Bad ideas poorly executed

The Canadian Union of Public Employees is often known for its workplace protection and unionization efforts. Without its actions in the early 20th century, many workers would not have collective bargaining and would be unable to negotiate with businesses for better benefits. It has been a strong social justice fighter, too. CUPE protested for disability assistance and women’s rights. However, CUPE now has a big image problem and has been called too distant from the people it is supposed to represent. Anger is rising, thanks to the unpopular graduate students’ strike at York University, where many students are unable to graduate or complete their finals and get grades. And now the whole CUPE organization has came under fire due to CUPE Ontario’s resolution calling for a ban on Israeli professors from working for Ontario’s universities until they condemn the war in Gaza.

The motivation for CUPE Ontario’s resolution is understandable since it was Israel that bombed the Islamic University on Dec. 29, but despite this the proposal is an unforgiveable attack on academic freedom– forcing Israeli academics to conform to CUPE’s line if they want to teach in Ontario. Also, it will have no effect. First of all, how would CUPE take action to prevent a university from hiring Israeli professors? And would they refuse to let grad students from Israel come here?

Apart from that, the CUPE locals are charged to represent all the opinions and the diversity of the workers and students under their protection instead of forcing a political line on them. The resolution being proposed by CUPE Ontario’s University Workers Coordinating Committee doesn’t work with that.

The weapons at their disposal are strikes, negotiations and media attention and all of that is spinning down the drains, due to CUPE 3903’s strike at York University. Hundreds of teaching assistants have been on strike since Nov. 6. Fall semester finals have been canceled because no one is available to mark exams. The strike has drawn fire from the over 5,000 frustrated students who are losing summer job offers, stressing out about their leases being up before the finals, facing the possibility of classes and finals in May and possibly being forced to delay their grad school applications. The Toronto Star, pointed out that York’s TAs earned the highest wage compared to other G-13 TAs. Also, union members are not losing their salaries on the picket line, unlike other salaried staff affected by the strike who may lose more and more money as the strike continues. The union’s cries of poverty are falling on deaf ears. Yet, if CUPE 3903 is forced to their knees, it would take away from the union, causing people to view them as a weak organization interested in political power instead of protecting its own workers from exploitation.

With the York strike and the resolution against Israeli professors, both CUPE 3903 and CUPE Ontario have destroyed their credibility and respect. In the end CUPE Ontario’s University Workers Coordinating Committee are only damaging themselves by advocating actions which will erode academic freedom. Academic freedom is a sacred and necessary principle behind successful universities, where all professors and students should be welcome to share their opinion without fear of punishment or retaliation. With the proposal, CUPE Ontario is starting to sound like censors, which is not part of their job description. At York University, CUPE 3903 burned bridges with students and the public by denying thousands of students an opportunity to graduate because of their stubborn refusal to know when it is the time to start dealing. Because of these two controversies, other CUPE locals in British Columbia and Quebec, as well as CUPE National risk being associated with CUPE Ontario and CUPE 3903. Their collective insanity from the public perspective does a lot to discredit the fight to protect union workers from exploitation.