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McGill law faculty threaten unlimited strike

Chantal Sundaram

April 16, 2024

McGill University was founded in 1821, and never has there been a strike of professors – until now.

The University has seen TA strikes, student strikes, and repeated labour unrest from the administrative support staff of the union MUNACA. But a strike by profs, unheard of! The faculty association is not even a legal union with the right to strike.

But in 2022, one group of McGill profs unionized separately from the faculty association. It was perhaps the biggest possible challenge to the elitism of McGill, which is why the administration fought it hard in a legal battle, using public money to do so. Law faculty, how dare they!

The Association of McGill Professors of Law (AMPL) became a certified union in 2022. First, they faced a legal challenge from McGill to their very right to exist as a union. Then they entered into bargaining and faced nothing but delays and stonewalling from the employer.

Things eventually came to a head, and AMPL called a one-day strike on February 13, 2024. Quebec unions have a practice of issuing short “warning” strikes in anticipation of unlimited strike, a tactic recently employed by the Quebec Common Front for the whole public sector.

On that first day of strike, AMPL told students: “As the first faculty union in the history of McGill, we know that any negotiated change that constrains the discretion of the administration paves the way for improvements in working conditions not just for us, but for the entire campus. We are compelled to use the one method at our disposal – the right to strike – to change the dynamics of the bargaining process.”

There were huge pledges of support from other unions and students, notably from law students themselves.

Resounding vote for strike

At the same time, McGill continued to challenge before the courts AMPL’s right to exist as a union – despite a resounding decision of the Quebec Labour Board certifying them. Even though these workers are law professors, they pursued a collective labour strategy rather than a strictly legal stategy.

The members delivered a resounding vote: if there is no agreement by midnight on April 23, there will be an all-out strike. On X, AMPL invited the employer to come back to the table over coffee and donuts. But they also offered, if that doesn’t suit them, perhaps “tea and crumpets”?

What may explain the way the McGill administration has dug in its heels is the threat of further unionization of professors in other McGill faculties, a very real possibility that may be unfolding. And while it may be unusual for departments to unionize separately in a single workplace, it is explained by a situation where the central association is not a certified union. And, there is every possibility that separate certified groups will find a way to merge into a single union.

This is a major blow to an institution that always saw itself above the unionization of its most “elite.” McGill is the only university administration in Quebec that fought the very right of the law faculty to exist as a union. Now it faces not only an all-out strike by its law profs but the impact of the inspiration they have spread to other academic staff across the university.

McGill’s motto is “Grandescunt Aucta Labore,” which means “By work all things increase and grow.” Never has this had a more Marxist resonance at McGill than now, when those who actually perform the work that allows McGill to exist are raising a collective voice for change.


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