There has been a four-week long strike by teaching assistants and sessional lecturers at York University. This strike by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 3903, which is made up primarily of graduate students as well as sessional lecturers, had the effect of inspiring a movement among undergraduate students. The strike is going through a difficult challenge, as the university administration have kept classes going since the beginning of the strike, and are now pursuing a state-administered ratification vote to end the strike.
There has been a series of mobilizations, picket line visits, information pickets and rallies organized by undergraduates, and Fightback has been at the forefront of this movement. Fightback is the left-wing organization with the largest membership and support among the undergraduate students, which reflects the growing interest in revolutionary Marxist ideas. We have been seen as inseparable from solidarity activities related to the strike.
This undergraduate student movement was starting to gain momentum with efforts to establish an undergraduate coalition, pushing the undergraduate student union to enter the struggle, and finally initiating a sit-in occupation at the Senate chambers. The Senate occupation had particular significance since elected faculty and student representatives had voted to shut-down the entire university. This vote was undemocratically blocked and deemed as “consultative” by the top administration.
A university shut-down would have significantly increased the leverage of the striking workers. The teaching assistant and sessional lecturer strike was facing difficulties and elements of demoralization, especially as the University administration was able to keep the university and a significant percentage of classes running.
An opportunity opened up when the strike movement of teaching assistants and sessional lecturers began to coalesce with the developing undergraduate movement. A strong momentum developed around the sit-in occupation. This was a golden opportunity and potential turning point for the movement, which could have had a big impact on winning the strike and spreading it towards the broader student population.
This fantastic opportunity to strengthen this movement was undermined and cut across by a vicious censorship campaign directed against Fightback. A Stalinist witch-hunt has been launched against Fightback, which must be called out for what it is, an anti-democratic political attack. It originated from a tiny Stalinist-anarchist clique of undergraduate activists, but has since been spread into the leadership and a thin layer of activists in CUPE 3903.
This censorship campaign has only served to weaken, divide and redirect the energies of the undergraduate movement and academic workers strike in a damaging manner when all forces should be directed against the university administration and provincial government. This tragic situation needs to be properly examined, the lessons drawn and the harmful effect of these methods and ideas exposed.
Undergraduate Coalition Sabotaged by Sectarians
With a looming strike developing, there were attempts to form an undergraduate student coalition in support of CUPE 3903. Fightback enthusiastically engaged with this effort while launching efforts to bring students to the picket lines starting on the first day of the strike on March 5th. In the past, Fightback has initiated or participated in the setting up of strike support coalitions.
The “Students for CUPE 3903” coalition was set up in a suspicious manner from the beginning. The Socialist Fightback Club at York University was not notified or reached out to in the setting up of the coalition. We only found out about it through public posters and social media posts. As Socialist Fightback is the largest, most organized activist base of undergraduates on campus, this seemed like a significant oversight for a coalition meant to unite students supporting CUPE 3903. We assumed that this was simply incompetence, and immediately communicated with those involved that we would be participating.
We quickly found out that the main organizations behind the coalition were the Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM), which is a tiny Maoist/Stalinist sect at the university, and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), which is a social justice hub funded by student dues and which has been dominated by activists influenced by anarchism and identity politics. Fightback and the Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) joined up with this coalition, along with a small handful of non-affiliated students.
From the first weeks of the strike, we found that the RSM-OPIRG clique of Stalinists and anarchists were trying to use bureaucratic exclusionary measures against Fightback. It was clear that a successful coalition should operate with full democratic rights for all pro-strike students. All pro-CUPE 3903 students should have the right to democratic participation, voting and to express their opinions, vocally or through written material.
Disgracefully, the tiny Maoist-Identity Politics clique wanted to have complete control of the coalition and was prepared to repress democratic rights to that end. Seeing that Fightback had a large base of supporters, and moreover, that our ideas and proposals were extremely popular, they decided to use the tactic of bureaucratic exclusion. Fightback represented half the people at the coalition meeting, and this was only a partial mobilization of our membership and base of supporters. It should be stated that a clear majority of active pro-strike undergraduates were organized with Fightback.
This sectarian RSM-OPIRG clique proposed a basis of unity that would ban leaflets, newspapers, posters, banners, placards and recruiting by different political organizations. They specifically attacked Fightback for our organizing methods, particularly promoting Marxist ideas. Their restriction on recruitment was particularly disgusting and insulting, as it treats workers and students as children who are easily manipulated. It is obvious that in the student, labour and social movements, politics are going to be discussed. A child of six can understand that. Naturally, if a student or worker agrees with particular political ideas and strategies for struggle, they will be attracted to those organizations that stand for them. It is a positive thing that students and workers can be politized through a strike or social movement and inspired to get active as a result.
The purpose of adopting such undemocratic and silencing measures was clearly to prevent Fightback from organizing. Those that put the undemocratic measures forward constantly attacked Fightback in the course of such discussions for producing posters, having banners, for selling newspapers or for people being attracted to our organization. This clique was demanding that Fightback completely dissolve ourselves in the movement and cease to function as a revolutionary organization and cease promoting our ideas and program. This sectarian undergraduate clique had even tried to actively police students and workers on the picket lines from selling, buying and reading newspapers. Notably, they could not convince a majority of the coalition.
