year ago, teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants
of the C
Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903 at York University returned victoriously to their academic work after a three-month strike. In an increasingly right-wing political climate, the success of the strike made us hopeful. It was a profound event that affected many people -- materially, bodily, ideologically -- and called for testimony. And, of course, labour struggles at York resonated with issues in academia elsewhere. The editorial board of j_spot: Journal of Social and Political Thought wanted to put together a special issue to commemorate the events at York, to share the knowledges gained here and to invite people to share their own experiences of different political and academic contexts through the journal.
When we first sent out the call for papers for this special issues of j_spot, our intention was to produce a web that would grow organically as people submitted material. We wanted a resource that would provide an useful space for reflection to anyone involved in academic labour or interested in the role of the university. We sought to mix art and politics, to capture the good times as well as the difficulties of walking the line. And, of course, we sought to make connections -- connections with each other as we collectively work to imagine the possibilities for ourselves here at York and links with other universities, thinkers, and struggles.
It took a surprisingly long time to receive a critical mass of material from our own university -- fresh from the York strike people were understandably tired, and perhaps wanted to reflect upon their experiences and get back to work rather than writing about them. We waited. One year after the longest academic strike in English Canadian history, we are ready to launch the kind of issue we'd wanted to launch in the first place -- unrefereed, wide-ranging, making connections with broader issues affecting those of us who labour in universities. We wanted, too, to provide a small sampling of the ephemeral material and information that can be lost: emails and songs and jokes, small moments of poetry on the line, models of solidarity letters, and official documents long since pulled from the official websites. There will always be room in this issue for new voices: if you have written a piece you'd like to share or find an item you feel should be included in this issue, please send it to the editorial board and it will be added to the open-strike web. We are grateful to all of our contributors: the 'unofficial' contributors whose contributions to public email forums were simply too good not to share and those who wrote specifically for the issue.
Carla Lipsig-Mummé's "Three faces of Victory" explores the York strike in the context that "in any strike, there are three faces to victory. There is the language in the collective agreement; the public 'take' on the settlement; and how the union movement uses the gains." John Montgomery writes a letter of appreciation for the people with whom he walked the line, while Jordan Singer reflects on a moment of political theatre. William L.B. Woolrich reads the York strike as a moment that resists the process of globalization. Geoff Read reflects upon what he learned on the line: "[Joan] Scott insists that the "multiplicity of identity" precludes the "Thompsonian" notion of class consciousness. Informed by my recent strike experiences, I instinctively rejected this part of Scott's argument; I set out here to explore why." Kathy Walker's "Bodies on the line" makes an argument for politics being in our bones at least as much as in our heads. Recent York dance graduate Barbara Lindenberg talks, in part, about how the York strike changed her: "If there's one thing the picketing members of CUPE 3903 called to my attention day after day, it's that the world is not somebody else's business." Rosyln Thomas Long brings a University of Toronto perspective to our issue, analysing "the negotiations which took place with respect to the graduate assistant strike at the University of Toronto in January 2000." Christopher Bodnar and Patricia Mazepa, of Carleton University, write about the near strike at Carleton in 2001 and offer strategies and analyses for others: "the CUPE 4600 Communications Committee consisted mainly of the two of us and a laptop computer." Matthew Blackett extends our discussion to the subsequent anti-globalization protests in Québec City with his photographic essay "Shooting Québec."
Any strike is an immense organizational and practical challenge. In this issue, you'll also find safety tips to help deal with dangerous drivers on the picket line, how much firewood you might need, how to dress for rain, and a multimedia art piece on the automobile using footage from the disposable cameras used on the picket lines. Links to other journals, labour sites and others interested in academic labour and academic possibilities are also available. Comments and information about other university strikes are provided via links, too, but this section is not exhaustive and we still warmly welcome your contributions to this site.
Finally, what's a political protest without a vital sense of joy and play? We've also tried to document the parties and poetry and teach-ins. John Peter Unrau has submitted some of his poetry on the line. And many of the pieces we've collected speak to the pleasures as well as the strategies and struggles of collective action.
The late professor Ioan Davies constructed a website called Addressing the Academy during the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) strike of 1997; we see the spirit of this issue as resonant with his vision. The first issue reads: "[Addressing the Academy] tries not only to deal with the York University strike itself, or the aftermath as it affects York standing alone, but with the York events as being the occasion for thinking about contested academia, intellectual identity, pedagogy, and cultural definition anywhere in the world where these issues are seen as being important. Because, as Benjamin said, "the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule," we have to recognize the ongoing state of emergency. "
Even as we celebrate CUPE3903's success, we need to acknowledge that corporate institutions do not easily let such victories transpire. They don't go down without a fight. And as soon as there is opportunity, they doggedly look for ways to make up for lost ground, from changing in small ways the definitions of employment to largely changing the terms of working life, all within the parameters of proscribed labour ‘management'.
year later it is still the occasion to think about and through contested
academia. It always is. We hope you enjoy the issue.