On March 7, members of Fightback at the University of Alberta, the Non-Academic Staff Association (NASA), and the Association of Academic Staff of the University of Alberta (AASUA) organized a public event to discuss the need for student-worker solidarity, in a potential upcoming strike. There were about 40 people in attendance. This event is a major step forward in bringing students and workers together in support of organized labour. It’s a great start towards building solidarity between workers and students and an example of the student bodies’ desire to fight.
All the speakers discussed the need for solidarity and the potential steps to take. Jillian Pratt, president of NASA, discussed the struggle of the non-academic staff who have lost 1,000 workers on campus over the last few years due to cuts and “restructuring.” This includes every janitorial worker being outsourced and no longer part of the union. They have also been without a contract since 2019 and were originally offered retroactive wage rollbacks.
Rick Brick, job action committee chair of AASUA, discussed the “crap deal” being offered to the union. AASUA has been without a contract since 2020 and had also received initial offers that included retroactive wage rollbacks. In the settlement offer, which is currently being voted on by the membership, the university refused to budge on having a two-tiered union, despite the union offering wage freezes and 10 furlough days (which amounts to a four per cent wage decrease). The purpose of a two-tier contract is to divide the union. It is union busting and this should never be accepted. With inflation sitting at 5.1 per cent in January, this “crap” deal would mean a significant pay cut if it is ratified.
Finally Josie, a student activist with Fightback, discussed the importance of connecting the lessons of the student movement’s past, such as the 2012 Quebec student strike, with current union and student struggles. Students have seen a 14 per cent increase in tuition over the last two years and a significant decrease in the quality of their education as the workers fight for a wage increase even above zero per cent. Josie called for the University of Alberta Students’ Union and other student leadership organizations to start building solidarity as everyone on campus continues to fight against attacks from the United Conservative Party (UCP) and board of governors. The University of Alberta has been hit harder than any other university in the province from the cuts rolled out by the UCP, and the board of governors has continuously shifted the burden of the cuts onto workers and students.
Much of the discussion was centered around the deeply unpopular UCP government, who have given themselves the legal permission to direct the U of A’s bargaining team. One speaker argued that “the UCP cannot be bargained with, reasoned with, or pleaded [with] to pay decent wages. The only language they seem to understand is that of force.” Another said, “It is a great time for the youth to get an education on why they shouldn’t cross a picket line.” Others spoke about the immense public sympathy a struggle against the UCP’s austerity agenda would have, recalling the very popular wildcat strike of health-care workers in October 2020
The fight for a better education must be linked to the struggle for better conditions for the university’s workers. Only by fighting together can we address the problems that both students and workers are facing. We must fight for free education, higher wages, better working conditions, and for real democratic control by the students and workers.
Down with the undemocratic board of governors!
For democratic control of our campus!
For militant student and workers’ unions!