We can expect the police, the state, the university authorities and even perhaps the trade union bureaucrats to adopt methods against the distribution of socialist newspapers and the promotion of revolutionary ideas. We are quite prepared to fight this repression. That such methods are used by organisations which claim to be revolutionary and to fight against oppression is simply scandalous.
Failing to win a majority with such anti-democratic and exclusionary measures, what did the RSM-OPIRG clique do? They held a secret and anti-democratic meeting excluding Fightback where they tried to pass these measures. This first secret meeting was held at the OPIRG office at York University on March 14th, which we found out about after the fact entirely accidentally. Unfortunately for this sectarian clique, even at that secret meeting they could not win a majority.
They then held a second, even more secret meeting, later that same day on March 14th. This second meeting excluded even more people, including activists from Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA). It was only at this “secret-secret” meeting where they could gain a “majority”. What they decided at that meeting was the total expulsion of Fightback from the coalition, which was the largest, most active and most organized force mobilizing students to the picket lines. We then received an email on March 16th, from an unnamed and unelected group of individuals calling themselves “the organisers of Students for CUPE 3903” stating that while the “Points of Unity have not yet been ratified”, they were excluding us from the coalition.
This was a clear Stalinist censorship campaign against the Marxists in order for this self-appointed clique to have total control of the undergraduate coalition. This decision clearly lacked even an inkling of legitimacy. Furthermore, this unelected and bureaucratic clique kept the decision secret and did not post it publicly anywhere.
The result of this was to totally undermine the coalition, turning it into a complete farce with extremely low participation. There were far more undergraduates involved with Fightback than in this undergraduate “coalition” as a whole!
The anarchists and Stalinists were sabotaging the undergraduate movement as a whole, and therefore also the strike movement, for entirely sectarian reasons. Their entire purpose was to ban the Marxists from promoting our ideas, program and strategy, so that they could control the movement themselves. And to do this they were prepared to employ every maneuver possible regardless of whether it harmed the movement.
The aforementioned letter from this clique ended with an accusation that sexual misconduct was occuring in Fightback along with a list of criticisms, that we are, “racist, sexist, homophobic.” There were no details in these allegations, leaving us completely unable to react to or rectify this alleged misconduct.
For more details see appendices here (Click link or see below)
Rumours of Sexual Misconduct
We had previously heard rumours being spread during the strike that sexual misconduct had been engaged in by Fightback activists. When we heard such rumours, our immediate reaction was to ask for information, details, names and evidence so that we could get to the bottom of it. Fightback takes the issue of harassment, abuse and sexual assault very seriously. Abusive behaviour in our organization is not tolerated, and it is vital to organize efforts against such behaviour in the labour and student movements, and in society as a whole.
Whenever we asked for such details, we received no information. It is obviously impossible for us to deal with second-hand and vague accounts. It is impossible to investigate a rumour with no information regarding who could be involved, what occurred, when it occurred, etc., and it is impossible to hold anyone accountable for misconduct if we don’t even know who is accused.
Fightback has a robust democratic process for dealing with abusive behaviour that is well-respected in the organization, and that has been strengthened and sharpened over the years. While we have not had any major issues in our organization, we have always investigated and addressed all complaints and instances of inappropriate behaviour in a timely and accountable fashion. We have a tradition of discussing these things politically and organizationally on a regular basis, in order to educate our membership on these important issues and so that our policies are known by all members
While our conditions of membership clearly state all activists organized with us are expected to treat each other with mutual respect and abide by our zero tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination, we are not always privy to new member’s histories, whether it be in their previous involvement with other left-wing organizations, unions, or interaction with the court system. We therefore always keep an eye out for any possible abusive behaviour, so that we can deal with it appropriately and build a healthy and strong organization that can wage the needed revolutionary struggle against exploitation and oppression.
While hearing these vague unsubstantiated rumours, we continued to carry out our solidarity activity, maintaining our readiness to respond to any concrete complaints we might receive. Given we had only received rumours, we consistently requested details, names, dates, etc., so that we could properly address any incidents of misconduct. Given that no concrete allegations were forthcoming, we understood that this was simply yet another way of smearing, harming and staining the name of the organization as a whole. This view was compounded by the hostile experience that we had had with the “organizers” of the undergraduate coalition who were trying to bureaucratically suppress us.
It was precisely during the Stalinist-anarchist campaign to ban Fightback from the undergraduate coalition for promoting newspapers, banners, placards and recruitment, that vague accusations were raised of there being problems of transphobia, racism, sexism, ableism and even sexual violence in Fightback. We consistently explained that we have always been committed to fighting against all forms of oppression and discrimination. Regarding sexual or other types of violence, we always asked that concrete allegations be made so that it could be properly addressed. This was never done, and still has not been done.
Senate occupation: a perfect opportunity to turn the tide
On Thursday March 22nd, there was a meeting of the York University Senate. At this meeting, the majority of the faculty voted to shut down classes, which is a major demand of undergraduate students and is raised by the striking academic workers. That vote was deemed “consultative” in a clearly undemocratic maneuver, denying the Senate’s right to make that decision, which had been made in the past. Fightback had mobilized for a rally of about 100 students and workers outside the Senate chambers.
This undergraduate solidarity movement initiated a sit-in occupation at the chambers of the Senate at York University beginning on the night of March 22nd. Fightback participated from the first night of the sit-in, and helped to develop the momentum around the strike. Our ideas and demands were quickly adopted during the sit-in, and feature prominently in the first statements, appeals and the general approach of the sit-in.
