Tuesday, March 21, 2017

U of A grad student organizing drive?

This spring, it is expected that Alberta will introduce legislation giving faculty associations the right to strike (and be locked out). This is a part of the province’s efforts to comply with the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Saskatchewan Federation of Labour.

This change will have significant effects for collective bargaining in universities. My own faculty association has begun strike planning. A secondary question is whether the government will allow faculty to periodically choose different (or no) bargaining agents.

This question has become more salient because it appears that efforts are underway to organized graduate students at the University of Alberta. Grad students are currently represented by the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) of the University of Alberta.

Like the rest of Alberta’s GSAs, the U of A GSA sought to retain the current labour provisions in the Post-Secondary Learning Act. This would both prelude strikes and prevent students from selecting a different bargaining agent. A number of grad students have vocally objected to this position.

A Student Worker Action Group (SWAG) is hosting an organizing meeting on Monday, March 27, 2017. SWAG styles itself as “an organizing committee of academic labourers at the University of Alberta”. Its concerns include worker rights, compensation, tuition, safety, and racism/sexism/discrimination.

(There was an identically named drive at the U of A about 10 (?) years ago that was associated with the Wobblies that seems to continue here on Facebook  It is unclear if the same folks are involved this time around (the name could be coincidence).)

The SWAG that is hosting the March 27 meeting could be a self-organizing effort by students. Alternately, it could be an effort by organized labour to make in roads into the post-secondary system. If the latter, then this would be one of the first concrete effects of Alberta’s proposed changes to PSE labour relations.

In either case, a more radical, labour-oriented graduate student association (whether affiliated with a specific union or operating as independents—and that may depend on the government’s changes to PSE labour law) would be a big shift. While it is unlikely that Alberta GSAs would soon be undertaking action along the lines of the 2012 Quebec student protests, they could hardly fail to be more active and powerful than the moribund GSAs that Alberta has had historically. 

-- Bob Barnetson

No comments: