Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A solidarity protest in support of striking teaching assistants at Toronto's York Univerity was temporarily disrupted yesterday as police moved to arrest four demonstrators. Here's the story from the point of view of the Inside Toronto magazine.
NORTH YORK: Strikers clash with police during rally:
January 27, 2009 5:39 PM
Legislation details
According to reports, the following are highlights of the proposed back-to-work legislation debated at Queen’s Park this week to end the strike at York University.
It would:
**End the strike immediately.
**Impose daily fines of up to $2,000 per
person against scofflaws who continue to strike.
Send unresolved contract
matters to arbitration
**Enable CUPE Local 3903 and the university to agree
to an arbitrator, but allow the government to name one if they are not able to
achieve a consensus choice
**Force arbitration to end within 90 days
**Empower the arbitrator to take into consideration the university’s ability
to pay, the economic situation of the province and the competitiveness of the
settlement when compared with other contracts.
What started as a peaceful rally by the striking York University workers turned violent as they marched to Queen's Park Tuesday morning to protest the back-to-work legislation put forward by the provincial Liberal government earlier this week.

About 200 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3903 gathered at the Ontario Ministry of Labour office near University Avenue and Dundas Street where the rally began.

More than 3,300 union members including teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants have been on strike since Nov. 6, effectively shutting down the campus and cancelling classes for 50,000 undergraduate students.

The protesters marched to the Legislature building with the MPPs debating the back-to-work bill that could end the strike and have classes resume Monday.

"It's about a fundamental right of labour," said Noaman Ali, a teaching assistant and graduate student at York University.

Calling the back-to-work legislation "reprehensible," he called on the province to instead force the university administration to come back to the bargaining table to resolve the labour dispute.
The demonstration, however, was disrupted when an altercation took place between a police officer and a union member who allegedly ignored police orders to stop blocking traffic.

Other protesters got involved in the confrontation with police, resulting in at least four union members taken into police custody, according to CUPE 3903 representatives.

The crowd voiced their anger toward the officers on duty, shouting, "Let them go," and chanting, "Free, free, free our colleagues."

"I have a right to be here," said Gita Hashemi, a contract faculty professor at the university. "Our members have a right to be here."

One witness said he saw the incident unfold and called the police officer's actions "appalling."
"One person was grabbed and thrown to the ground," said Ted Myerscough, a research project co-ordinator, who was looking down from the ninth floor of his work building on University Avenue. "I was just outraged."

The march eventually proceeded with the union and its supporters reaching Queen's Park where provincial NDP leader Howard Hampton addressed the large crowd.

"A bargaining contract is better than one that's imposed," said Hampton, whose party didn't give unanimous consent for the back-to-work legislation.

That prevented the expedited passage of the bill and it appears almost certain that the resumption of classes at York will be delayed until next week.

While the legislation is being debated, Hampton urged Premier Dalton McGuinty to call York University president Mamdouh Shoukri and request the administration meet with the union to "bargain and negotiate."

CUPE 3903 spokesperson Tyler Shipley applauded Hampton for his support.

"We want to make sure this thing ends with a negotiated settlement on our terms," Shipley said. "This fight is not over."

But in a statement by the administration released later in the afternoon, Shoukri said negotiations were at an impasse.

"York's bargaining team spent over 40 days in negotiations with CUPE 3903 beginning in July of last year," he said. "After six months, which included 11 weeks on strike, the union's last offer was still more than double the university's offer for settlement. That is an impasse by any standards."

The back-to-work legislation is the only certain way to get students back to class as soon as possible, he added.

