The Union is Changing
Now is an exciting time to be part of CUPE Local 3902. Over the past few years our Local’s resolve has been tested. We’ve grown by unionizing two new groups of employees (contract academic workers at St. Mike’s and postdoctoral research fellows at U of T). We’ve bargained five new Collective Agreements with gains for every worker we represent. It’s taken two strikes, as well as strong strike votes and mobilization in each of our units, to make that happen. And we’ve emerged from those years stronger and prouder.
But these struggles and hard-won victories have also revealed ways we can and must improve as a Local. The next year is a crucial period for us to strengthen our ties of solidarity to one another, to develop collective priorities and goals, to clean up messes from the past, and to instill confidence and skills in our members at every stratum and in every employment category–not just members in our Executive Committee and our Stewards, and not just TAs and Course Instructors who were on strike, but members in every lab, every writing centre, every “portable” classroom and every tutorial. CUPE is not a handful of people at desks in the union office. CUPE is all of us, and it belongs to all of us, and it’s ours to build into the kind of organization that can represent and defend us during the next tests we’ll face.
There are members who have never felt that CUPE was their Union. Some of these members, like Postdocs and even some Sessional Lecturers, do types of work that are new to unionization in general and that CUPE is new to representing. The labour movement still needs to catch up on fully understanding these jobs and more effectively working to improve them. Other members who come from traditionally marginalized groups have felt that their needs and concerns were not brought to the fore within CUPE, and for that we must all take responsibility. Our Local, as the country’s largest union of academic workers, ought to be on the cutting edge.
We must commit to adjusting and changing to accommodate these members and their ideas and priorities. We are at our best and our most united when the full range of voices inside our Local is heard and respected. Bringing Postdoc and Sessional issues and experiences to the center of our Local’s organizing and educational efforts will make us a clearer and more relevant voice not only to all of our members but also in the broader public discussion around precarious work and the corporatization of universities. CUPE 3902 should be a visible force in combating low-paid casual work in Canada, and our Postdocs and Sessionals should lead the way.
The six caucuses of CUPE 3902 (The Indigenous Solidarity Caucus, The International Members Caucus, The Queer Caucus, The Racialised Workers’ Caucus, The Workers with Disabilities Caucus and The Women’s Caucus) and are great spaces for members from all five units to meet, share their experiences and organize. Our caucuses should be at the front of the Local’s activities and that we all have a great deal to learn from their leadership. We also have amazing political action committees whose actions make 3902 a better and more vibrant organization.
The rally to oppose violence against women, organized earlier this year by our Women’s Caucus, was one of the most successful and inspiring campus events in recent memory. Racialized members of our Local have led the “Black at U of T” movement and been central to the recent occupation of Toronto Police Headquarters. Activism around the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign has found a home in CUPE, and our members are militantly pushing the entire U of T community to use its resources in support of a free Palestine. Our International Solidarity Committee has campaigned to end violence against workers in Latin American and violence against academics in Turkey. And the entire Local has decided to make historic contributions of money and resources to help sustain these efforts. We can always do more, and we must. But we can be proud that CUPE 3902 is the place where grassroots, politicized organizing happens.
Defending our Collective Agreements, making our workplaces fairer and bargaining meaningful gains isn’t going to get any easier at U of T, Victoria or St. Mike’s. Making our campus, our community and our Union more diverse and more equitable is a constant and formidable challenge. But we can get better at it, and we will do so by listening to one another and working together. I’m thrilled and honoured to be part of that effort, and I look forward to seeing all of you along the way.