Dalhousie strike could get ugly - Macleans.ca

Dalhousie strike could get ugly

If profs walk on Saturday, it may be worse than usual

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Dalhousie photo by Robert Alfers on Flickr

It seems there is always some faculty association somewhere in Canada that is either on strike or heading towards one. Just last year, Brandon faculty came through a long and painful strike. Nearly every university has been there at one point or another.

So the news that there may be a faculty strike at Nova Scotia’s largest university on or after Saturday is not particularly surprising.

But some strikes are worse than others, and, while no one can predict the outcome with any certainty, if there is a strike at Dalhousie, it might be worse than most. Here’s why.

This is not the first time. Dalhousie faculty have been on strike four times since 1988—that’s a lot, even by university standards. Strikes are divisive and faculty members’ memories are long. That means there is likely not a reserve of good will between faculty and administration and when things come to a head, cooler heads may not prevail.

It’s already getting nasty. The Dalhousie Faculty Association’s blog just posted a letter from prof Jason Haslam (full disclosure: I’m pretty sure I went to grad school with that guy), blasting the admin for vowing to cut pay to faculty members on leave if there is a strike. When profs are accusing the Board of “forcing sick people to the line,” before the strike has even commenced, it sounds like things may get worse before they get better.

Union support may be soft. The faculty vote to strike was only 83 per cent. That’s actually not a lot considering that such a vote is only to authorize a strike if necessary. That almost one in five faculty didn’t want a strike in any circumstance suggests that there might be dissent in the ranks and that does not bode well if things get tough.

The interminable Halifax transit strike has already frayed the nerves of Haligonians. Including students. Frustrated students may be running out of patience for unions who make their lives harder—even if their cause is just.

There could be another Dal strike at the same time. Dalhousie support staff have also voted in favour of a strike. This matters because universities typically try to put a good face during a faculty strike by pointing out that the university itself remains open and that students can continue to come to campus to study, use the library, and so on. But without support workers, the university might have to close down altogether which could ratchet up tensions even more.

Money is tight. The Nova Scotia government has been cutting university funding, three per cent this year, and that’s on top of a four per cent cut last year. These cuts may lead the university to claim it can’t be flexible on the most pressing issue in this dispute, pensions, and that may lead them to draw a line in the sand.

Of course, it may never come to a strike. I hope it doesn’t. In the mean time, the union has already set up its strike headquarters.

Todd Pettigrew is an associate professor of English at Cape Breton University.

Looking for details on what a strike would mean for students? Click here.