The tensions have been building for weeks and the idea of a strike went from something we registered our support for on a survey to a reality that may be less than 24 hours away. I’ve calculated more than once the monthly return for strike pay, which is $2,500 if I put in twenty shifts on the line. I am not sure I can live on that without making some changes: no paying down my credit card debt, no buying expensive food, and certainly no pedicure. It’s an eerie inventory, pulling life’s possibilities through a thin straw, marking out what is essential and what is not.
We are being asked to budget in this manner by an entity that is, sadly, no longer a house of ideas and learning. The university has become as corporate as Google and through the amorphous body known as “CENTRAL” it regularly speaks of education as industry, refers to students as consumers, and rewards us for developing revenue-generating opportunities. Synergy. Creativity. Alignment. We hear these terms repeatedly as they are woven through the false discourse in our budgets, our strategic plans: The university has no money, we must all do our part…Do more with less.
I don’t recall signing up for fund-raising or a job that reduces students to “bums in seats” and proudly boasts the best student experience while raising tuition by astounding rates every year. What are they paying for? How can the university claim pauper status when it has almost 700 million dollars in its coffers? To whom is that money allocated if not those of us who work at and attend the university? A former senior official who knowingly choreographed an annual income of almost a million dollars is rewarded by having a new building named after him. These structural injustices are taking place in plain sight, for all to see.
The university has recently asked for concessions regarding our health benefits and has not made any of their own regarding job security for contract faculty- the main issue at stake. The university’s priorities seem clear: we are disposable. I work hard for my students, my colleagues, and my community, labour that I gladly bring back to my workplace as knowledge, energy, and the ability to make a difference. But my employer seems to render me/us an impediment to their singular mission of amassing capital. Telling us that we must make do with less while accumulating money is insulting and dishonest. What is best about this experience?
Fair wages and dignified working conditions: bread and roses. That is what we deserve, all of us.