Commentary  Hyde Park: York – McGill TAs are behind you

Last year, McGill teaching assistants braved an 11-week strike to pressure the University to negotiate a fair contract. The battle was won, but not without a bitter struggle. This year, our colleagues at York University – members of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3903 – have also taken to the picket lines after negotiations with their university’s administration failed to address the legitimate concerns of more than 3,000 part-time faculty, teaching assistants, and graduate assistants.

Twelve weeks into the strike, it’s clear that the York administration has had little intention of working toward compromise. Instead, they have created a one-sided deadlock and refused to negotiate further. Last weekend, the government of Ontario recalled the Legislative Assembly and pushed through legislation forcing the union back to work and ending the strike.

The Association of Graduate Student Employed at McGill (AGSEM) stands in full solidarity with our colleagues at York. We are completely opposed to the back-to-work legislation imposed by the Ontario Legislative Assembly (over the lone objection of the New Democratic Party). Back-to-work legislation tramples upon workers’ right to strike. This right is the tool that secured the eight-hour work day, maternity leave, safe working conditions, and many other benefits – most of which we now take for granted. Those rights have never been offered to workers on a silver platter. They have been fought for and defended on picket lines.

This back-to-work legislation subverts the right of York’s part-time teachers and graduate assistants to bargain collectively and, more generally, sets a dangerous precedent for all public sector and public service workers across Canada. We must not allow recession to become a justification for threatening the long-held legal rights to negotiate, bargain, and strike. This piece of legislation sends a message to employers throughout Canada that the appropriate approach to a labour dispute is to wait out the workers and to depend on government intervention to force them back to work.

AGSEM also stands against this back-to-work legislation because it legitimates and rewards the increasingly heavy-handed approach of university administrations toward their employees. Our strike last year provides clear evidence of this approach, from scab work performed by professors to McGill firing AGSEM members from campus jobs unrelated to the labour dispute.

If we invested the same amount of time and energy to solving the problem of our chronically under-funded universities that is currently spent on obscuring the facts and bargaining in bad faith, we could likely find win-win solutions that would foster a better learning environment for students, a better working environment for teachers, and most importantly, the kind of collegial environment that rests at the heart of each and every university community. Instead, the McGuinty government has chosen an approach that will only heighten tensions and prolong the painful division inherent in any campus labour dispute.

To send a letter of protest to Dalton McGuinty, see, or to send a letter of support to CUPE 3903, email Hariyanto Darmawan is the AGSEM delegate in the Department of Chemistry. Richard Hink is the current AGSEM president. AGSEM can be reached at