"The parties are in deadlock and the summer term is now in jeopardy," Shoukri said. "We need to get these students back to class immediately."
Here is a first hand report from one of the union members involved. The following comes via the Ontario Section of the Anarchist Black Cat discussion board.
Toronto Police Attack Peaceful Protesters:
Tues January 27, 2009
Today at 15:38 I am writing this to share with you what really happened at the CUPE 3903 protest against back-to-work legislation at the Ministry of Labour and Queen's Park today. Most major news networks are referring to the events of today as "protesters clash with police" or "one arrested at CUPE 3903 demonstration", and so on.
The organizers of the protest began by getting all of the necessary permits to have the rally, and did notify the city and the police in accordance with the law. We began the rally at the Ministry of Labour, and upon completion we marched down University Avenue to our final destination, Queen's Park. During the protest we listened to speeches, yelled chants, and sang songs amidst journalist-provocateurs which we responded to by yelling our chants even louder, or ignoring all together.
When we were marching down University Avenue the police kept screaming at us to get off the road, when our permit proved that we had a legal right to be there! We only stayed on the side of the street designated to us, and refrained from stepping onto any private property because we wanted our demonstration to be peaceful! After screaming at us, some police officers started to shove some of the marshalls. When one girl yelled at a police officer for shoving her, he responded by yelling "Stop resisting you stupid bitch!" and hit her in the face with his baton. Bleeding, she was dragged by two male officers to the police station. Police officers then arrested four other protesters, two of which I saw being held on the ground, their faces being crushed into concrete and piles of sharp ice and gravel. One protester's forehead was bleeding from being forced down into the ice. As he was lifted up and put into the back of the police car the officer yelled to the crowd that the protesters were armed!! The police officer had confiscated his CUPE flag, so was the officer referring to a large pink flag being a lethal weapon? Ridiculous! While the police were forcibly restraining the protesters, we circled the police, shouting "LET THEM GO! LET THEM GO! POLICE BRUTALITY! POLICE BRUTALITY!' A group of us then sat in front of the police car that was holding the protester who had a bloody forehead as a means of peaceful resistance against police brutality. The police then felt a need to call in backup of at least 10 more police cars, plus a troop of cops on horses to intimidate us. From my understanding a good portion of these events were caught on film on video tape, and it is my hope that we have enough evidence to help our colleagues who were unjustly injured and arrested today.
When we tried to continue the march to Queen's Park, the police blocked the road with their cruisers, not allowing us to pass. This happened in front of a hospital and they then had the audacity to accuse us of obstructing emergency vehicles when it was their cruisers that were blocking the road!! Finally the police unblocked the road so that we could pass and continue on with our rally.
We did make it to Queen's Park to finish the rally, and were met with support from CUPE Ontario who are going to pay the lawyer fees for those who were abused by uniformed police officers, and the NDP caucus who have been the only party in Ontario to fight against back-to-work legislation. We did find out that that McGuinty is supposed to be calling York administration back to the bargaining table today, in a last ditch effort to end the strike without back-to-work legislation!!
It is my hope that those who were injured by the police today video tape their injuries and send the pictures to the media, put them of facebook, and put them on youtube to show the public how Toronto police are guilty of brutality!"
Apparently, passerbys agreed. A number of construction workers joined in at the impromptu rally outside 52nd division and here's a quote from one of the articles:
"One person was grabbed and thrown to the ground," said Ted Myerscough, a research project co-ordinator, who was looking down from the ninth floor of his work building on University Avenue. "I was just outraged."
Finally, as I prepare to put this blog to bed comes news today that CUPE Local 3903 has decided not to try and challenge the back to work legislation being prepared by the Ontario government. members of Local 3903 plan to return to work on Monday. Taken in its broadest context this means that the strike has essentially been lost. There is an inevitably hard road to travel in any strike in the public sector as trike breaking legislation is an ever present possibility. rumour has it that striking transit workers in the Ottawa area are also to be legislated back to work in the near future. Molly has no quick and easy answers to this problems, though it is obvious that winning any public sector strike depends much more on winning the battle for public sympathy than a strike in the private sector does. That is where the questions should be asked. Anyways, here from the Strike Site of Local 3903 is the announcement.
JANUARY 28, 2009 , TORONTO, ON – After waiting in vain for the past critical day and a half for York University to negotiate an eleventh hour settlement, the union representing striking contract professors and teaching, graduate and research assistants says it is shifting gears and preparing for members to return to the classroom.

“It is obvious that the York administration has no desire, indeed has never intended to reach a negotiated settlement,” said CUPE 3903 spokesperson Tyler Shipley. “We have done everything in our power to stand up for the quality and accessibility of education at York in this round of negotiations but, for now, it’s time to get our students back to class. Our local has decided not to pursue a legal challenge to Premier Dalton McGuinty’s back-to-work legislation at this time.”

CUPE 3903 Chair Christina Rousseau noted that the local’s 3300 members “have fought a courageous fight against an administration who put their own narrow vision ahead of the interests of students, academic integrity, job security and workers rights.”

Shipley added, “Our members have shown tremendous determination, but they are tired of waiting for York to take the process seriously. Undergrad students are looking for some assurances. We aren’t going to let the university’s game continue. It is time for someone to take responsibility for getting campus life back to normal.”

The Liberal government should not imagine that back-to-work legislation resolves any of the key issues in the strike, particularly the reliance of universities on underpaid, contingent workers to do most classroom teaching.

“Our concerns are not going away, they are systemic and go well beyond the York campus,” noted Shipley, adding that the local will continue to address the trend to insecure teaching jobs, the need for minimum funding guarantees for graduate students, and the value of coordinated bargaining through other channels.

“These issues are still alive at York and across the province. We’ll be working with our sister locals to make sure they are addressed in ways that protect the interests of workers, students and hardworking parents who are being asked to shell out more tuition fees every year,“ said Rousseau. “Unless administrators change their priorities and the Ontario government invests in our universities, they should brace themselves for more job actions in the coming years.”
For more information, contact:
Tyler Shipley, CUPE 3903 Spokesperson, 647-295-1674
Christina Rousseau, Chair, CUPE 3903, 416-347-4502
DOWNLOAD a PDF version of this release.

Comments Off -->

No comments: