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Opinion: Students and Workers United Can Never Be Defeated!

Monday, September 19, 2011

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            Students and Workers United Can Never Be Defeated!

Written by Drew Garvie and Peter Miller with special thanks to Dave Hauch

Your campus is filled with people who work to make your education possible. Important tasks performed by workers on campus include cleaning residences, teaching in front of classes, marking papers, serving food at Creelman, and much more. The objective of this article is to discuss labour relations and issues at the University of Guelph. It is important to remember that labour has worked very hard to struggle for worker’s rights, and one of the areas of struggle has been on University campuses.

Unions on campus work to protect and fight for their member’s rights and interests. The trades, maintenance and custodial workers at the University are represented by CUPE 1334, while your teaching assistants and sessional (part-time professors) are represented by CUPE 3913. The Steelworkers, local 4120, represent clerical and technical staff, and the Faculty Association represents the full-time faculty. There are also workers on campus represented by the Communications, Energy & Paperworkers union, the Ontario Nurses Association, The University of Guelph Police Association and more.

The university will always try to put interests of students and workers on campus against each other. It is important for students and workers to contradict this notion. The reality is actually that workers on campus and students should struggle together, but University Admin work to distort reality if it is in their interest. 

Students vs Workers?

The UofG administration even goes so far as to try to prevent student-worker interaction.  There is a University policy that workers who are members of CUPE 1334 (non-academic staff) are not allowed to speak with students. This policy is despicable. Not only does it hinder student and worker solidarity, but it is insulting to workers as a whole. The university will also try to say that an increase in a TA’s wages would increase tuition, and use rhetoric like this to put students and workers against each other.  Workers demanding a living wage, safe working conditions and the right to a decent retirement are not the problem.  The cause of the problem is the fact that years of underfunding have been downloaded onto post-secondary students; as a result tuition fees have been increasing close to 4 times the rate of inflation.  Ontario has the lowest rate of public funding, less than half the per student funding in Alberta.  To make up for underfunding, students in Ontario pay the highest tuition fees in the country, double or triple the fees that students in Quebec or Newfoundland and Labrador pay. 

The truth is that Admin is unwilling to fight with students and workers for adequate public funding for this University. Only a broad student and labour movement would result in putting enough pressure on the Federal and Provincial Government to reduce tuition or at least freeze tuition indefinitely. Admin will raise tuition fees by four or five percent, for as long as this is allowed, and for as long as there is inadequate funding for universities.  They will also try and push down labour costs, overlook health and safety concerns and try and gut pensions, for as long as this is allowed, and for as long as there is inadequate funding for universities.

Working Conditions ARE Learning Conditions!

Collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) determine the relationship between the employer (the university administration) and employees (represented by one of the unions above). It is important for students to look at CBA’s and see where interests of the two parties really lie.  A quick glance shows that workers are fighting for students.  For example, in a CBA with CUPE 1334, custodial workers might demand more time to clean university buildings. This means CUPE 1334 is fighting for students to live and learn in a setting where the air is clean. When sessional teachers in CUPE 3913 fight for higher wages, or better pension and health benefits, this means they can focus more attention on teaching and not on paying their bills. The result is a higher quality of teaching on campus. When CUPE 3913 fights for workload protections for its members, it fights for smaller classes and more one-on-one time with professors and TA’s for students. Smaller class sizes not only result in closer relationships with our educators but also closer relationships with our peers, creating a friendlier atmosphere on campus. When any union stands up for health and safety, workload protections, or adequate pay, pensions, and benefits they are standing up for a safe campus, and higher quality education on campus. These goals benefit students as well as workers.

            Each of these unions also do work outside bargaining their collective agreements.  There has been a long history of students working with organized labour on the UofG campus with tremendous results.  We hope 2011 will be a year of solidarity in the fight for accessible, quality education which is part of the same united struggle for workers’ rights!

Peter Miller and Drew Garvie are students at the University of Guelph. Drew Garvie is also a service sector worker in Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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