We raised the demand for undergraduates to join the fight for good jobs and free education, we insisted on the need for democratic control of the university by workers/faculty/students, and also insisted that the undergraduate student union must mobilize its full resources to the sit-in and in support of the strike. We connected the fight for free education to the fight against capitalism, and the need to expropriate the capitalist class to finance education. We pushed for democratic rights for both undergraduates and any other participants in the sit-in. All these demands passed at the meetings of the sit-in.
An equity committee was also set-up to ensure that appropriate conduct occurred during the sit-in, and that any complaints could be properly dealt with. Once again, the clique of Maoists and anarchists began to maneuver to completely dominate the sit-in and exclude any political views disagreeing with their own. Fightback activists participated in the sit-in through the night. A secret meeting was held by this clique at some point early in the morning, which decided to roll back all the decisions taken by the sit-in assembly, including restricting voting rights. Voting would now be restricted to only those who had occupied the senate chambers from the very beginning, which would have meant approximately only 10 people. This would clearly discourage participation. Dozens and dozens of students and workers joined the occupation within the first 24-hours.
It was around this time, that we again heard vague accusations of sexual misconduct in Fightback, yet none of us were approached with concrete allegations. The equity committee that had been set-up during the first night, which included elected representatives from CUPE locals 3903 and 3902, was not approached to investigate any issues. These vague accusations were clearly being spread by the RSM-OPIRG clique. All of this was done behind the scenes, without any chance for us to respond or resolve these issues transparently. It is clear to us that the aim of such rumours was not to actually respond to concrete instance of misconduct or to protect the participants in the sit-in, but rather to use them as a convenient stick to hit political opponents with.
Soon after this secret meeting, two of our young women activists were bullied while giving a television interview for CP24. During the live interview, one of the individuals associated with the Stalinist-anarchist clique interrupted the interview saying that Fightback wasn’t welcome at the sit-in and that Fightback was, “co-opting the movement.” It should be noted that on the first day of the occupation up to 5-6 interviews were given by representatives of the RSM-OPIRG clique. Given Fightback’s numerical weight at the sit-in, and that we only gave a single interview, our engagement with the media was far lower than would have been proportional.
It was at this point – given the secret meetings, the attempts to ban us, bully us, spread slanders about Fightback as a whole (without giving us any concrete allegations and avoiding the equity committee established to deal with complaints), the intimidation and demands that we cease to promote our ideas and materials – that we decided to raise these issues at a general assembly on March 23rd in an open manner. We support hashing out differences openly and democratically. We called again for an end to intimidation, repression and bullying of different political trends, and insisted that all participants and groups should have full democratic rights at the sit-in. This, our activists explained, was necessary to advance the goals of the student occupation and the strike movement.
These motions passed at the assembly by a clear majority. It was at this stage that Fightback was directly and openly attacked with a whole slew of vague allegations by an ex-member of Fightback who is now associated with the Stalinist-anarchist clique. This included accusations of racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia, sexual harassment, sexual assault, pedophilia, being a cult and a drug-den. It was claimed that these accusations apply to all Fightback members or at least that all of our members are apologists for these attitudes and behaviours.
Fightback activists were taken completely aback by these extreme accusations, but explained that we have always had procedures in place for addressing misconduct in the organization. We also raised our involvement in the various struggles against oppression, which is clearly reflected in the composition of our activists, who are a diverse group of people from a diversity of marginalized backgrounds.
We again asked for concrete allegations so that they could be dealt with. We openly advocated for a proper democratic and accountable procedure to be put into place to examine the allegations and hold appropriate parties to account. Fightback is confident in dealing with problems internal to the organization, but given the nature of the movement, we believed such a process with representatives from the trade unions would have a greater authority. However, by spreading rumours throughout the first night and then attacking us with amorphous and unsubstantiated allegations at the assembly, while not having made use of the previously established equity committee to address any grievances, it was clear that this clique was only interested in a show trial and not an accountable process.
Unfortunately, this slew of unsubstantiated attacks created enormous tension and division at the sit-in. Many students and members of CUPE 3903 left the occupation. Our activists felt intimidated. Whenever they responded, they were bullied with booing, shaming and yelling by those from the Stalinist-anarchist clique, as well as a handful of sectarians in CUPE 3903. Our young female comrades stressed the need for a proper procedure for investigating allegations, that the equity committee established for that purpose should be used to resolve the issues and that concrete allegations would need to be given. These comrades were accused of “victim blaming” and were shouted down.
It was clear that the movement was being undermined by bureaucratic maneuvers, repression and vague accusations, and no procedure was forthcoming. We clearly expressed our commitment to participating in a procedure, and temporarily our comrades decided to withdraw from what was clearly a hostile environment.
Within a couple days, we were notified that we had been expelled from the sit-in. Once again, no concrete allegations were provided. There was no process for holding individuals accountable. Fightback was simply undemocratically and without the right of defence banned from the sit-in by this sectarian clique.
Stalinist Censorship Campaign
It is worth noting that the student occupation is now completely dominated by sectarians linked to the Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM). This is an openly Stalinist organization, that puts forward and defends the ideas and methods of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. The handful of others involved in the occupation are linked to the York chapter of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), who stand for a mix of ideas of anarchism, identity politics and intersectionality. These people are decidedly against the ideas of Marxism and revolutionary Marxist organization.
