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Ontario college faculty: organize/strike/win

Pam Johnson

January 3, 2018

After a five-week strike, an arbitrator has awarded Ontario college faculty gains on every demand put forward in bargaining, despite being legislated back to work by Wynne’s Liberal government.

The critical gains are job security language for contract faculty and the inclusion of academic freedom language for the first time in the collective agreement. There is a January 2018 deadline for the union and employer to reconcile the collective agreement with the requirements of the new labour law, Bill 148. A taskforce is also being struck that includes the employer, the union and the government to create a framework for creating more full-time faculty positions by June 2018.

But this strike was a victory before the arbitrator ruled. It was strike action that secured the gains and beat back concessions. The strike, which halted classes for 500,000 students, showed the serious intent and solidarity of faculty who have had enough of precarious work and eroding ability to make academic decisions.

The strike received a surprising level of support from students and the issue of precarious work was resonant with many workers who face the same situation. But, it was the solid participation from the faculty on the picket lines that gave the energy and power to this strike.

This was clearly illustrated by the difference between the strike mandate vote supported by 68 per cent in September and the forced offer vote, rejected by 86 per cent with a 95 per cent turnout in November. The opportunity for faculty to talk about working conditions and discuss and debate their situation on the picket line built huge solidarity over the course of the strike.

Wynne’s back-to-work legislation undercut the strike just hours after faculty had so decisively defeated the employer’s offer. This anti-worker move happened a mere three days before this same government passed Bill 148, which was a victory for workers. The contradiction of undermining a strike against precarious work while passing a bill against precarious work should not be lost on those who think the Liberal government has suddenly become worker friendly.

This strike, involving 12,000 workers, was the largest in English Canada for many years. It shows what is possible when there is a clear strategy to organize the membership. It shows that workers are willing to fight for better condition. It shows the power of a strike to push workers’ demands forward. 

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