Mar 30 2015

York U Strike in Context

York strikers show the way — now let’s build a truly public university

Protracted labour dispute raises questions of post-secondary governance and funding

by Justin Podhur

(excerpted from Ricochet)

The strikes at York University, the University of Toronto, and elsewhere have opened a long overdue debate about student debt, precarious labour in the academy, rising tuition, and, to a lesser extent, university governance. The York University strike offers an opportunity to argue for the continuing relevance of universities as public institutions. The importance of the public in the public university is especially true for York, which, if it embraced its role as such, could tackle a new list of issues and lead the way for other educational institutions.

Precarity, debt, and defensive struggle

York’s contract faculty are the precarious academic labourers whose difficulties have been brought into some public light by the York strike and other labour actions in North America. The contract faculty settled earlier in March. The teaching assistants and graduate assistants had to battle on until the end of the month to win their objectives.

To read the rest of this article, click here.


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Sep 19 2012

The Combustible University

Category: News,Online Publication,StudentsBob Hanke @ 6:57 pm

The Combustible Campus: From Montreal to Mexico City, Something is Stirring in the University

By Enda Brophy

(excerpted from Briarpatch Magazine, Sept 1, 2012)

For three decades now, the neoliberal restructuring of post-secondary education has sought to implant market logic and corporate-style management into the academy. The systematic defunding of public education that enables this process has only intensified in recent years with the global financial crisis and the austerity measures imposed in its wake. The resulting transformation of public university systems has brought us corporatized administrations, rising tuition, departmental closures, expanded class sizes, noxious corporate food, offensives against academic workers, and ethically dubious corporate donations.

In its current form, one could argue that the academy produces little that extends our collective social capacities and much that diminishes them: hierarchy, exploitation, debt, individualism, precarious employment, and cynicism. At a time when knowledge is increasingly seen as a commodity to be produced in accordance with the demands of profit, and public education is decried as an unjust fetter on the ruthless pedagogy of the free market, the private sector has turned its attention to the university and is fervently dedicated to its transformation. The state has mostly obliged, with centre-right and centre-left governments across the world taking turns at accelerating this epochal shift in post-secondary education.

And yet, something is stirring in the university. From London to Montreal, from Santiago to Auckland, from Wisconsin to Mexico City, struggles against the commodification of knowledge are proliferating. The neoliberalization of the university has produced its own antagonists, and it is from the ranks of those who stand to lose the most from this transformation – students and academic workers – that the greatest conflicts have emanated.

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May 01 2012

The Union Against Itself: The Mirror Stage of Contract Faculty Labour

Category: Conferences,Contract FacultyBob Hanke @ 3:59 pm

by Bob Hanke
Departments of Communication Studies and Humanities

Paper presented at The University is Ours! A Conference on Struggles Within and Beyond the Neoliberal University,  April 27-29, 2012, Toronto, Ontario

In the Production of Living Knowledge, Gigi Roggero focuses on the relationship between autonomy and subordination. As he writes:

The line of the processes of struggle and of hierarchization is not longer … located on the border dividing those within from those outside of the labour market, but is completely internal to it. In the intersection between life and labour struck by the condition of precarity, it is the quality of inclusion that becomes the object of the practices of exit and of voice. The behaviors of living labour, between the search for autonomy and subordination, self-valorization, and competitive individualism, describe, therefore, the material constitution of subjectivity, becoming at once a form of resistance and of potential conflict (Roggero 2011, p. 103).

I want to draw on this rich passage to describe and analyze how CUPE 3903 was put against itself. In response to the acceleration and intensification of casualization of academic labour, the quality of contract faculty’s inclusion in a member-driven, democratic union became problematic. In the following account, I emphasize how organization and mediation must be considered as constitutive in the production of subjectivity. I will close by raising the question of affective bargaining with the union and the shaping of subjectivity.

Currently, CUPE Local 3903 is the bargaining agent for 1726 teaching assistants in Unit 1 and 691 graduate assistants in Unit 3. In Unit 2 representing contract faculty there are 900 members; of these, 687 hold course directorships, 340 hold tutor positions, and 127 hold both positions. Given the changing composition and orientation of the local towards more graduate students, what was remarkable about the 85-day strike in 2008-09 was that contract faculty and graduate students were in solidarity on “job security.” That strike only ended when the McGuinty Liberals passed  Bill 145 – the York University Labour Disputes Resolution Act – on January 29, 2009. After the employer’s war of attrition against the strikers, the neoliberal government acted to regulate the academic labour market by stripping strikers of their collective bargaining rights.