This, in itself, would not be a problem. Activists with different political points of view, can certainly unite in a common endeavour to support a particular action or strike. The problem is when these groups use undemocratic methods to silence those they disagree with or to expel them when they can not be silenced.
The attacks on Fightback are nothing new. The RSM called for the banning of Fightback newspapers, placards and banners during the 2015 strike at York University, but at an open-assembly meeting, the undergraduate students overwhelmingly voted against this Stalinist measure. OPIRG York, which claims to be a social justice hub, has repeatedly also refused to allow Fightback the status of a working group. The student funds that automatically go into OPIRG are kept in the hands of this tiny unaccountable clique, who use bureaucratic methods to maintain control of their significant funds and large office on campus. It should be noted that the openly Stalinist RSM, which is a miniscule organization at the campus, was immediately granted “working group” status and access to these funds.
The goal of all of this is clear. They purged us from the movement so that they could rule the roost. This could not be any clearer now than by taking a look at what has become a sham of an occupation, which has been reduced to just 8-10 people according to their own figures. While criticizing Fightback for having our own banners and materials at the strike, the entire occupation is now covered in RSM banners, most notably a big “RSM HQ” on the outside of the senate chambers. The RSM also distributes its own newspaper “Partisan” and literature openly at the sit-in, after having pushed its Stalinist campaign against the Marxists. This small clique of people has effectively destroyed an entire occupation so that they could claim it for their own.
The sectarians of the Maoist RSM have a lot to answer for when it comes to their own history. Maoism is a form of Stalinism. The Maoists claim Stalin as their own and criticise anything in the Soviet Union that came after Stalin as “revisionist”. It is worth remembering just a few not unimportant points about Stalinism and oppression.
When Lenin and Trotsky were leading the Bolshevik party, in 1922 the criminalisation of homosexuality was abolished in the Soviet Union. Abortion was free on demand. Women were granted full equality and divorce was easily available. In 1934 Stalin re-criminalized homosexuality and thousands of gay men were sent to the labour camps in the following decades. Abortion was banned and divorce was made less accessible.
As a result of these developments in the Soviet Union, homophobia was spread throughout the Communist International. When Mao came to power in China the same homophobic policies were applied. Homosexuality was only finally decriminalised in China in 1997. Therefore throughout the Maoist period, homosexuals in China risked arrest and imprisonment.
This is the real record of the Stalinists and Maoists! And yet, today, they strut around pontificating about LGBT rights, etc. They have nothing to be proud of, while the Marxists stand on the tradition of the early years of the Russian Revolution and have nothing to be ashamed of.
At the same time all dissent was clamped down on. This repression culminated in Stalin’s purge trials of 1936-1938. Anyone defending the genuine traditions of the 1917 October Revolution was hounded out of the party, slandered with false accusations, sent to the labour camps and then shot. Hundreds of thousands of revolutionaries met their end in this fashion. The bureaucracy stood as judge, jury and prosecutor in these trials. In the Stalinist show trials, the accused were denied their rights to know the accusations, to respond to the accusations, or to defend themselves. Anything and everything that was said in response to the vague allegations would only be used as further evidence of guilt.
The RSM openly defends Stalin and stands on the traditions of the Stalinist show trials. We have seen here that instead of politically debating in the movement, they resort to repression and political bans, and produce vague allegations to which they stand as judge, jury and prosecutor.
The sectarian witch-hunt spreads to CUPE 3903
The sit-in occupation was a source of significant enthusiasm among striking teaching assistants and sessional lecturers. Dozens of picketers attended the occupation, and at its high-point during the second day of the sit-in, attendance was reaching nearly 100 people. The union was even planning on holding its meetings in the occupation. Momentum was spreading.
It was just at this moment that this clique went on a public tirade against us at the sit-in, presenting a long list of extreme and unsubstantiated accusations against Fightback. Needless to say, this poisoned the mood at the occupation and many workers left in disgust. Some were confused, but many had accepted what had been presented as an established fact – that Fightback has a problem with sexual violence, pedophilia, rampant drug usage, racism, homophobia, etc. These are extremely serious accusations which would require legal action, that is if any of this were true. The fact that our accusers have systematically refused to provide names or evidence speaks volumes about the true nature of such accusations.
In spite of all this, our activists maintained communication with leading members of CUPE 3903, including representatives of the campus trade unions who were supposed to oversee a process in the sit-in regarding these allegations. When we had a meeting on the Monday, March 26th with a representative from CUPE 3903, CUPE 3902 and from the RSM-OPIRG clique at the sit-in, we were told that we had simply been expelled from the sit-in.
We explained clearly that we had not yet received any concrete allegations against us. We explained that we have a robust democratic procedure for dealing with any complaints internally. We repeatedly put forward that we wanted a union-run procedure with which we would fully cooperate to investigate any complaints. We clearly stated that we would take interim measures against any named individuals to protect people from potential abusers.
