Once again, the UTSU has proven whom it is really representing — and it’s not U of T’s undergraduates. There is only one word that captures the UTSU’s support of the looming TA strike: gall. The UTSU purports to act in the interest of undergraduate students and yet this move suggests otherwise.
UTSU president Danielle Sandhu offered her complete support when she addressed those present at the strike vote press conference; this conference was held after CUPE members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike, should an agreement with the university not be reached. Sandhu extended to CUPE local 3902, on our behalf, congratulations, and expressed a sense of pride and solidarity, arguing that supporting the strike is in the best interests of undergrads. However, she is supposed to be representing undergrads, who would undoubtedly suffer were a strike to happen.
Even in the sunniest scenario, classes will continue undisrupted, but tutorials will be cancelled and assignments may not be marked in time. This can have an especially injurious effect on those relying on final grades for graduate or professional school applications. I doubt that those schools would be satisfied relying on my word that I am an A student. In the gloomiest of cases, we may end up like the students of York University.
In 2008, York’s CUPE local, which includes TAs and sessional instructors, went on strike. The strike dragged on for three months, leaving students out of class and out of luck. Many felt betrayed by the York Federation of Students (a satellite union of the Canadian Federation of Students, like the UTSU). Students were overwhelmed with work after their Reading Week, and those who depended on summer income had to struggle to make ends meet when their classes spilled into the summer break.
U of T students’ tuition has been paid, and most people have made plans for after graduation — plans that hinge on the timing of their graduation. Neither the UTSU nor the university will reimburse our tuition fees, and no one can give us back the time we will lose.
CUPE has rolled out an advertising campaign, and the UTSU has echoed its message. There is quite a bit of talk about tutorial sizes — a serious problem, to be sure. No one will argue that a 50-student tutorial is a conducive learning environment. The only real solution, however, assuming that this were viable, would be to hire more TAs — and since they’re already demanding raises and resources are scarce, I doubt you will hear CUPE pressing for more TAs to share in the pie. When push comes to shove, this will likely be the first demand to be sacrificed. Including the tutorial size issue is little more than a transparent ploy by the UTSU to justify its indefensible actions, and to drum up undergrad support for a strike which clearly pits our interests against those of CUPE.
There are countless TAs and sessional instructors who are truly outstanding and deserve the best conditions. That being said, undergraduate students cannot afford and should not be forced to suffer the consequences of a strike. So why is our student government giving priority to CUPE’s agenda? Some may cite the supposed long-term benefits for undergrad students who may be considering graduate studies here at U of T. But what about those who aren’t? Others may claim that we must stand in solidarity with CUPE. But why should we lose time, money, and have our education and life plans disrupted? The “avoid a strike by supporting it” rationale implicit in CUPE’s literature and echoed in the UTSU’s justifications is nothing more than Orwellian double-speak, and U of T students are too intelligent to be duped. The UTSU is playing a dangerous game with our time, money, and education; its support of the potential strike is both grossly irresponsible and an affront to the students it is supposed to be representing.
How the UTSU can continue with its preposterous claims of unity and that it works for the students is incomprehensible. If that were the case, they would oppose the strike, or at the very least they would abstain from making an official statement, let alone such a congratulatory one. The UTSU is not working for our interests, but rather against them. I am absolutely appalled, and you should be too.