto was key to our success."

Following ratification, all CUPE 3903 members will return to work on Wednesday, April 1. "I truly missed teaching over the last month, and look forward to returning to the classroom with my students," said Ziaee. "I also hope that our strike will deepen solidarity between graduate and undergraduate students. The struggle for accessible, high quality education doesn't end with our strike."

CUPE 3903 represents 3,700 education workers at York University, including teaching assistants, contract faculty, graduate assistants, and research assistants.

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U of T Undergrads Oppose Tuition Hikes and
Demand Refund for Lost Classes

Protest outside U of T's Governing Council to oppose tuition fee hikes, April 1, 2015. (We Are U of T)

Undergraduate students at the University of Toronto have been discussing their tuition fees and how the high tuition makes a university education more and more inaccessible. On April 1 they rallied in their hundreds in front of Simcoe Hall outside the meeting of the university's Governing Council to oppose planned tuition fee hikes.

Governing Council sought to impose a fee increase for the 2015-16 academic year of 3 per cent for undergraduate students, and 5 per cent for professional undergraduate and graduate programs. For international students, the fee increase is slated at 9 per cent for Arts and Science Programs, 10 per cent for Applied Science and Engineering programs and 5 per cent in other programs. According to the university, the proposed fee increases are in line with the Wynne Government's four-year Tuition Fee Framework. The Framework allows tuition for professional and graduate university programs and high-demand college programs to increase by up to five percent as long as an institution's overall tuition increases average no more than three per cent per year. Despite the students' objections, the Governing Council passed these motions on April 1.

The students at the rally noted that students at U of T and other universities in Ontario already pay the highest tuition fees in Canada and have now lost more than three weeks of classes, tutorials, labs and lectures because of the strike, which has compromised the quality of their education. They are demanding the administration take responsibility and provide a partial refund to students for the class time lost.

Also on April 1, the University of Toronto Student's Union sent a letter to Vice Provost Cheryl Regehr raising the issue of student fees and making a case for a refund. The letter is posted below.

Letter from U of T Undergraduate Students' Union to Provost

Dear Provost Regehr:

Students in the Faculty of Arts & Science have received word from Dean of Arts & Science David Cameron about academic measures to be taken following the labour dispute between CUPE 3902 and the University of Toronto. I am concerned that student rights are being infringed upon in the process, and that students are not being adequately compensated for the ways we were affected by the strike. As a student in Arts & Science and the President of the University of Toronto Students' Union, I want to take this opportunity to raise several concerns.

Throughout the course of the strike, the University of Toronto Students' Union has received countless emails from students about their concerns regarding the ways in which their courses have been affected. We have referred them to University-wide and Faculty-specific policies, and to their department chairs where necessary, but communication directly from the University up to this point has been sparse. As a student, and as an elected student representative, I am disappointed in the way that my University has handled issues surrounding the strike, and its failure to support students and keep us updated throughout.

Dean Cameron's email implies that an academic disruption can be declared on a course by course basis. Could you please clarify? The Policy on Academic Continuity -- linked in his email -- states that only the Academic Board or the Provost can declare an academic disruption. I cannot find anything that confirms that this happened in the minutes of the Academic Board or in any communications by you.

I also wanted to make you aware that over five thousand students have signed petitions online here and here and on paper, requesting a tuition fee refund for three weeks of lectures, tutorials and labs missed because of the strike.

Up to this point, we have received no response from the University on this issue. Every student I know has been negatively affected in some way, including myself. Many are stressed out and overwhelmed in trying to complete courses that they've poured countless hours and hundreds to thousands of dollars into already, and it does not seem fair to say that we can just drop our courses or designate them credit/no credit if our ability to learn has been compromised to that extent. Students deserve to be fairly compensated for the education we have missed.

I am further concerned about the impact on the academic integrity of our degrees, and how this will reflect on applications to graduate school and the future success of graduating students, in particular. The following question and answer is included within the Faculty of Arts and Science FAQ:

"Will I be prepared for next year's courses if I've missed three weeks of class?

