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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Feb 08 2011

Unit Two News and Three Action Items

Category: NewsBob Hanke @ 11:01 pm

From the Unit Two Working Group:

The present moment is critical for Local 3903 and, more-so, for Unit 2.  The terminus of Administration is fast approaching.  Structural choices to be made during the next several weeks will define future conditions of Unit 2 within Local 3903.

Good news, though! The Unit 2 Proposal is in the mail.  This represents a singular opportunity for the Unit 2 membership to have a democratic voice concerning our issues and our future. So vote, VOTE, VOTE, VOTE!

We apologize for the length of this edition of U2News. But a number of important issues are occurring, which we feel need to be reported on in order to keep Contract Faculty informed of events as we shift into the final stages of administration.

We will try to keep future editions of U2News brief. However, in this edition, you will find:

*information regarding the Unit 2 vote
*as promised, report-backs on the forensic audit and bylaw GMMs
*details on Local executive elections and changes in voting procedures


The Unit 2 Working Group is pleased to announce that ballots are now in the mail for a vote on the U2WG’s recommendation!

Subsequent to her original commitment, and as a result of the pressure exerted through emails from contract faculty members, 3903 Administrator Lynn McDougall has agreed to hold a ‘vote in principle’  to determine if the membership of Unit 2 is in support of the creation of a Unit 2 Executive Board within CUPE 3903.

Your ballots should arrive by mail this week. Please note that your return ballot must be post-marked no later than Friday February 18th.

If you have any questions concerning the vote or the recommendations prepared by the U2WG, please come to one of the following informational sessions:

Wednesday February 9th 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.  D125 Hilliard (Glendon Campus)

Thursday February 10th 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. HNE 001 (Keele Campus)

Tuesday February 15th 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. 701 Ross South  (Keele Campus)


At the January 31st GMM, chaired by CUPE National President, Paul Moist, the auditors presented a thirty page summary of their forensic audit report.

As this report cannot be circulated electronically, we encourage all contract faculty to stop by 3903 headquarters in the East Office Building to pick up a copy of the auditors’ findings, or email 3903 administrator, Lynn McDougall (, to have a hard copy sent to your home address.

The Forensic Auditor’s report raises serious concerns regarding fiscal mismanagement in the Local. Given that the bulk of Local 3903’s income comes from Unit 2 members’ dues, this is a grave issue that Contract Faculty not only must be concerned about, but also must concern themselves with.

A substantial portion of our monthly dues (check your payslip to see how much you are paying!) is now having to go to paying off debts generated by breaches in fiduciary responsibility, lack of internal financial controls, and the failure to properly complete necessary forms during the strike.

The Auditor’s final report will be submitted by the end of administration in mid March. It will then be up to the Local to investigate discrepancies found through the forensic audit. CUPE National will also submit a copy of the report to our bonding agency (Cooperatives) in an attempt to recoup at least a small portion of the lost monies in question.

However, a troubling aspect of the January 31st GMM was that many Unit 1 and Unit 3 members did not appear terribly disturbed by events and are seeking to sweep the problematic findings of the forensic audit under the carpet. As one Unit 1 member put it: “We had bad record keeping but saying we’re sending it to the police is inappropriate … we’ve been dysfunctional, deal with it and close the chapter.” Many were particularly opposed to submitting the report to the bonding agency (which would allow us to retrieve at least $50,000 back through insurance) as this would entail RCMP investigations.

Action Item: Please obtain a copy of Forensic Audit Report from 3903 headquarters and read it to determine what action or inaction the Local should take once the final report is submitted.


As reported in the last issue of U2News, CUPE 3903 has begun the process of ratifying new bylaws that will govern the Local once administration ends.

On Thursday February 3rd, members from all three units gathered to begin reviewing and approving, article by article, 3903’s new bylaws.

Articles 1 through 8 (see CUPE 3903 website for a copy of the draft bylaws) were passed with some significant amendments, and Article 13 was endorsed so that the Local’s elections can proceed.  However, another meeting will need to be held to finalize the remaining articles in the Bylaws. This meeting is tentatively scheduled for February 17, 4:30 pm – 7:30 pm, in the Chemistry Building, Room 115.

It is unfortunate that the results of the Unit 2 vote on the recommendations generated by the U2WG will not be in before the bylaws review process is complete. If the results of the vote are positive and endorse the creation of a Unit 2 Executive Board within 3903, the Local’s bylaws will then have to be subsequently amended, either just before or just after administration ends, to reflect the necessary changes in the Local’s structure.

In the mean time, the U2WG is attempting to have input into the new bylaws by recommending amendments that will enhance Unit 2’s autonomy within the Local and address some of the concerns raised at Unit 2 meetings last spring.

At the two GMMs that have now been held on the issue of bylaws – January 21st and February 3rd – those opposed to Unit 2 autonomy have made their opposition perfectly clear.  At the January 21st GMM, they maintained the general 3903 membership must not have its time wasted by merely Unit 2 issues.  One Unit 1 member referred to Unit 2 issues as a “can of worms” that should not be opened. On February 3rd they insisted Unit 2 issues must not be addressed more unit-specifically by Unit 2 – because that would be divisive to the solidarity of the general membership.

It is no joke.  They really meant it.  Passionately.  Don’t waste collective time on Unit 2 issues – but don’t let Unit 2 divide the collective by addressing its own issues more autonomously.

This is the sort of tragically odious contradiction from which the opponents of Unit 2 autonomy continually derive the same oppressive conclusion.  Unit 2 issues should not be addressed.  Absent sufficiently extenuating circumstances, Unit 2 issues are better ignored in Local 3903.  That’s what the opponents of Unit 2 autonomy invariably conclude.  That’s what they appear to expect everyone should conclude.  That’s why they keep repeating Unit 2 has neither particular issues nor distinct identity from graduate students.

