Thursday, November 05, 2009

Crisis of Public Sector Workers

McMaster TAs go on strike as UofT Sessionals Set to Walk Out

BASICS #16 (Nov / Dec 2009)

by Farshad Azadian and Noaman Ali

Hundreds of teaching and research assistants at McMaster University in Hamilton set up picket lines at three different entrances on Monday, November 2, after the university administration tabled an offer that actually was a step backward from an offer they had tabled earlier. The administration thereafter walked away from the table and thus forced the union out on strike.

Meanwhile at the University of Toronto, sessional lecturers are getting ready to go on strike next Monday, November 9 as the university administration also drags its feet in negotiations. The tactics used by these administrations echo the ones that forced over 3400 academic workers out on strike at York University in a three month strike that began almost one year ago in November 2008 and ended in January 2009. That strike was ended after Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government legislated the strikers back to work. Although many people were angry at the union for being out on strike so long, it becomes clear from the current labour unrest that the problem is a systemic one and not limited to certain unions.

Since so many communities in Ontario rely on the public university system, the provincial government and employers try to set people in communities against the workers. The same pattern was seen in during the inside and outside Toronto city workers strike of summer 2009. That strike was also caused by the City of Toronto administration looking to gut workers’ wages and benefits. These attacks on workers come just as McGuinty’s government has expressed its intention to attack public sector workers in particular, along with the entire working class through service cuts, as a means of “solving” the government deficit that is supposedly a result of the economic crisis.

But the crisis wasn’t caused by workers, it is a built-in feature of the capitalist economic system, that for the last many decades has made a small minority immensely wealthy. Despite this, workers are expected to pay for it, as with the $270 billion bailout to big banks and industries funded by taxpayer money. The huge deficit at the federal and provincial levels – a deficit caused by the bailout – has instead been downloaded on our communities and our workplaces, through expected concessions at the bargaining table and through cuts to services such as housing, childcare and recreation centers that will probably result in increasing user fees.

University workers need to be prepared to play hardball against the anti-worker policies of the university administrations, who force workers out on strike by making offers with little substance that they know will be refused. Working class people should take an example from the important stand that university workers are making and be prepared to support them on the picket lines.