Many hands make the deal work: reflections on the VIUFA strike

When members of the Vancouver Island University Faculty Association voted 296 to 31 to accept the terms of a proposed memorandum that would settle their four week strike, the attention of those at the Bowen Park Auditorium was focused at the front of the room, and for good reason. The VIUFA Bargaining Committee had just spent close to three hours explaining the details of the proposed settlement that would see students returning to the University starting April 11. The Committee was, after all, the voice of members at the bargaining table and in the community. The proposed settlement represented a critical turning point in the strike and membership ratification meetings can be a tough moment for everyone, rank and file members as well as the Local Union Bargaining Committee.

When the ratification results were announced, the cheer that went up throughout the Auditorium was a reminder to everyone that while strikes are never easy, they are a testament to the one thing that makes every union strong and that’s solidarity. The VIU strike was no different in that regard, but it is important to remember all of the elements of solidarity that made that ratification vote possible and positive.

Without question the Bargaining Committee played a central role. They crafted a set of demands based on member input. They pressed their case with the local administration throughout the last many months and, ultimately, it was the Bargaining Committee that concluded strike action was the only way to force their employer to compromise. However, every strike has many moving parts and the picket lines at VIU were no exception. Two other unions, the BC Government and Services Employees Union and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, had certifications at the campus and their solidarity with the striking faculty members was critical.

So too was the support of the local student union at VIU. Their support made it more difficult for the employer to try and split our ranks and erode our resolve for a fair settlement.

Just as critical was the support that VIUFA members received from FPSE. Our locals from across the province gathered in Nanaimo in late March to demonstrate that support in a rally that brought together other faculty associations, union leaders, both provincial and national, community groups as well as provincial and federal politicians. FPSE also provided direct assistance through our Defense Fund. Through our national organization, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), we were able to mobilize support from across the country as well.

In the last forty-eight hours of this dispute, the support of the broader labour movement, specifically the BC Federation of Labour and its President Jim Sinclair, provided important momentum to secure a settlement. Working together with the BC Fed, FPSE was able to make the case to the provincial government that without some compromise from the VIU administration, this dispute could not be settled. That pressure, along with the resolve of the Bargaining Committee, the solidarity of BCGEU and CUPE, and the support from students and the community made a huge difference to the final outcome.

Many hands made this settlement possible. Joining them together is something we all do very well.

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.