Commentary  TAs shall not pay for this crisis

In the past year, McGill released a number of statements about how the financial crisis would affect the University. They were preparing us for what is to come: cuts in education. This spring, McGill asked all workers on campus to take a pay cut amounting to $6.2 million in order to help the University weather the financial crisis. Teaching assistants were asked to take a pay cut of approximately $128 per semester for the next two years.

A fierce debate has ensued amongst the TAs. Should we or should we not take the pay cut? In its 2009-2010 budget, McGill made a veiled threat that if we didn’t take the cut, they will have to make cuts elsewhere. These reductions could come in the form of reducing TA hours, firing other members of staff, or increasing tuition fees. It is indeed political blackmail: take the cut or suffer the consequences!
Let’s be clear here: the financial crisis was not caused by the workers of McGill, or by any workers in general. We all know that Wall Street and the banks are the ones to blame. After making billions of dollars in fictitious capital and mortgages, they plunged the whole economy into an unprecedented crisis, causing trillions of dollars of tax payers’ money to be spent on bailing them out and millions of jobs to be lost. I don’t remember us TAs making any money during the boom, and I don’t think the average worker remembers making any, either. Thus, we are not responsible for the crisis, and we will not pay for it.

However, it’s not enough for TAs to refuse the pay cut. We cannot be satisfied protecting our narrow interests. There is a bigger problem on campus, and we have to show our solidarity – the chronic underfunding of our education system has caused increases in tuition fees for students and has worsened conditions for workers on campus. If these problems are not dealt with together, the students will be pitted against the workers and vice versa. To show solidarity – real solidarity – the TAs must not only refuse the pay cut but also work together with students and other workers to pressure the government for massive reinvestment in education.

You might ask: where will the money come from? Last year, the Canadian government handed out $75 billion to bail the banks and credit market out. In the same year, it gave $50 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations. No wonder this year Canada has the largest deficit in its history – $56 billion. We do indeed have the money, but it’s being used for things other than bailing out the workers. Trickle-down effect, they say, but we all know what trickles down the pants of the CEOs and the owners of big banks and corporations.

The TAs will not pay for this crisis, and neither should the rest of McGill’s workers and students.

Ted Sprague is a Master’s III Chemistry student’s pseudonym. Write him at