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Our Statement

Posted on Saturday, March 28, 2015 in General

We are an ad-hoc caucus of racialized peoples who are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 (CUPE 3903). As Indigenous people, Black people and people of colour, we confront racial and colonial violences everyday as they disseminate from and are maintained by white supremacist, capitalist, colonial, ableist and heteropatriarchal power structures that shape CUPE 3903.

As the local fights precarity and neoliberalism embedded within the academic industrial complex, we want to highlight how these structures work in tandem with racial and colonial violences, profoundly affecting colonized, racialized and non-normative peoples. We say this to complicate these understandings of capitalism and neoliberalism through critical race and gender analyses, recognising that Unit 2 members in particular fight these same struggles at large.

Violences of settler colonialism, anti-black racism, Islamophobia, and state maintained practices of racial exclusion are all factors that produce racial hierarchies in the broader Canadian society, and the local and we as racialized members are complicit in these structures. We also emphasize how the citizenship/status binaries of domestic vs international are created and maintained by Canada, York and CUPE 3903 to marginalize racialized and international students.

We write this statement challenging the current organizing and state of our union in the midst of a strike, but also resisting these broader structures of racism and colonialism that shape our local. While the BIPOC caucus are members of 3903 and are active in the strike, we maintain autonomy outside the local. Our critiques and actions as an ad-hoc caucus are not meant to validate the local as anti-racist and decolonized. We are not the tokens for the local. Rather we seek to create safer spaces for ourselves, from where we can resist structures of racial, colonial and gender violences within the union, from the employer, as well as beyond.

Instances of racism in the union have continued to manifest throughout the strike – which types of labour and politics get recognized as valid and “radical”, how power and duties are shared (and not shared) on the picket lines, the ways GMMs and other union meetings function, use of racist language, cultural appropriation of music on the picket lines, how some members are so comfortable interacting with and relying on the police – mimicking the employer’s logic of ‘safety’ through increased securitization of the campus which makes it an ever more violent space for racialized people; how Canadian-ness and patriotism is employed in these spaces (including the pride maple flag), and many other forms. We have also experienced being silenced and/or devalued in discussions and having our concerns trivialized at SGMMs and in the way bargaining demands have been pitched to the membership. Such incidents are not isolated but are part of a long standing problem in CUPE 3903 in which issues of race and racism are not taken seriously in our local, but rather addressed in tokenistic ways that maintain white heteropatriarchal supremacy. We also strongly condemn the ways in which the current Executive uses anti-racist and equity language to silence or divert questions of democracy, accountability and responsibility to the membership.

Tuition Indexation

We see the demands for tuition indexation and minimum guarantee for Unit 3 as central to concerns about race and equitable access to education. While York prides itself on the ‘diversity’ of our undergraduate students, a majority of whom are increasingly racialized, gendered, disabled, queer, and trans, this diversity is much less evident in the graduate classrooms. Tuition indexation and minimum guarantees are essential for graduate education to be possible and accessible for these very students from marginalized communities. Further, we must remember that tuition indexation is part of the broader struggles for free and accessible public education which students are fighting for within Canada and globally.

We must also keep in mind that the interpretation of the language around tuition indexation in previous collective agreements has already adversely affected international students. Often the rhetoric surrounding the issue of international student tuition fee hikes has consistently avoided addressing the racial aspect of the problem. We are concerned that there is a tendency within the membership to fall into an ‘us vs them’ mentality when it comes to concessions and international students. Accessible education is also about providing affordable education to international students coming from the global south who, as a result of colonialism and imperialism, have sought education in white settler colonial countries like Canada in order to improve their quality of life at home. There is a common depiction of international students as wealthy and privileged, devoid of the very real context in which students might come to study in Canada. The increases in international students’ tuition by $7,000 is in essence an issue of shutting out those who are increasingly finding their education, visas and present/future livelihoods to be inaccessible. Without a reversal in international student tuition fees, any gains achieved in bargaining are effectively off the backs of international students.

LGBTQ Language

We as trans, queer folks and allies critically support the inclusion of LGBTQ as an employment equity seeking group in our contracts, even as we are conscious of its material consequences. Specifically, we believe that this may work to maintain hegemonic cis-whiteness in the union and the university by privileging white cis queers’ access to this “equity”. We ask for a more thorough examination of the proposal which centers trans, two spirit, genderqueer, racialized, disabled and non-normative bodies by clearly including these identities as part of the union’s ‘intersectional approach’. As such, in addition to bargaining, we call for our local to do the necessary work of challenging white cis-heteropatriarchy that systemically operates and, in fact thrives, within the union itself.

We remain wary of how our local presents itself as a uniquely progressive advocate for queer rights while we have yet, as a union, to create safer spaces for our trans, queer, and women members as well as those with disabilities and/or concerns with accessibility. Moreover, in critical acknowledgement of the ways employment equity continues to be strategically operationalized by the employer, we ask the union to push for higher standards of equity hiring practices that unflinchingly recognize the structures and concerns that we have named here.

Sexism and Sexual Violence

While escalating aggressions on the picket lines remains a serious safety concern, we also challenge the violences internal to the union. These include the everyday and continual commodification and objectification of women and trans members’ bodies, as employed within the union at large, and specifically for the sake of union strike propaganda and white male sociability. In conjunction with these issues, we are concerned by the inadequate way both the local and the university are responding to the recent rape of one of our union members by an ex-exec member. We strongly condemn sexual violence and assert the need for a clear, just and transparent process that supports survivors, protects them from further victimization by their abusers and takes a proactive approach to preventing further acts of sexual assault.
The intersection of race and sexual violence is a fraught space with a complex history and material realities, within which we recognize that racialized women and trans people are impacted by sexual violences and its consequences to more devastating, systemic levels than experienced by white bodies. At the same time, we reject the mobilization of anti-racist language to protect enactors of sexual violence from taking responsibility for their actions.

8th Line Duties

Questions of accessibility have been ignored by the union, as we have all seen in the distress around the coordination, assignment and acknowledgment of the 8th line duties. At the cost of their own health and accessibility needs, coordinators of the 8th line committee have worked 14-hour days to get some semblance of structure and to ensure that members receive strike pay. We say this here by way of demanding that this labour, otherwise hidden away behind computers and inside private homes, does not continue to be ignored and devalued. The dismaying ableism embedded in the union’s functioning–which now particularly appears in the failure to prioritise non-picket strike tasks–is part of the sole valuing of able-bodied labour deeply entrenched within racial and capitalist logics.

We cannot be fighting for “labour rights” without recognizing that this struggle is a disability issue. Precarity is a disability issue. Poverty is a disability issue. And disability is always enmeshed in intersections of gender, class, race, and sexuality; and the precarity and disability of women, racialised and queer members is often rendered invisible. CUPE 3903 as a union must uphold its commitments to equality by fighting for the recognition of the 8th line as equal participants in the strike, and the membership must fully support those on the 8th line and its coordination to make solidarity meaningful.

As active members who are committed to the struggles of this union, we want to ensure that conversations on race and racism are not being left behind. In the coming days we will be organizing actions and will be reaching out to our fellow members in order to build a strong presence within the union and to ensure that the membership knows what is at stake with this current round of bargaining and beyond. We call all self-identified Indigenous, Black and People of Colour members to join the caucus. You can email us at 3903poccaucus@gmail.com.

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