Delivering Community Power CUPW 2022-2023

Thinking through the York University strike


illustration by Galen Johnson

The recent strike by CUPE 3903, which represents the contract faculty, teaching assistants and graduate assistants at York University, has left deep divisions in the union and on campus. In a heated discussion about the merits of the two articles we commissioned, the Dimension collective generated a number of questions over which no agreement emerged. We thought it would be useful to share these questions with our readers.

Was the York strike a failure or a setback? If the former, was it because the state intervened, or because the union strategy was ineffective? How do we constructively evaluate union leadership and internal dynamics? Should outside supporters make assessments of a union leadership’s legitimacy, or offer unconditional assistance as long as a union leadership enjoys membership support? How do we assess whether the leadership enjoyed overall membership support? Should progressive media report on sharp hostilities within progressive organizations, like unions, or should they allow these to work themselves out through internal dynamics?

And some more questions: Is militancy more about building a political subject that is capable of fighting than it is about winning immediate gains? When, if ever, can militancy be demobilizing? At what point does a progressive agenda, if ever, become too disconnected from existing possibilities to play a role in emancipatory politics? Should union activists moderate their demands based on political and economic conditions and knowledge that it is unlikely management will make concessions? Should union activists adjust their demands based on their ability to win support from other elements of the Left and the general public?

These are some of the many questions touched on in these articles and in heated debate amongst the CD collective. Many questions important to understanding the strike, like questions of race and gender dynamics, are not touched on at all. We intend these articles as the first stage in a dialogue on the strike and labour strategies, and invite responses to be posted on our website

Please visit either article for an unique insider perspective on the fallout of the York University Strike:

This article appeared in the May/June 2009 issue of Canadian Dimension (Mayworks: A special issue celebrating and debating labour).


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