CUPE 3903: Striking to Win in an “Economic Crisis”

by Dhruv Jain
Basics Issue #12 (Jan/Feb 2009)

In recent months because of the “economic crisis”, unions have increasingly become the targets of public anger. Indeed, many of the successes that have been gained through collective action and solidarity have been postponed or clawed back under the guise of an “economic crisis” which seems to disproportionately effect working peoples and not their bosses. These of course are the bosses who, during the good times, were more than willing to help themselves to the extraordinary profits. Yet, it always seems that when the bad times roll around they are not to be seen and it is the working peoples who have to save the economic system.

It is in this context that an eleven-week strike has embattled York University. The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 (CUPE 3903), representing approximately 3400 Teaching Assistants, Contract Faculty, Graduate Assistants and Research Assistants has been striking for basic economic rights like job security, a poverty wage, etc. Often, York University, especially its public face in the context of the economic crisis, President Mamdouh Shoukri, has argued that due to the economic crisis such economic rights are not economically feasible and that everyone must “tighten their belts”. Yet, at the same time York University continues to give significant pay increases to their top administrative posts including President Shoukri. It continues to allocate $200 million dollars to events concerning the York University’s 50th anniversary. Furthermore, York University continues to have a surplus to the amount of $140 million dollars. CUPE 3903 has consistently argued that the problem is not the economic feasibility of the demands but rather, the economic priorities that York University prefers to keep. Thus, the University prefers to give 45 of the highest paid administrative officials 15% wage increases amounting to $9.6 million dollars rather, than provide 3400 workers a 4% wage increase.

The CUPE 3903 strike is an example of workers unwilling to accept the rhetoric of the very same economic gurus that repeatedly denied that such an “economic crisis” was looming. It is speaking out against the get-rich schemes of employers that are using this “economic crisis” to their benefit. They are marching in the cold in defiance of “economic trends” and are demanding their fair share of the pie. They are striking to win.

On the first day back on strike in the new year, 3903 members and supporters reoccupy the 9th Floor of Ross Building outside YU President Shoukri’s office, refusing to leave until Shoukri agrees to participate in a public forum dealing with the strike issues.