Two Arguments on the Importance of Solidarity

Two letters arrived, in response to one that was included in yesterday’s post.

The first is from a support-staff worker currently on the picket lines:

I empathize with everyone affected adversely during this strike.  I know everyone has tough issues to deal with, myself included.

I refuse to be bullied by the powers that be because I know they will continue to erode my rights until there is nothing left.

What will you do when the college decides your job is only required part-time, or contracted out, or eliminated? Who will you turn to for help then?

Will these college saviours be so quick to provide you with a job when they can get support staff for a dime a dozen?

The second is from a prof in the GTA:

The dilemma this fellow faces is real. It would be presumptuous to dismiss his real pain. It would be a moral conceit for me, a faculty member who is also “crossing the line,” to denounce him as a “scab” or presume to condemn him morally.

At the same time, where I come from, when your union is on strike, you do not work. End of story. No excuses, no complaints. Everyone is in the fight, or the other side wins.

I will not judge this person as an individual, but I will say three things:

1. In cases of legitimate hardship, does the Union not have the means to assist? It seems to be that it does. Has this fellow even tried that route?

2. Can his wife not delay her education for a time? Yes, it’s a sacrifice, but I’ve been a union member throughout my working life, and we all have to make sacrifices. As things stand, all Support Staff are paying his way.

3. As presumptuous as it may sound, there is a matter of principle and a matter of politics at stake.

The principle is one of selfishness vs. solidarity. Putting your own needs and desires first buys into the very market model of society that the authorities endorse … and it leads to poor wages, an end to full-time employment, the end of our pensions (just you wait!), the end of Medicare as we know it, and the creation of the sort of dog-eat-dog society that is not only ethically unsustainable, but in which middle- and working-class Canadians lose even more.

The politics are simple, too. No one I know has ever gone on strike for the fun of it. It’s the last resort and one that is, in my experience, always provoked by management. Make no mistake: the employer (and its friends in the government) figured this all out in advance. They have a plan and they’re sticking to it. The alternative is to cave in (as faculty did to our everlasting humiliation in our most recent “settlement”).  So, when a strike is forced upon us and we do what we must do, Union members either stick together or we don’t. If we don’t, the employer wins by default [. . .].

In the meantime, I have no energy to rail against this fellow. What we all must do is to find a way to make college faculty aware of the situation, [and] do the necessary education and mobilization to [. . .] stand together with the Support Staff in every possible way.

So far we haven’t, and so it is just self-indulgence to label one man who says he is 100% on-side but frets about “hostility” from his brothers and sisters who are working for their collective benefit (and in the long-term interest of the colleges, the faculty and the students).

When college professors join together and really support the Support Staff, we will have earned the right to criticize individual strike-breakers. For the moment we have our own sins to atone for, our own penance to take and our own redemption to achieve.

A valid point.  And although I can’t speak to its redemptive value, I’ll be happy to pass along the address to the Strike Hardship Fund, if I can obtain it.  Maybe one of the more effective ways that we professors could show solidarity with our support-staff colleagues would be devote a portion of our current incomes to supporting their own solidarity, inter se.

As I’ve said before, I don’t really know the details or merits of the offers and counter-offers; I only know that the strikers are the people who’ve been there so consistently when I’ve needed them, and who have helped me to accomplish my own aims.  I welcome the chance to return the favour.

 

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