The following is an invited post by Sarah Williams and Jennifer Gibson.*
“It’s business as usual at University of Toronto”, the Provost’s messages proclaim. These messages, meant for students and the media, assert that CUPE 3902 Unit 1’s decision to strike has had no impact on undergraduate classes or the daily operations of Canada’s largest university, recently ranked number 20 in the world. This union represents more than 6,000 graduate student employees. The provost’s claims seek to undermine both the value and importance of graduate student labour and justify the administration’s hard line against raising the minimum funding package, stalled at $15,000 per year, to an amount closer to, though not exceeding, Toronto’s version of a poverty line, the “Low Income Cut-Off” (LICO), which is $23,000. However, underneath the calm and unaffected airs of the university administration lies the reality that over 800 undergraduate classes and tutorials are no longer meeting or have been cancelled for the duration of the strike. As finals draw closer, so too does the possibility that students’ graduations may be delayed.
At base, the aim articulated by striking CUPE 3902 members is one of structural change to the funding relationship between graduate students and the university. The guaranteed minimum funding package achieved as a direct outcome of this union’s last strike, fifteen years ago, has dramatically diminished in real wage value thanks to the rapidly rising cost of living in one of Canada’s most costly cities, and has not seen any increase to account for inflation since 2008. Meanwhile, tuition––particularly for international students––continues to climb to the maximum rates legal in Ontario ($8,000-20,000––the highest rates in all of Canada). Combined, it is these two issues that have led to the now 21 day standoff between graduate student contract workers and the administration. If any tentative agreement is to achieve ratification, two core demands must be addressed: meaningful increases to the minimum funding package, and significant reductions in post-funded-cohort tuition. Continue reading