Since Nov. 21, CUPE 3906, Unit 1, representing 2,500 teaching assistants (TAs) and research assistants (RAs) in Lieu at McMaster University have been on strike. After months of bargaining for cost-of-living wage increases, closing the gap between graduate and undergraduate TAs, and protection from tuition increases, the academic workers voted 90 per cent in favour of a strike on Oct. 20. Students and other university workers must show solidarity with TAs, and reject the university’s attempts to undermine the strike!
Like all workers, McMaster TAs are facing a major affordability crisis, with wages that have been eroded by this year’s high inflation, and by the past three years of one per cent wage caps due to Bill 124. There is no question that the university can afford to meet the union’s demands for wage increases. In the 2020-2021 school year, McMaster reported a surplus of $232 million, then $53 million in 2021-2022! For a public, supposedly not-for-profit institution to sit on such sums while its employees experience real wage erosion of as much as 12 per cent goes to show their priorities under capitalism.
Cupe 3906, Unit 1 members make up about one-third of the university’s workers, but account for less than four per cent of wages. However, not everyone working at McMaster has suffered from low and falling salaries: many senior administrators, including those involved in bargaining with the union, make well over $300,000 with President David Farrar benefiting from a salary increase of over $40,000 between 2019 and 2021.
This is the first time that many students have experienced or been directly affected by a strike. McMaster’s subreddit and other social media pages tied to the school have been filled with questions like “What is a strike?” and “What is a picket line?” Students are frustrated that their education is being interrupted yet again after years of sub-standard Zoom University paired with increasing tuition, but most seem to be siding with the workers. TAs themselves are students; many pay a large percentage of their stagnant wages back to the university as tuition. The best ways for students and community members to put pressure on the administration are to join the picket lines in solidarity and refuse to attend or participate in course work, like tutorials and labs, which are run by strikebreakers.
However, there are a not-insignificant number of scabs and strikebreakers undermining the strike. TAs generally run labs and tutorials, and many of these are going forward with professors, lab techs, and even some TAs undermining the strike. There seems to be either fundamental misunderstanding or ambivalence among these workers about the fact that a strike is supposed to disrupt business as usual!
With inflation on the rise and more workers taking strike action across the province, any strike, including this one, requires the utmost solidarity to ensure its success. Fightback calls on workers and students in and around the campus to show up to the picket lines and defend the demands of these workers!