Classes resume at York’s Osgoode law school

Students are set to cross picket line


Well, there’s been rumbling about this for some time, but now they’ve finally pulled the trigger. The Senate at York University has agreed to an exemption for Osgoode Law generally, and classes will resume on Dec. 1. Note this does not mean the strike is over – simply that Osgoode will resume classes in spite of it.

Osgoode is able to resume classes because they employ almost no contract faculty (in the sense that would make them members of CUPE 3903) and do not rely on TAs. Of course the few classes that are taught by members of CUPE 3903 won’t be resuming.

All the same, CUPE has a right to picket the grounds. Speaking only for myself, I don’t think I could cross that picket line. I believe too strongly in union politics for that to happen. Apparently there’s some Senate policy or other that covers this situation and students who simply won’t cross the line. In that case students are being directed to an Assistant Dean to discuss the situation. I’m interested to know what options they’ll be offered, if any.

Of course there are many compelling stories out there about students who stand to be adversely affected by this strike. And some international students at Schulich already enjoy exceptions. As a law student myself I understand some of what’s at stake for students of Osgoode. Those in second year have real concerns about their summer employment positions. Those who are graduating this year have even greater issues with getting licensed. And yet … the very nature of a strike rests on the idea of applying pressure. That has got to include some inconvenience or else it’s meaningless.

The Osgoode student caucus recently circulated a letter to their members supporting this plan to resume classes. I suspect that support is genuine and reflects the will of most students. Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of that letter to link to, but it mostly just describes the plan as it was finally approved.

Osgoode enjoys a reputation as a progressive law school. Among close to 1,000 law students I’d expect there must be some who have qualms about crossing a picket line. I’d love to hear from some of them. I appreciate that students are under great pressure. I can even understand a considered decision to cross the line. But I want to see some indication that these students appreciate the great significance of their actions. If even Osgoode law students are dismissive of the meaning of a picket line, then who’s left to care?

I sincerely hope this issue never gets tested at all. I hope the strike is over before Monday and everyone goes back to class. I don’t necessarily agree with CUPE 3903 in their positions on this strike or think that their demands are reasonable. But I have a great respect for the right to strike and all that it implies. Like many rights, it can’t only apply to people we agree with and to causes we approve of. People died for the right to collectively bargain and the right to strike. I can’t help but feel that even if it fucks up my year a little bit, that’s a price I should be willing to pay in order to respect the history of the labour movement.

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Classes resume at York’s Osgoode law school

  1. Here we are in 2008 still clinging to the archaic activity of going on strike to increase wages and benefits. It is truly amazing how foolish we can be.

    While strikes were credited with bringing improvements to working conditions in the 1900’s, we now have legal requirements which demand health and safety requirements be met, as well as minumum wage laws and the benefit of instant mass communication noting employment opportunities and their associated benefits. The market place provides the impotus for Company’s to meet wage and benefit levels, as failure to do so results in the loss of valued employees and requisite productivity. The need for unions as originally intended no longer exists.

    Strikes leave workers unpaid until the matter is resolved. The Company loses productivity, and their place in the market. As both parties hold to their contrary positions, the ability of the company to maintain or remain in business decreases with the loss of Customers. Customers leave because of the unreliable service during the strike, as well as following the strike as remaining bitterness results in decreased quality and productivity. The unpaid worker is left looking at an employer that may be unable to offer work, if it remains in business. The only group to benefit remains the union executive. What genius thought this up?

    If one were to look at those businesses that are very successful, without unions, there may be something to be learned about keeping employees happy. Perhaps some intelligent individual will devise a more effective way to negotiate with and manage personnel!

  2. Pingback: watercooler » York Strike Update: First comes business, then comes Law

  3. To some extent, Alan, I agree that unions are not the only route towards workplace rights for employees and that not everyone needs to be unionized. But in making your points you are missing a few things.

    First, the legal rights you cite that all workers enjoy (basically stuff that comes from the Employment Standards Act) is a result of strong and organized advocacy – coming primarily from unions. Second, while employers may well keep employees happy and productive in the absence of unions, it is the very threat of potential unionization that drives them.

    At times like these it’s harder to defend the necessity for unions. Sometimes, I think, even the unions themselves become seduced by the picket line, and imagine they can’t be “real” unions unless they go on strike and screw up everyone’s lives. But be that as it may, there is absolutely a need for unions in Canada. You can’t point to the employment standards they fight for (and continue to advocate) and argue that because we have those standards we don’t need unions. You can’t point to management practices that keep employees happy without unions because the obvious alternative is the risk of unionization!

    Like many rights, labour rights sometimes lead to situations everyone would rather avoid. Even freedom of speech is problematic sometimes, when some Holocaust-denying son-of-a-bitch is hiding behind it. But there you go. You still have to defend the right even if you despise the outcome. Otherwise, we’re all the poorer for it.

  4. You write: “And yet … the very nature of a strike rests on the idea of applying pressure. That has got to include some inconvenience or else it’s meaningless.”

    The problem with that theory is that the strike is applying pressure to exactly the wrong people — the students. They’re the ones being inconvenienced, not the York administration, who in the end are the people who have to bargain. Yes yes, perhaps indirectly the students who are cooling their heels at home might email the admin and the union to pressure them to get back to the table, but that amount of pressure amounts to trying to break through the Great Wall by standing next to it and whispering. It ain’t going to change a thing.

    The York administration has our money already, and they get to hold on to it whether we’re in class or not. What incentive do they have to bargain? The exact same ones they had before CUPE went on strike and made 50,000 students stay at home.

    In terms of Osgoode students going back to school to get what they paid for, classes were cancelled by the York Senate (which makes the academic decisions — the few admnistrators who are on Senate are vastly outnumbered and outvoted by the faculty) in the interest of academic integrity and fairness to students. If the Senate Executive (which made the decision to allow students to go back, and on which no administrators have a vote, though the President and VP Academic do have a voice) decided that academic integrity wouldn’t be affected if classes resume, then why shouldn’t students cross the picket line? You can talk about the idealism of union politics all you want, but the fact is that in THIS case, the union hasn’t done a good job of convincing students why they should support CUPE’s cause.

  5. Hi Jay. You write, “in THIS case, the union hasn’t done a good job of convincing students why they should support CUPE’s cause.”

    I entirely agree with you. CUPE has done a piss-poor job making their case in this strike. Whether that’s because their position is poor and there’s no case to be made or because they are simply being swamped by stronger and more professional communication from York – well, I’ll leave that to speculation. But I do understand. Based on what’s out there it would be expecting a lot to think students should support the strike.

    That aside, I still feel the way I do about union politics. Yes, to an extent it’s idealism, but the way you say that it almost suggests there’s something wrong with ideals. It’s in hard situations like this that ideals get tested, rather than the easy ones. If it’ll add some balance to my position, I’ll say that if I would ever be tempted to cross a picket line this is a case where I might.

    As for applying pressure, you pretty much answered the point for me. Sadly, in a strike situation, it is often other people caught in the cross-fire. Imagine commuters in a transit strike, or everyone during a garbage strike, or even simply customers who want to shop somewhere and encounter a picket line in the way. The stakes vary, and in this case I acknowledge the stakes for students at York are very high. And yet, that’s simply the way the equation works. I’ve got to accept it as a consequence of union politics.

    On an unrelated note – if I were a member of CUPE local 3903 I’d probably be spitting mad at how badly this strike has been handled. It’s only a question of position. As a student, I still won’t cross a legal picket line.