Instructors are already thinking about how next year's courses can be adapted and/or supplemented to make up for missed learning this term. That may take the form, for example, of a revised course syllabus, additional tutorial support and/or supplementary instruction."

In reading this, it seems as though the Faculty of Arts and Science has accepted that students have missed crucial information as a result of the strike this semester. The tuition fees we pay should reflect this. This also does nothing to address the particular concerns of students who are transferring schools or graduating this year.

Instead, Governing Council will be voting tomorrow on a proposal to increase our tuition fees yet again. Students at U of T and across the province of Ontario already pay the highest tuition fees in Canada, and suffer the highest levels of student debt (despite having the largest class sizes and the highest student-faculty ratios), and it is frankly insulting that the University has not even acknowledged the impact of this strike in determining tuition fee levels for next year.

I look forward to your response, and continue to request a meeting with you at your earliest convenience.


Yolen Bollo-Kamara
University of Toronto Students' Union

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York and U of T Education Workers Hold
10-Kilometre March

Hundreds of members of CUPE Local 3902 at the University of Toronto and CUPE Local 3903 at York as well their allies, undergraduates and faculty members marched 10 kilometres from York University's Glendon Campus to Queen's Park via the University of Toronto's St. George campus on Friday, March 27. They undertook this march as part of their determined battle against the administration at both institutions, and against the austerity regime of the Wynne government, to secure living wages, better working conditions and benefits for themselves and those coming after them. The march was organized by the Joint Strike Committee of both union locals.

Even though members of Local 3902 had voted in favour of binding arbitration the previous evening and as a result were back at work, union members took part in the march to stand with their colleagues at York University who were still on strike.

At Glendon College, Mary Jean Hande, one of the main organizers of the march and a member of Local 3902, spoke about how the collective action of education workers at U of T and York had profoundly moved and changed her. She spoke about being on the picket lines, facing the harassment of the university and the feeling of comradeship with other education workers on strike to demand the recognition of their rights. She noted that the struggle brought to the fore the need to step up the collective united fight against austerity.

Hande also noted that 40,000 students are on strike in Quebec and that the march was also in solidarity with those striking students. Among other things she called for free accessible education for all students and the cancellation of all student debt.

The marchers made their way along Lawrence Ave. West, and south along Yonge St. toward the University of Toronto. All along the route they militantly chanted slogans such as "York and U of T, We Stand Against Austerity" and "We Lecture, We Teach, A Living Wage Should Be Within Reach."

The marchers received enthusiastic support from the vehicles along the route as well as pedestrians and people waving from the buildings, all of which buoyed their spirits on a very cold day.

On arrival at Queen's Park after a four hour march, a number of speakers addressed the crowd. One of the themes that was raised was the importance of the provincial government increasing funding for post-secondary education and to oppose the privatization of the universities in Canada. A graduate student named Rachel pointed out that on average, a student attending the University of Toronto between 2011 and 2015 will have incurred a debt of $84,000 which is an onerous amount of money to owe at the beginning of one's career. She also noted that 75 per cent of all research done at universities across Canada is done at the University of Toronto and at York University, pointing out that much of this research is sponsored by the private sector and serves corporate and military interests which are against the interests of society. She pointed out that university students want all education to serve the public interests, not the narrow interests of corporations or the military. Rachel, echoing what other speakers also noted, said that one of the main positive developments that has occurred as a result of the strike is that real issues such as the austerity agenda of the Wynne government, the power relationship between students and the administration, how education workers can continue to fight for their rights as workers has been discussed and debated and this has broken the taboo of dealing with these issues on campus.

A number of other speakers pointed out that another positive development from the strikes is that they have precipitated a discussion amongst students on the role of the university in society.

A student named Hussein from U of T Scarborough Campus pointed out that the level of politics at the university has been elevated particularly at his campus, where the students staged a sit-in to support their teaching assistants and tutors, something that has never happened there.

The action ended with the organizers stating that they would be summing up their experience of the strike in upcoming meetings and would continue the political discussion about the fight for their rights.

(Photos: CUPE Locals 3902/3903, Cloud Runner)

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