One episode from this strike illustrates how union communication is enabling and constraining. After the strike had already started, a Unit 2 communication committee was formed to develop a communication strategy to inform and mobilize contract faculty. They started a listserv and produced the inaugural issue of the CUPE 3903 U2 Chronicle. Recognizing their underepresentation in the internal and external media, a subcommittee made plans for a press conference to make contract faculty visible and articulate the relationship between job security and the quality of education. This press conference never happened. The executive committee following CUPE National’s communication officer’s centralized, coordinated communication strategy insisted that this conference be delayed until after the forced ratification results were known. In this way, union communication was structured to foreclose the representation of “hidden academics” (Ragagpol 2002).

This is not to say that the issue of “job security” – through sheer repetition if nothing else — was ignored or unreported. Rather, it is to say that it was not attached to those most affected by casualization. The union’s communication strategy failed to make the connection between “job security,” the two-tier faculty employment system, and the threat that contingency poses to academic freedom and governance. As one senior contract faculty member put it, “At a certain level I feel that efforts to keep U2 out of the media represent an ageist attack on who we are. The lack of our voices and our faces… throughout 3903’s media representations is appalling (as is the lack of racialized bodies, differently-abeled bodies, elderly bodies, female bodies).” To put it in a post-autonomist Marxist framework of cognitive labour, if communication is cooperation and production, then what was at stake for contract faculty in this strike was not just putting a face on public service, educational workers but the production of living knowledge of precariousness.

I want to go on to argue that it is out of the memory of defeat that a new path to self valorization and determination would be tried. The union would be put against itself without being transformed. As Antonio Negri suggests in The Politics of Subversion: A Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century, communication is production. To this, I would add that mediation – the space between the subject and reality – as well as organization must be considered constitutive. Despite its legacy of achievements, resources have yet to be allocated within CUPE 3903 to enhance contract faculty’s capacity to communicate, discover who they are, and to network. Moreover, in 2011, another way was tried – restructuring the local – but it ended up having no traction. This has left contract faculty less able to tackle the problem of casualization and to protect themselves from exploitation.


To read the rest of this 9-page paper with references, download
The Union Against Itself — The Mirror Stage of Contract Faculty

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Jun 20 2009

Strike of Education in Berlin

Category: NewsBob Hanke @ 12:26 pm

Bildungstreik 2009

by Claudia Bernardi & Anna Curcio (excerpted from Edufactory)

As a wave, several hundred of Berlin students blocked the city against the German ministers meeting today. The students have occupied first the Ministry of Finance, then the City Hall and the train station in Alexander Platz. The protest and the metropolis blockade are still going on.

On Wednesday, June 17th 260,000 kids, parents, students and researchers took to the streets of more than 70 Germany cities to protest the educational system, demanding more funding, better conditions of labour, a halt to the rise of university tuition fees, and a higher  quality of knowledge in a university where now students “learn anything”. In Berlin, a huge demonstration of 30,000 people started in Alexander Platz and arrived at Humboldt University: the place and symbol of the old model of the elite university has been invaded by students and symbolically covered by toilet paper.

These demonstrations are part of a week-long series of protests called BildungsStreik (strike of education), organized by universities and schools across Germany in the last months. “Selforganization to live and learn” and “Sabotage the factory of knowledge“ are some of the demands of students mobilized against the Bologna Process. Although it has failed, other universities are trying to apply Bologna Process in different part of the world, i.e. in US or South Asia. After the demonstration in Berlin, several direct actions took place in different parts of the city. A large group of students took possession again of the Villa BELL building inside Technische Universität, that the administrative bureaucracy removed from the students’ selfmanaging last year. This liberated space is now used to organize discussions about the future of mobilizations, free education and the process of hierarchization in the university.

Since Monday, several faculties of Freie Universität and Technische Universität have been occupied by students that are organizing selfmanaged activities and debates. Some of the students that are occupying the Faculty of Political Science of Technische Universität are part of the European anomalous wave, that all year long supported and spread the slogan “we won’t pay for your crisis”.

On Tuesday, June 16th students occupied the administrative buildings of Technische Universität, the university where a huge attack on the free spaces selfmanaged by students is taking place. Today other events are coming: the symbolic “bank robbery action“ in LosAngeles Platz and a meeting, with members of Edu-Factory Collective, about the crisis of the university and the connection of global struggles in the occupied spaces of Villa BELL Building.

On Friday, June 19 all the German ministers will meet in Berlin to commemorate the anniversary of Bologna process, but surely there ‘s nothing to celebrate!

More news in English from Deutsch Welle: Click


Jun 09 2009

Debating the Longest Strike

Category: Post-strike Discussion (2009)Bob Hanke @ 11:36 am

York University’s get out of jail free card

Rewards and consequences of bad-faith bargaining

by Tyler Shipley (Canadian Dimension, April 23, 2009)

To read the complete article, click here.

Tough union, tough lessons

Learning from the CUPE 3903 strike defeat at York University

23, 2009)

To read the complete article, click here.


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