August 17, 2020 at 2:44 pm MDT #195409IanPSowdenParticipant
Thank you for taking time to answer these questions.
Student unions have the potential to play a vital role in working class organizing.
If elected, would you use the student union to lend support and solidarity to the BLM movement, indigenous struggle, student climate strikes, and labor movements?
Is the faculty at AU unionized, and if so will you work closely with them?
Finally I’m most interested to hear if any of you would coordinate with other student unions in Canada for a student strike to abolish tuition fees across the country?
All the best,
August 18, 2020 at 2:06 pm MDT #195419Natalia IwanekParticipant
Thanks so much for the great question.
I definitely agree with student unions playing a vital role in working class organizing. I am from Ontario, and our current Conservative government under Premier Doug Ford recently attempted to defund and discredit student unions in what was termed, the “Student Choice Initiative (SCI).” In the end, unionism prevailed; however, it was a difficult period. During my time living and working in Alberta, I also noticed a worrying trend of anti-union sentiment as well.
I would do everything in my power to lend support and solidarity to the various grassroots movements advocating for increased inclusivity, representation, and equity. I write a great deal about the labour movement, as well as the history of social movements, in my weekly articles for our student paper, The Voice Magazine.
While I often write from a queer, immigrant, disabled perspective, these various movements overlap and the intersections of race, class, gender, ability, and age cannot be ignored. For example, the queer rights movements cannot be separated from the work of Black and Latinx women of colour, from the trans community. The Black Lives Matter movement cannot be separated from medical racism, environmental racism, food deserts, especially as shown during this pandemic. Climate change will affect/does affect many of our most marginalized communities – and issues such as food and water shortages will only increase in the future. Canada is facing increasingly underfunded reserves and appalling conditions for migrant workers. Despite increased efforts for change, including recent Indigenization efforts in academia, so much more work needs to be done. AUSU is already doing great work, with initiatives, such as the Indigenous Representation Committee and initiatives for students with disabilities.
However, there is a fine line between solidarity and speaking for individuals/communities, it is important that BIPOC voices are at the front, as well as increasingly safe and equitable spaces within our institutions.
At AU, professional staff and academic faculty is represented by the Athabasca University Faculty Association (AUFA), and I support all forms of unions. I sense this trend against unionism in recent times; how quickly we forget all that unions have done or their continued importance.
AUSU currently coordinates with other unions throughout Canada, and it would be an absolute privilege to work with them. As for a student strike, AU’s unique position, as well as global student body and funding makes free tuition difficult to coordinate, but this is something worth considering on a provincial and federal level. This uniqueness can be used to our benefit.
That said, free tuition is available in many parts of the world, and here in Canada, it is seen as a given. Perhaps, we can work toward bargaining and seeing what can be done for students. No change has ever come from complacency. I would support increased bursaries and awards in the meantime as well.
I hope this answers your questions! Thanks again!
August 21, 2020 at 11:17 am MDT #195429Karen FletcherParticipant
I think the way unions allow people to work together to address problems is incredibly important, here in Ontario at the moment we can see the push from teachers’ unions against unsafe school re-opening plans and we can also see how those same unions are working together to suggest better ways of doing things.
There are a few different unions that represent AU staff (different unions for different groups of positions), and I would be happy to work with them. I think it’s important to approach issues collaboratively. There are sometimes issues with tutors or admin, but solutions to those problems need to be workable for everyone, and I think unions can be very helpful in these situations since a solution that’s reached with a union means the same issue shouldn’t need to be re-hashed when a different student and staff member have it. Unions can be great at solving problems, even when different groups represented by different unions are involved.
If elected I’d love to collaborate with the movements you listed. In terms of student strikes, I would want to consult with the student population before wanting to organize or move forwards on those. Strikes can be and have been instrumental in many situations in bringing needed change, but they can only happen when the people striking are doing so voluntarily. If the majority of students at AU would be opposed to striking I would want to explore other options for pushing for lower tuition. A student union (and any union) should remain focused on the needs and rights of those it serves, and I think major decisions such as strikes should happen only after consultation with the members of the union.
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