The over 12,000 striking Ontario college faculty, members of OPSEU, have made it clear that they want a change of direction in the colleges to stop the increasing use of contract faculty, that is, faculty without stable full-time work. The ratio of contract teachers to full-time staff is 70/30, a ratio that is injurious to teachers and students. The OPSEU members’ demands would limit the expansion of the trend towards precarious contract work and make inroads to reverse it.
The OPSEU members, who have been on strike since October 21, also demand mechanisms for faculty and students to have a greater say over their institutions so that the quality of education can be defended and enriched. Education workers must have a say and control over their working conditions and terms of employment, over the curricula, the functioning of their educational workplace, the terms of their employment including wages and such matters as the proper ratio of full-time to part-time faculty.
These demands require an increased investment in the education system by provincial and federal governments. This goes against the neo-liberal trend of first claiming “there is no more money” for teaching and learning and then restructuring education and other existing social programs to more effectively pay the big corporations, the “benefits” of which are then supposed to magically "trickle down" to the people.
College administrators are increasingly using precarious employment arrangements to depress educator’s wages and free up funds to hand over to corporations. These arrangements include four-month contracts, low wages, and no benefits. Instead, increased funds for education should go towards improving the working conditions of college faculty and the system’s assets, which are essentially their students' learning conditions. College faculty’s just demands include job security and salaries, benefits, and pensions commensurate with the vital work faculty do.
The attacks on college faculty ignore that increased investments in education are crucial for a modern economy and society. Education is not a cost. Education is a socially-produced value that educated workers reproduce through their work of teaching, research, and service. The modern economy cannot function without education workers who enable other workers to acquire the specialized capacities that the society requires.
The Ontario college administrators say they need part-time educators to provide "flexibility" from one semester to the next. Over the years, many educators have been made “permanently temporary”. Again, this is in order to quickly service the demands of the large monopolies for particular skills. The big companies demand well-trained graduates to serve their narrow private interests rather than Canadian nation-building. The monopolies designed the college system to service their demand for trained employees without having to pay for that training. Their representatives sit on many PSE boards.
The diversion of public funds away from colleges to pay the rich in other sectors is being carried out on the backs of the sons and daughters of the working people and their families who are forced to pay higher and higher tuition and other forms of user fees to make up for the lack of state investments in post-secondary education. Average graduate student debt hovers around $25,000. These youth and their families are deliberately placed into a subservient relationship with the banks that profit from their indebtedness through interest paid either by governments or the youth and their families. Yet, in many other countries, post-secondary education is free to all.
The Ontario college faculty and the students are saying a resounding No! to decreased investments in education, to fraudulent negotiations in which the education workers are forced to choose their poison. Their No! upholds the right of all to a modern education to all within a system organized to meet the needs of the people, the economy and nation-building. Their No! upholds the right of those who provide the services society relies upon for its existence to have a say over those services, how much should be invested in them, how they are delivered, and for whom.
(For more information, visit https://opseu.org/college-faculty-strike-information-2017)