Sunday, January 18, 2009

CUPE 3903 Gets A Boost From Margaret Atwood's Miata

Folks outside of Toronto won't know this, but CUPE 3903--the union that represents York University's graduate assistants and contract faculty--has been on strike since November. I think the exact date is 6 November 2008, but that's not important. I'm just grounding this story so you can appreciate the next part. The meat.

Anyway, 3903's been out for a few months, and students and parents and elected officials are starting to sweat the possibility that this academic year may be cancelled. The first semester's assignments and final exams haven't been marked or sat, and the second semester's already three weeks old. Couple those facts with the reality that 3903 and the university are bargaining with the skill and motivation of an Alice Munro dye job, and it looks grim. It just doesn't seem like a deal's going to get done.

So external parties are trying to expedite a solution. They're putting pressure on 3903 to vote on York's offer; they're putting pressure on 3903 to accept York's offer. Is it a good offer? Well, let's take a quick, objective look at it. The salaries of Ontario's professors--all of Ontario's professors--can be found via this link. You'll notice that $100,000 is almost a base salary for tenured profs. Contract faculty? Well, they're not listed. But, roughly speaking, they make enough to walk to the local food bank.

Should tenured professors make more than graduate students? Of course they should. But should graduate students have the opportunity to become tenured professors? Damm right. David Chariandy was just hired by SFU, and that was after a Giller nomination. So what're other contract faculty supposed to do? Play in the sandbox with Bob Rae's children? A friend at York told me, "For a tenure-track job, I'd channel a Cruel Intentions-era Sarah Michelle Gellar and give Bob the old 'anywhere-you-want' speech. It wouldn't be so bad; Gowdy says his cock's not that big, and he dips it in honey, first."

So what else could you do? Cook Jack Rabinovitch dinner, then spend hours re-assuring him that Mordecai Richler really was his friend. Didn't hate him. Would've come over even if he didn't have the good Strub's pickles?

I think York's English department's doled out three tenure-track jobs in the last ten years. Sure, people with PhDs have been teaching at York during that time. They've just been making fifteen-twenty grand. Looking at York's course calendar, it seems that more than a few tenured profs are making their nut teaching one, two, or three classes. And some of those are graduate seminars. I guess the only thing they can tell their students is be good, smile, be polite, and maybe in twenty-five years you'll make a living, too.

Back to Atwood.

So they're pressuring 3903 to take this deal. Atwood doesn't like that; doesn't like that at all. Marg is a great supporter of the working man--just last year she bought a hot dog on Queen West. And whenever's there's a worthwhile social cause being prosecuted, she's out there lending her voice. Last week she was down on the York picket lines, handing out coffee, passing out donuts, chopping wood for those oil-drum fires. "It's awful," she said, shivering, "just awful. Fucking universities. They teach my books. But never the long ones. Like it would fucking kill them to put Alias Grace on a reading list?"

This went on for about forty-five minutes. Atwood complained about the establishment, about Emma Richler's new nose, about Thomas Wolfe's watch (which she'd bought, but which couldn't keep good time). Then she complained about Entenman's (Why can't you buy the donuts here?), about Kraft Dinner (There's never enough cheese in the packet), and rice wine (Where do they get the sugar?). Finally it was time to go--the Big G was calling on her iPhone--and she waved a royal goodbye to the crowd.

But her car wouldn't start. Her Miata--her new Miata--had conked out in the parking lot. It was cold, and the engine wouldn't turn over. There was no question that she needed a boost. And so a striker walked to the parking lot, waved down a guy in a Nissan Sentra, and got him to jump Atwood's car. She screamed, "Don't cross the wires." And, of course, no one did. The car was running within thirty seconds, and Atwood was off down Steeles.

Where did she go? It's fun to imagine, isn't it? She went to buy a bikini. She had to get a birthday present for Naim Kattan. She went to a pottery class. She made her own wine. She was late for lunch with Christie Blatchford. Tomson Highway bought her a Coke. Frank Davey had a bit of a chest cold, and she drove to London to blow out his furnace's pilot light. Jacob Richler licked her toes.

So, on an otherwise shitty day, the Atwood visit buoyed our spirits.

1 comment:

OCAP said...

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty stands behind the striking CUPE 3903 workers until the bitter end, just as you have supported us morally and financially for more than a decade.

And if the province were to force back to work legislation I hope CUPE 3903 would not follow such undemocratic laws.

 
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