Our proposal would have allowed for a strong strike and solidarity movement, while holding any potential abusers accountable and ensuring safety in the movement. We presented our proposal to the strike committee meeting of CUPE 3903 that same evening. Our proposal was as follows:
Be it resolved that CUPE 3903 oversee the setting up of a remediation process to examine the issues and hold the necessary parties accountable,
Be it further resolved that CUPE 3903 institute any interim measures it sees fit to address concerns of safety,
Be it further resolved that CUPE 3903, not approve a condemnation or ban on any organization or undergraduate student club, without having access to details, allegations or opportunity to investigate, especially given that in this case:
– Fightback is prepared to fully cooperate with a union-overseen procedure,
– Fightback has not yet been presented with any concrete allegations, including regarding which individuals may be concerned, and even if they are members of Fightback,
– Fightback is prepared to accept interim measures, under the direction of the CUPE 3903 (such as non-participation in the senate occupation, or exclusion of particular concerned person(s) from solidarity activity), while the procedure is underway.
Unfortunately, a witch-hunt was being pushed by a layer of activists in the union, especially on the union leadership, who are associated with the ideas of identity politics, intersectionality, academic “Marxism”, anarchism and Stalinism, who allied themselves with the tiny undergraduate clique.
Representatives from Fightback and our undergraduate movement were not allowed to speak to the accusations. The RSM-OPIRG clique was allowed to lead the discussion. Our resolution was ruled out of order. The chairperson of CUPE 3903, Devin Lefebvre, refused to even read our proposed resolution for a union-run procedure, to which we had committed our full cooperation.
At the Special General Membership Meeting that was held on March 28th, we were not notified that this important matter would be discussed and therefore were not at the meeting to speak to this. Our resolution was completely ignored and omitted from the discussion. Vague allegations were presented as fact. That which had to be proven was presented as absolute truth. An entire political organization was banned from the picket lines and 3903 spaces. Fightback was denied our basic democratic right to speak on these accusations, and any due process was disallowed. Up until this point we still have not heard a single concrete allegation or name of an abuser from the undergraduate clique or from the CUPE 3903 leadership!
It must be noted that only about 80-100 people out of a membership of nearly 3,700 people were present at this Special General Members meeting, which occurs weekly during the strike. The entire membership of CUPE 3903 was not made aware in advance that this was to be discussed but this was instead kept a secret until the meeting.
This is a complete sham. It flies against the traditions of trade union democracy. It is even more baffling that the ban on Fightback does not include “individuals”. Individuals from Fightback are still welcome to participate in the picket lines and CUPE 3903 spaces. What that means is that the ban is specifically a political ban against Fightback leaflets, newspapers, placards, banners, and the right to identify as, speak on behalf of, or organize for Fightback.
The ban does absolutely nothing to protect members of the union or undergraduates organizing solidarity from the alleged abusers. Those “individuals” would still be able to participate, and would not be held accountable. Their fellow workers, classmates and comrades would be left completely ignorant and open to victimization. This is irresponsible in the extreme and is a complete affront to the labour movement.
The entire result of the ban passed by CUPE 3903 (through a scandalous, undemocratic process) is a political ban and attack on the Marxist movement at York University. The same is true of the previous bureaucratic maneuvers and expulsion organized by the tiny Stalinist-anarchist clique in the undergraduate solidarity movement. We are baffled that people who claim to be fighting oppression would treat serious matters like sexual assault and misconduct in such an utterly irresponsible and off-hand manner.
The result of this political attack against the Marxists is nothing but reactionary and damaging to the movement at York University. The undergraduate solidarity movement is now in shambles, with around 8-10 people at the sit-in, openly dominated by the proudly Stalinist RSM group. At a decisive time when CUPE 3903 is facing vicious attacks, the classes are kept open, scabbing is being encouraged, picket lines becoming demoralized, and a state-administered ratification vote is being pushed, the leadership of CUPE 3903 directs its energies towards a political witch-hunt against the Marxists!
The sit-in occupation could have been a turning point in the struggle, bringing striking workers, faculty and undergraduates together in the struggle for good jobs, access to education and against the undemocratic university administration. Instead, the sectarians among the undergraduates and in the CUPE 3903 leadership have turned to harming the movement through a political censorship campaign against the largest left-wing undergraduate organization – Fightback – which has been the most consistent defenders of CUPE 3903 and other campus unions.
Full details of this decision, including our response are here (“Fightback’s response to CUPE 3903 political ban”).
Hypocrisy of Identity Politics
We see here in practice how the ideas of postmodernism, identity politics and intersectionality play out in the movement. Far from playing a progressive role, these ideas are used to divide and weaken the movement. A core outcome of this individualistic and subjective lense for understanding and fighting oppression, is a fatally misguided belief that different layers of the working class and oppressed have interests that are antagonistic towards each other and that some have an interest in maintaining the oppression over others. This detracts from the real economic and social roots of oppression and encourages endless infighting and division instead of the unity and solidarity required to fight capitalism and all the oppression it entails. It also equips a layer of sectarians and bureaucrats with an arsenal of weapons for bureaucratic and Stalinist maneuvering in the name of fighting oppression and discrimination.
This is not at all to suggest that individuals in the organizations and movements of the working class and oppressed cannot wield harmful discriminatory attitudes and abusive behaviours and that this should not be combatted tooth and nail. Revolutionaries fight all instances of oppression and discrimination because it divides and weakens the movement. We support democratic and accountable methods of doing so. However, this is not what we are seeing with the hypocritical actions of the RSM-OPIRG clique at York. The ideas of identity politics and “safe spaces” have been used to organize a political ban against revolutionary working class politics. This has been nothing short of a Stalinist witch-hunt and censorship campaign.
