Academic workers at University of Toronto and York University, represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals 3902 and 3903, have gone out on strike. The demands of the teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and sessional lecturers range from job security, ending poverty wages, and stopping tuition increases.

A record number of teaching assistants at UofT turned out to the union meeting on February 27 to reject the the administration’s deal. Over 90% voted against the offer, despite the union leadership’s recommendation, and decided to start their strike immediately.

This electrified their colleagues at York University who voted to go on strike several days later, on March 2. In total, 10,000 workers are now on strike at the two largest universities in Canada.

Strike votes are also to be taken by sessional lecturers at the University of Toronto and at Trent University. Overnight, the stand of UofT TAs has begun to develop into a sector-wide struggle.

First major challenge to Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals

The university strike represents a significant challenge to the Ontario Liberal austerity program. The Liberals were re-elected with a majority last summer, by running an election campaign with progressive-sounding rhetoric. This, unfortunately, led many trade unions to mistakenly call for a strategic vote for the Liberals.

A closer look at the Liberal program, however, shows that the Liberals are prepared to institute some of the worst cuts seen since the Mike Harris years of the 1990s. Wynne and the Liberals look to balance the provincial deficit, the highest in the country, on the backs of workers and young people. Their austerity program will mean privatization, lay-offs, service cuts, and wage freezes. Meanwhile, the bankers and bosses continue to be rewarded with tax cuts and subsidies.

In all negotiations with public-sector workers, the Liberals are pushing a “net-zero” mandate. The government is demanding that workers in the public sector take a wage freeze, which in reality amounts to a wage cut once inflation is taken into account. If wages do increase, then the difference must be made up through cuts to pensions, benefits, or layoffs. Hence, the cost is said to be “net-zero”.

This austerity plan would severely reduce the standard of living for nurses, schoolteachers, liquor board workers, social workers, and the civil service. This is a recipe for confrontation and labour unrest in Ontario, and campus workers are on the front line of this attack by the bosses!

Victory for university workers is a victory for Ontario workers!

The current university strike is the first major challenge by workers to the Liberal austerity agenda. Fightback and its associated student clubs at UofT, Ryerson, York, and Seneca pledge to support university workers in their struggle. We have been organizing regular solidarity delegations of youth and workers to the picket lines. We call on the broader labour and student organizations, with their much larger resources, to do the same.

The maxim, “An injury to one is an injury to all,” applies in the most concrete manner in this fight. A defeat of university workers prepares the ground for subsequent attacks on teachers, daycare workers, and nurses.

Conversely, a victory for university workers over the “net-zero” mandate would embolden the entire labour movement and set an example that austerity measures can be defeated through bold and militant strike action.

Students and workers unite against austerity!

Strike to win! Victory to CUPE 3902 and CUPE 3903!