Menzies: The longer the picket, the shorter the strike

by Stephen Petrina on October 30, 2012

Photo by Kai Jacobson

Right now, teaching assistants at UBC are gearing up for a strike. They have been patient in their negotiations to a fault. But now they’ve served strike notice and the picket signs are being made ready. Expect picket lines outside your classroom soon.

Teaching assistants are a key part of a great education. In a gigantic lecture hall, it’s more likely the TA, not the prof, that a student gets to meet on a regular basis. The TAs lead discussion groups, hold office hours and meet with students. I know: I’ve been a TA and I teach a course with four TAs. The TAs who have worked with me over the years have all been dedicated, hardworking teachers and scholars. They do this without very much pay and oftentimes do more then they are expected to.

The TA union is concerned that their action will have an impact on students, staff and faculty. I am sure it will. But every important social justice win has required some small amount of sacrifice. The TAs struggle is really a struggle over the type of education system we have and want. Do we want a system that only those with the money to pay can attend? Or do we want an education system that is available to those who have the capacity and desire to learn?

Most graduate students are only able to afford their graduate studies because they get a chance to have a teaching assistantship. It doesn’t pay much, but it makes the difference and opens the doors to a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to take a post-graduate degree. My own graduate study was funded in large part by being able to work as a teaching assistant and a research assistant during my two post-graduate degrees. Without that kind of funding, I wouldn’t have been able to continue my studies. That’s the case with many of the teaching assistants here at UBC as well. When it comes down to it, TAs aren’t really asking for much — just the chance to have a fair contract that values the hard work that they do.

We can quietly sit by and hope that nothing happens, or we can actively support the teaching assistants in their struggle for a just settlement. Of course, UBC admins will remind us that we have a responsibility to do our normal jobs even if there is a strike. The tone of these reminders may even, at times, come across as vaguely threatening. Don’t be cowed. There is strength in numbers.

I, like many other faculty, will be honouring the TAs picket lines and making sure that no student, no colleague, no TA will be discriminated against because they have the courage to stand up for social justice. Remember — the longer the picket line, the shorter the strike.

Charles Menzies is an associate professor in the department of anthropology.

Ubyssey, 29 October 2012

{ 1 comment }

menzies 10.30.12 at 9:32 am

More like this on my blog:

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