While asserting they are acting in the interest of the movement by taking a stand against sexual violence and adopting what they claim is a survivor-centric approach, their actions have the opposite effect. If there were really instances of abuse or discrimination by members of Fightback, concrete allegations and details need to be provided to hold the offenders accountable and protect fellow activists, students, and workers in the movement. They have claimed that we have failed to take accountability and have a “history” of ignoring sexual violence, yet they have refused to engage with our attempts to be accountable and transparent and to take appropriate action against any alleged abusers. This shows clearly that their actions are not motivated by a desire to hold abusers accountable, but rather to politically attack Fightback.
While claiming that Fightback has a “history” of racism, sexism, transphobia and other forms of discrimination and oppression and asserting that we are dominated by white men and have “patriarchal structures”, this identity politics clique has completely overlooked the participation and role played by many of our members who come from some of the most oppressed and marginalized layers of the working class. The activists of Fightback at York University are overwhelmingly working class and are overwhelmingly from racial minorities, women and LGBTQ backgrounds. The leadership of our group is overwhelmingly women and racial minorities. A number of our activists have experienced and lived with the impacts of violence and trauma as well. The matter of abusive and predatory behaviour is not taken lightly in our ranks. Actually, our serious approach to these matters and the ideas and methods we espouse to address and challenge them, continue to attract wider layers of activists from marginalized backgrounds.
For all their talk about representing and supporting oppressed identities, it is clear that the sectarians in the CUPE 3903 leadership and the RSM-OPIRG clique are prepared to weaponize accusations of sexual violence and discriminatory behaviours for their own political and personal leverage, organizing a complete Stalinist witch-hunt against those with different political ideas and methods in the movement, which they view as threatening their own position and rank in the movement. This has created an environment of intimidation, abuse, censorship, bullying and insults against the activists of Fightback, many of whom are women, people of colour, immigrants and LGBTQ – all in the name of fighting oppression! This is the pinnacle of hypocrisy and makes their true intentions clear as day.
It is clear then that this is being used for the sole purpose of smearing Fightback. Their methods, which are a logical outcome of identity politics, are both harmful to the fight against oppression, and to the strike currently underway. With these methods, they divide the movement and weaken solidarity. We will never win the fight against capitalism and all the oppression that it breeds with such methods.
How to move forward
It is tragic that the strike movement and undergraduate solidarity campaign have been undermined by these cliques of sectarians through their anti-democratic witch-hunt. Fightback has done its duty to support this struggle. We continue to support this struggle, but have been pushed back at the moment due to this political ban.
We can see the pernicious role played by the methods of Stalinism and identity politics in the movement. What could have been a turning point for the struggle with the enormous momentum and enthusiasm that was being generated through the sit-in, among students, faculty and the striking workers (and beyond), has now become a complete mess. The movement has become divided, and the most consistent supporters of the trade union movement among the undergraduates are being censored, bullied, intimidated and victimized. This is entirely the fault of the sectarians.
We must expose these methods far and wide, and combat those who would sacrifice the movement for their own petty interests and positions. Fightback has shown its willingness at each stage to investigate any complaints. We have made it abundantly clear that we would fully cooperate with a democratic union-run procedure. We have nothing to hide, and wish to hold any abusers accountable for their actions. Unfortunately this is not true of the sectarian clique among the undergraduates and in the CUPE 3903 leadership whose actions are directly opposed to holding people accountable. To be perfectly clear, their actions enable predatory and abusive elements in the movement. The student and trade unions on campus must establish democratic and accountable processes for addressing grievances and allegations of harassment in the movement. The Stalinist witch-hunt must be defeated and all political bans lifted.
Fightback continues to unequivocally support the striking workers in CUPE 3903. The strike is facing a serious challenge with a forced ratification vote administered by the state. Our comrades who are members of CUPE 3903 will be voting against the forced ratification, and we call on all members of the union to do so likewise. We encourage everyone to keep up the solidarity around the core demands put forward by CUPE 3903. A victory for this union is also a victory for the wider labour movement.
Fightback wishes to continue to play its role at the forefront of organizing solidarity efforts by students and non-3903 workers. We wish to continue to strengthen and bolster the picket lines, and reach out to greater layers of undergraduate students. Unfortunately, this undemocratic and Stalinist witch-hunt has had the effect of paralyzing the activities of a large layer of undergraduate students, campus workers and non-campus workers affiliated with Fightback.
We are appealing to the broader labour and student movement to work towards rectifying the current situation and ending the political ban on Fightback. This would allow for the strengthening of the movement against the university bosses and the provincial Liberal government.
End the Stalinist Political Censorship Campaign!
No witch-hunting of trade union and student union activists!
For democratic processes and accountability to address allegations of abuse!
For full democratic rights for different political trends in the labour movement!
Unity is strength! Strike to win! Victory to CUPE 3903!
Points of Unity Proposed by RSM-OPIRG Clique at Undergraduate Coalition “Students for CUPE 3903” meeting
(March 9th, 2018)
These points of unity proposed by the stalinist-anarchist clique. They clearly include restrictions on producing leaflets, newspapers, placards, recruitment, banners as well as soliciting donations. These were clearly targeting the Fightback organization, and this was vocalized constantly at this meeting. This proposal failed to pass a vote. The RSM clique that pushed for these points now have their organization’s banners and literature at the forefront of the occupation!
