CUPE members recently participated in two important conferences on the future of unionized academic workers. The first conference, held August 2-4 in Vancouver, was put together by the Coalition of Graduate Employees’ Union (CGEU) to brainstorm next steps and advance the causes of graduate employees across the United States and Canada. CUPE and BCGEU academic and support staff unions participated in the conference and contributed to discussions about building campus solidarity in bargaining and political action.
CUPE 2278, graduate employees at the University of British Columbia, co-hosted the conference with the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU),who represent graduate employees at Simon Fraser University. Workshops were held on organizing, bargaining, job action, coalition building, local union democracy, and social media.
The plenary panels included presentations on the current political and bargaining climate in B.C. Adrienne Smith, past president of CUPE 2278, presented on the power of democracy and organizing leading to a successful strike at UBC in 2003. Activists from Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Oregon, and California offered presentations onorganizing and the recent experiences of unionized graduate employees in the U.S..
Both the CGEU conference and the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labour (COCAL) conference, held August 9-12 in Mexico City, featured powerful presentations from the Coalition large de l’ASSÉ (CLASSE), one of the three main student groups leading the Quebec student movement to stop the province’s tuition fee hike. The movement spread quickly, gaining support from unions and social justice activists across Quebec and Canada.
The COCAL conference was co-hosted by the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (STUNAM) and the Asociacion Autónoma del Personal Académico de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (AAPAUNAM). This was the first time these organizations have hosted the annual COCAL conference, and by all accounts they did a tremendous job. Contingent faculty activists and representatives from across North America participated in presentations and plenary sessions, presented and interpreted in English, French, and Spanish.
Plenary sessions at COCAL covered changes in academic labour in the context of neoliberal globalization, organization and new forms of struggle by academic workers, and the culture and identity of the new academic citizens in North America and the world.
Natalie Sharpe and Dougal MacDonald from CUPE 3911, Athabasca University (AU),gave a compelling presentation on the deskilling of academic labour at AU, where management announced a plan to eliminate the tutor-learner model by shifting courses to a business-based call centre model.