Students walk out in support of CUPE
Students demand a refund and an end to the strike that meets TA and student needs.
Images by Joshua Linton
This past Wednesday at 12:10 students crowded outside Simcoe Hall participating in a demonstration that called for U of T to end the current CUPE3902 strike by offering a fair deal to striking TAs and course instructors. The event featured a number of speakers and musical performers. Self-described socialist hip-hop artist Mohammad Ali performed his adaptation of “Solidarity Forever” and “Precarious Work.” Other music performers included rapper Chop-z and the union’s own hype squad which used lyric-signs to lead a crowd in protest-specific rewrites of “Solidarity Forever” and “Come on Eileen” (“Come on Cheryl [Regehr]”).
Image by Zach Morgenstern
Other speakers included Liam Fox of Students First, the group that organized the protest, UTSU President Yolen Bollo-Kamara, TA Aaron Shantz and Professors Alissa Trotz, Deb Cowan and Rinaldo Walcott. Fox rallied protesters with an introductory speech that called for free education and denounced what he described as a corporate educational model in which “research is done for weapons designers, and social science is studied from the perspective of oppressors not the oppressed.” Fox described the protest as part of a lasting movement and connected it to international struggles such as student occupations in the Netherlands and protests in Calcutta; Canadian struggles such as the Quebec student movement and York strike; and the labor struggles of U of T’s more precarious employees such as custodial and kitchen staff.
Bollo-Kamara focused her speech on what she described as U of T’s disregard of and condescension towards its students, citing misleading email updates about the strike. She described her own experience of being told to learn exam material through online links due to the strike.
Shantz emphasized the personnel costs of the strike. He had worked as a factory translator in Taiwan until the 2008 recession, when hoping to better his prospects he came to U of T to earn a new degree and work as a TA. He spoke of the struggle of living on $950 a month and not having been able to see his young son in nearly a year, as he can’t afford to bring his family to Canada.
Images by Joshua Linton
Trotz, a professor of women and gender and Caribbean studies, gave the longest speech of the three professors, emphasizing the responsibility of academics to support their TAs, and noting that U of T academics had previously organized to stop administration from cutting departments such as comparative literature and ethics. She also apologized for recently appearing in a promotional video for a U of T fundraiser, saying that so long as U of T doesn’t respect its workers she will not promote it. Rinaldo Walcott, the chair of OISE’s sociology and equity studies department, added that he rejected U of T’s attempt to create a false dichotomy between students, pitting graduate students against undergraduate students.
While the rally thinned substantially as 2 pm approached, it stayed vibrant well over an hour, especially as a giant corporate-ghoul puppet—originally designed to be an effigy of Provost Cheryl Regehr—paid a visit. Towards the end of the demonstration, a number of students also collected signatures on letters to send to the provost.
With news of U of T offering a new deal, the end of the strike may be in reach. The turnout on Wednesday made it clear, however, that even if the strike goes on, the union will keep many proud supporters.