This Monday, when all academic college employees across Ontario went on strike, it marked the third time in six years that a strike interrupted my education.
In 2013, my high school teachers went on strike. All extra curricular activities stopped and report cards were withheld. I could not partake in any of the school clubs or events that would normally have boosted my post-secondary application, which I sent to the University of Toronto (U of T) that year. (Thankfully, I missed a larger high school strike in 2015 that essentially shut down the rest of the school).
One year later, after making it to U of T, all teacher’s aides (TA’s) across all three U of T campuses went on strike for the majority of a semester. All tutorials were cancelled, and my grades dropped without any specific staff to answer my questions or give feedback on my work.
As a result of the U of T strike, for the rest of my life, my post-secondary transcript will include this aside:
“In March 2015, the University of Toronto was affected by a labour disruption. As a result, some students were graded on the University’s approved Credit/No Credit scale (see transcript key), rather than receiving a letter or numeric grade, for courses completed in Winter 2015. For more information, see: http://www.transcripts.utoronto.ca/guide.”
Now, my classes have been cancelled entirely. Three days into the strike, no talks have been scheduled.
Though I have no solutions to propose (and that should not be my job), these unions need to figure out how to settle labour disputes in ways that do not influence their students.
A petition calling for a tuition refund has over 50,000 signatures and skyrocketed #wepaytolearn to local fame. There is an excellently illustrative line in this petition, indicative of the overall attitude for those of us that have been disadvantaged by strike after strike:
“The purpose of a strike is to put pressure on the employer. However, as it stands, College administrations have nothing to lose… Students suffer the most, yet we are not part of the conversation. We lose learning. We lose time. We demand a refund.”
Students have had enough.
It is ironic that in the education system, these parties find it so difficult to learn from their mistakes. A strike is a last resort that is indicative of some kind of mistake within the board. When teachers aren’t teaching, a mistake has been made. One of the only benefits I can see from a strike is that it should provide a framework on how to avoid a strike in the future.
And yet, this keeps happening. And, when all these strikes are done, there seems to be no efforts towards establishing a way to prevent the next potential strike from happening.
Unions are necessary, I understand that. I am sure one day in the future, I will be grateful to be part of a union that defends my rights. But as a member of a group of relatively vulnerable people (students), unions are breaching my right to not only education, but to receive a service that I fairly paid for.
Where is our union? Where is our power? What voice do we have as paying customers? Or as human beings with a right to education?
If I may get a tad philosophical, I will touch on the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While this article undoubtedly refers to far more dire barriers to education, it is interesting to note Article 26:
“Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Yet, what respect for human rights and freedoms does the frequent denial of a paid service teach? Perhaps for the academic faculty, who are defending what they consider fair treatment. But all I am learning is how to feel like I am a pawn for bargaining. Again and again and again.
I am sick of feeling like this. I want to go to school.
By Alexa Battler
Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.