1) Students for CUPE 3903 stands in complete solidarity with the exploited graduate student workers of CUPE 3903 in their struggle against York University Administration cutbacks.
2) We stand in full support of the picket lines of CUPE 3903. We will not cross the picket, we will not cave to York Admin’s fear mongering by attending classes or by purchasing retail commercial goods and services.
3) We stand under the banner of Students for CUPE 3903, and we will coordinate together. We will promote and push for the advancement of Students for CUPE 3903 and the rank and file of CUPE 3903.
4) After an organization endorses sfc 3903, the network has the right and shall use their logo on any list or material presenting the endorsing organizations. Violating this article shall lead to automatic termination of the organization from STUDENTS FOR CUPE 3903
5) Using STUDENTS FOR CUPE 3903 network as a means to recruit members for any organization affiliated with the network is not permitted. The whole purpose of the group is to get the strike to end in the interest of the rank and file of CUPE 3903.Violating this article shall lead to automatic termination of the organization from the network.
6) This network was formed independent of the York Federation of Students and its leadership. The network will be in touch with the YFS (the union responsible for the needs of students) to make sure that they will not remain neutral towards CUPE 3903’s strike. Our demands include requesting active support for CUPE 3903 and also raising awareness among students in order to let them know that they cannot be penalized for refusing to go to classes. Nor shall students be incentivized for attending classes.
7) We demand YFS take the following actions: 1) A call for shutting down classes. 2) A possible students strike if the first strategy is rejected by the admin. 3) The publishing of active propaganda regarding the students rights according to the senate policies, including but not limited to posters, flyers, mass email and online advertisements. If the YFS will not step up to take action, we will.
8) The YFS as the student body should reassure students and the administration that they will be morally and legally supporting the students who experience various forms of loss and damage, including but not limited to, financial, educational, academic and psychological loss, for merely refusing to cross the picket lines.
9) No organization in our network will provide paid material belonging to their organizations at the picket lines. Receiving donations is allowed as long as it’s not mandatory for people to donate in order to receive the material. Any free material provided propagating the cause of said affiliated organizations shall contain only their organization’s logo and info and cannot be branded as material containing the info of both their organization and STUDENTS FOR CUPE 3903. The material provided and belonging to STUDENTS FOR CUPE 3903 shall only have the info and the logo belonging to STUDENTS FOR CUPE 3903.
Letter sent to Fightback by the RSM-OPIRG clique based on their “secret-secret” meeting
(March 14, 2018)
Failing to restrict Fightback activities at the previous meeting on March 9th, 2018, a secret meeting was held excluding Fightback. At this meeting, an attempt to expel Fightback failed to pass. So a second secret-meeting was held excluding even more activists. It was this second secret-meeting that produced the following illegitimate letter announcing that Fightback was expelled.
To Members of Socialist Fightback:
Students for CUPE 3903 is sending this letter on behalf of your organization’s interest in joining our collective. Given that our Points of Unity have not yet been ratified, our coalition must still consider each and every organization as a type of “applicant” whose tactics, goals, and history are aligned with those we envision for our collective. Up until the meeting of March 9, we have been operating on trust that various organizations within the coalition would be able to make appropriate decisions as to how to show their solidarity for CUPE 3903. Above all political lines, we must maintain loyalty to CUPE 3903 and place solidarity with their cause our number one priority. This is difficult to accomplish when the aforementioned trust is repeatedly broken. After careful consideration and discussion amongst students, the organisers of Students for CUPE 3903 have decided that it would be best for Socialist Fightback to organize separate from this collective.
This coalition is made up of several different campus-wide political groups as well as individuals. All action that we have taken has been approved collectively. It is natural, then, for differing opinions between members of our coalition to be expressed. We welcome and encourage these varying takes on how to manage the situation on the ground, always keeping in mind that our first alliance is to CUPE 3903. Dissention in methods which leads to public confusion about the goals of our coalition, however, stagnates our effectiveness. We have set for ourselves the goal of providing clear and cohesive information to the student body devoid of any particular political take.
We wish to make it immediately clear that by sending out this statement, we are not calling for supporters of the larger CUPE 3903 strike to now have to choose sides. Rather, we aim to clarify why the coalition will be separating from Fightback and its events. Over the past few days, Students for CUPE 3903 have come to the conclusion that Fightback has broken the trust established between them through the agreed-upon Points of Unity.
On March 9th, we discussed how we, as a group consisting of several different organizations and individuals, should present ourselves through posters, leaflets, and flyers. Many pieces of propaganda made by Fightback regarding the strike seemed to reflect an urgency for students to join Fightback itself on the picket line rather than Students for CUPE 3903. Additionally, it was noted that during the Senate meeting on March 8th , Fightback members took the opportunity to sell their magazines outside the elevators going up to the Senate chamber. Many members of the coalition saw this as an inappropriate method of promotion for the striking cause and, ultimately, an attempt to capitalize upon the spirit of the strike to sell their own merchandise.
While the coalition certainly wants each and every organization within it to be able to fully embrace and celebrate their own methods of promoting their ideas, we view the strike as a time to set aside our own specific political goals in order to further the cause of the working class CUPE 3903 members. Only after doing so will a true coalition with one common goal will be possible. These guidelines were adhered to by each and every other organization represented within Students for CUPE 3903, so we believed it would be fair to ask of Fightback. The vigour with which Fightback fought to retain their “right” to market their own organization’s paid materials under the banner of Students for CUPE 3903, however, showed their true intentions in this fight.