Alas, Unit 2 is distinct not only in fact, but by definition.  We are employees of York University.  Graduate students hold student and student-linked employment status, with a fixed guarantee of six years employment for Unit 1 members. Contract Faculty enjoy no such guarantees. Our guarantee of employment is precarious, from term to term, only assured once our contracts are signed, if and when we are offered contracts.  And there is nothing in our Collective Agreement definition of Unit 2, as “not full-time students,” that can justify this status-quo.  This status-quo is broken.

Locals organized on component models abound in Canada to reflect distinctions precisely such as Unit 2’s.  Yet more strikingly, Canadian society is fundamentally constituted on principle that difference cannot be oppressed and distinction cannot be repressed.  As residents in Canada, we must always seek to ensure our differences and distinctions are not just fairly represented – but even, more often, celebrated and given concrete meaning.

The travesty and mockery of Unit 2 has persisted too long by decades.  When our opponents deny our distinct identity and issues; when they inconsistently assert the general membership should not waste time on issues pertaining distinctly to Unit 2; when they again inconsistently maintain that our identity and issues are divisive to the general membership; this gives lie to any meaningful solidarity. We cannot continue to ignore such spectacularly divisive, anti-democratic, and totalitarian efforts to oppress us.

Instead of recognizing that a stronger Unit 2 means a stronger 3903 – our opponents seek only to silence us.  Instead of encouraging us to represent and express our issues in genuine solidarity – our opponents only deny we can have anything to say.  But we do have something to say.  We have plenty to say.  And our opponents will not – indeed, cannot – continue silencing us.  For right now, even as we speak, Unit 2 contract faculty have begun discussing and exploring our singular issues.  The conversation has begun.  It began at Unit 2 meetings during the strike. It has continued through Unit 2 meetings organized by the U2WG during administration. It will continue long after administration ends in March.

Action Item: Help bolster our Unit 2 conversation – come out to the next Bylaw meeting. The U2WG has prepared several amendments to address issues raised by Contract Faculty. Your attendance at the February 17th Bylaws meeting will be vital. Please try to attend. The precise details as to the time and location of the meeting will be posted on the U2listserv and CUPE 3903 News soon.


Plans for electing a new Local executive are now underway.  The timelines around elections are as follows:

February 7th to 11th — Nomination Period

February 14th to 25th — Campaign Period

February 28th to March 4th (inclusive) — Voting by secret ballot (at Keele and Glendon)

Ballots will be counted at the General Membership Meeting on March 7, 2011, at which time the newly elected officers will be sworn in.

One important victory that was achieved at the February 3rd bylaws meeting Is that unit-specific executive positions can now only be voted on by members within the specified bargaining unit. In other words, only Contract Faculty can nominate and vote in Unit 2 executive officers. This is an important change. It means that it will be crucial that Unit 2 members vote in the upcoming elections.

There remain, however, two significant problems with the impending elections.

First, the Grievance Officer position has traditionally been designated a Unit 2 position in the Local, mainly due to the fact that 85%-90% of the grievances that occur in 3903 relate to Unit 2 work. However, the new bylaws drafted by the Bylaw Committee have removed this designation, making the position open to all units in the Local. This is a serious problem as it is important to have skilled oversight, knowledge of the Unit 2 Collective Agreement, and a familiarity with the history of past grievances relating to Contract Faculty for this position.

The U2WG has prepared an amendment for Article 9 of the new bylaws (which defines the executive officer positions) to revert the Grievance Officer position back to a Unit 2 designation. However, the February 3rd GMM ended before this article and the U2WG amendment could be discussed and voted on. Hence, the administrator, Lynn McDougall, has proceeded incorrectly in her election announcements with opening up the position of Grievance Officer to all units. Since Article 9 has not yet been voted on, our current bylaws should apply. These bylaws stipulate that the Grievance Officer position “is reserved for a Unit 2 member, unless no member from that unit is willing to stand, in which case any unit member may be nominated” (CUPE 3903 Bylaws 2003).

The second problem regarding the recently advertised elections is that they include the position of Postings Officer. Again, traditionally, in this local, this position has been elected when committee elections are held, and not during the electoral process for executive officers. The Postings Officer does not sit on executive.

Currently, Contract Faculty are facing substantial challenges with respect to Unit 2 job postings, as the university quite arbitrarily attempts to change course descriptions, qualifications for Unit 2 positions, and variances in Unit 2 workloads, particularly with respect to Foundations and Gen Ed teaching. Hence, the U2WG has also prepared an amendment to make the Postings Officer a Unit 2-designated position. But, as with the Grievance Officer amendment, this change has yet to be reviewed and put forward at a GMM of the Local.

Action Item: Please attend the next bylaw GMM on February 17th (time and location TBA) to support the U2WG amendments, including those outlined above relating to Grievance and Posting Officer positions. Your attendance can make a difference for Unit 2!

We encourage any Unit 2 members who are interested in running for executive positions to put their names forward. While some executive positions are unit specific (i.e. U2 Vice President, U2 Chief Steward, and hopefully Grievance Officer), Unit 2 members should also consider running for all-unit positions, such as Chairperson, Secretary/Research Officer, Treasurer, and Communications Officer. The Trans-Feminist Action Caucus will also be holding elections for two positions on the executive. Interested Unit 2 members should consider running for these positions as well.

Nomination forms, the nomination box and register will be available at the 3903 union office no later than 10am, Monday February 7, and will continue to be available during office hours until 3pm on Friday February 11, 2011.

If you have any questions regarding the elections, running for executive office, or completing nomination forms, please contact the U2WG at:

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