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While representatives of more than 70,000 university workers from across Canada and Quebec met in Montreal to discuss issues of significance - including privatization and bargaining- teaching assistants from McMaster University in Hamilton were giving their bargaining committee an 81% strike vote. The 200 delegates attending the first-ever national conference on the state of Canada’s universities expressed enthusiastic support for the McMaster action and promised to seek financial solidarity from their members.

The October 12-14 conference featured French keynote speaker Bruno Julliard, Elaine Bernard of Harvard University,. Erika Shaker of the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives to name a few.

I’m proud of the effort and good work coming out of CUPE’s first national conference on issues affecting university students and workers,” said Paul Moist at the conclusion of the conference.

The conference was opened by National Secretary Treasurer Claude Genereux on Thursday night, and featured French Student Leader Bruno Julliard. Julliard kicked off the conference by telling how the success of the French student experience relied on working with faculty, salaried workers on campus, and workers in the community. Brother Julliard spoke of the need to work together and build alliances.

Bargaining and organizing in the university sector were the themes for Saturday’s sessions. The morning panel, moderated by University of Victoria’s featured stories from bargaining in BC, Ontario and Quebec. Panellists Connie Credico, Janice Folk-Dawson and Michel Ducharme respectively, presented examples from recent and current bargaining experiences. In the afternoon well-known Canadian labour activist and Harvard University professor Elaine Bernard joined Patricia Chong from local 3906 at McMaster University to talk about the importance of aggressive organizing and the serious challenges facing university workers in the world of privatized universities.

At the end of Friday’s proceedings an informal caucus of academic workers met to exchange views on the need for improvements to strategies for communicating with academic workers.

On Saturday morning the CCPA’s Erica Shaker presented on the sorry state of university funding in Canada. Shaker’s presentation was balanced by more positive though still worrisome news on the funding situation in Quebec.

The morning wrapped up with a Town Hall meeting on the privatization and corporatization in post-secondary education throughout North America. Moderated by Morna Ballantyne, currently on leave from CUPE, a panel including Joel Westheimer an expatriate American currently teaching at the University of Ottawa, Erika Shaker and Steve Storch from CUPE Local 3799, University of Northern British Columbia started the morning’s lively discussion with stories from their own experiences and research.

The conference wrap-up included many recommendations regarding coordinated bargaining and organizing. Some of these will be followed up at the national convention, in October 2007, other recommendations will be acted upon as delegates return to their home provinces.