Finally, and most importantly, Fightback’s history of insensitivity to marginalised identities within the organisation has been noted in this decision. Many people who have interacted with the organisation can attest to Fightback’s history of overlooking and dismissing racism, sexism, and sexual violence within their organization. Turning a blind eye to this behaviour poses a risk to members across the coalition in regards to their safety. This sentiment appears quite widespread, enough for us to take this into account, as we work to create an environment in which people of colour, people with disabilities, and people of all genders and sexual orientations can feel safe, and be equally involved, included and heard in the decision-making process without being subjected to discrimination and isolation. Most concerning is Fightback’s history of insufficiently handling cases of sexual violence, with members reporting a general attitude of nonchalance and dismissiveness towards the victims in these cases, as well as a culture of protecting those leadership figures who have engaged in sexual misconduct. This is, of course, completely unacceptable to members across this coalition and poses a serious risk to our members—members to whom we have a duty of care and protection. This in addition to rampant reports of racism, sexism, transphobia, and ableism within your organization have contributed to our decision to part ways with Fightback, for the safety of our members and for the integrity of this coalition.
This coalition exists to support CUPE 3903 in their striking efforts. The Students for CUPE 3903 therefore do not wish to further divide the student population. We have come together to support the working class faculty and student body of CUPE 3903. This support and solidarity remains our primary goal.
With these experiences in mind, we look forward to continuing to reach out to the undergraduate community in our solidarity efforts and working towards securing the best deal for CUPE 3903 possible.
Students for CUPE 3903
Letter to Socialist Fightback at York University, sent by RSM-OPIRG clique during the Student Occupation
(March 26, 2018)
This letter was produced in the aftermath of the clash that occurred at the student sit-in on the second day of the occupation (March 23rd, 2018). Fightback activists had withdrawn from the hostile environment. We had made clear our readiness to deal with any concrete allegations internally. At this stage, we had also made clear that we were prepared to participate in a proper accountable procedure carried out by the union (both on March 22nd and March 23rd). On March 26th, we had made again a written proposal to CUPE 3903 to oversee a union-run process.
Title: Response from #occupyyorku and students for CUPE 3903 regarding March 9th, 2018 incidents
Following Friday’s confrontation, our collective has elected to expel Fightback from the ongoing occupation, both as an organization and as individuals associated with the club. Our occupation agrees to rules of engagement that push for mutual respect, inclusion, and an understanding of critical equity concerns.
The spectacle of multiple organizers within Fightback berating and embarrassing a Black woman for expressing personal experiences of sexual violence and trauma at the hands of the organization undermines these rules of engagement and our entire basis of unity. Fightback’s characterization of political dissent as “sabotage” was a blatant attempt to stifle criticism and undermine the democratic process of this occupation. Discrediting experiences of violence at the hands of the organization as “slander” mirrors the attacks we field from the York University Administration and undermines the principles of social justice and equity fundamental to revolutionary organizing.
Support for survivors of sexual violence is a red-line issue for CUPE 3903 and allies. As a student-organized occupation in support of their strike we must occupy this space with a strong stance against sexual violence and victim blaming. We must strive to create spaces for social justice work that support those most marginalized in our communities. To stay true to these demands we must take a survivor-centric approach to our organizing.
Fightback’s attack on the personal and political grievances of this survivor is an attack on our core values and an insult to the values we espouse. It is unacceptable and we condemn it entirely. Moreover, this confrontation speaks to Fightback’s history of failing to meaningfully address sexual violence within its membership. Friday’s confrontation is yet another example of the broader violence and repression Fightback engages in on campus. Given this shameful history and Friday’s events, we do not believe Socialist Fightback should have any space at York University.
To reiterate: in order to live up to the values we uphold, we can no longer, in good conscience, organize alongside Fightback now and moving forward.
Facebook Statement produced by RSM-OPIRG clique from the sit-in
(April 2nd, 2018)
-Statement on Fightback-
On Friday, March 23rd, there was an incident within the Reclamation regarding a series of dismissive and aggressive responses to a disclosure of past sexual violence. These events were incredibly triggering for many survivors in the space and we wish to make clear the steps we have taken as a collective to definitively condemn these shameful actions and build an accountable movement:
- Anti-harassment officers have been appointed to start working out equity considerations in the space. These officers have been tasked with overseeing meetings and addressing broader concerns related to access, inclusion and conflict resolution in the space.
- Our collective is developing a framework for working through conflict and tensions as they unfold.
- We have established a strong peer-support network within the occupation.
- We are coordinating a series of workshops that take up themes of anti-oppression, community-based responses to sexual violence, and de-escalation. These workshops will be open to the public.
- After extensive consultation with the survivor and parties involved in the conflict, we have decided to indefinitely expel the collective engaged in disrespect, harassment and victim-blaming.
The organization involved in these shameful actions, Socialist Fightback at York University, has been expelled indefinitely by our collective because we firmly believe in survivor-centric organizing. We are actively working to build a movement that embraces these principles and supports communities impacted by all forms of violence. We have taken a definitive stance against sexual violence and victim-blaming for to remain silent, or neutral, is to be complicit in these forms of oppression.