Each day that the labour dispute continues, it seems to set another UNB first: the first time that UNB has had a strike, the first time private security was brought in to patrol the campus, the first time an entire semester has been in jeopardy. Though perhaps the most memorable part of this strike is the complete inaction of students.
Aside from the occasional and small groups of students who have joined professors on the picket lines or one of the recent demonstrations, student movements have been noticeably absent. Compared to the recent mass student demonstrations in Vancouver or Montreal, UNB’s student body seems to be suffering from a severe case of inertia. Senior citizens with a facebook account have more life than we do.
How much do you think the administration pays the university each semester? How much do you think the professors do? I can’t say for certain but I’m guessing that it is right around fuck all. Our tuition is a major source of the university’s financial intake, and it is the university’s finances that are at issue here.
At family dinners, whenever my brother and I would fight over the last pork chop, my mother would simply reach across the table and eat the pork chop herself. Do you know why she could do this? Because she paid for the goddamn pork chop! Soon enough, my brother and I stopped fighting over meat and would just split it because doing that was a lot better than having none at all. (And for a while my mother was putting on serious weight.)
Since it is our money that will decide whether it is the union or the administration that walks away the winner, we have the power to decide on what terms the strike ends.
The longer the strike continues, the more important public opinion becomes as the more likely the province is to enact back-to-work legislation. The most important voice within the public is the student body’s.
Anybody who reads the administration’s website’s analysis of the strike and then goes on to read the union’s realizes that the two sides are unable agree on a single thing. It’s a marvel that they’ve both chosen to use the Latin alphabet. The public will listen to us because we are the objective third party. Ironically, this is probably the most power any of us will have at effecting real change at this university within our academic lives.
We can either weigh in heavily, decisively swaying favour from one side to the other, establishing the student body as something to be respected and consulted on university affairs, a legacy that will last far after the strike is finished. Or we can sit this one out, and maybe watch some Friends reruns.
Despite the apparent apathy of students, the university does still recognize the power that students have when we are able to act as a singular entity. On Jan. 3, UNB’s Student Union announced that it was encouraging students to withhold their tuition payments in an effort to send a message to both the administration and the union that students “want a new collective agreement, [and to] continue our studies uninterrupted.”
In response, the university has agreed that the tuition deadline will be postponed “indefinitely,” temporarily parting ways with tuition late fees. This is no small victory. Getting this university to overlook a fee with which they can charge a student is on par with healing a leper: a miracle.
You know the improv game that beginner drama students play, where they pass around something like a spatula, all taking turns at making it into a different object? Jenny puts it up to her eye and says it’s a telescope. Devon holds it like a bat and says it’s a bat. (Real original, Devon.)
We are that spatula! The only difference is that the spatula actually has a class to go to. The administration and the teacher’s union keep passing us back and forth saying “Students think this.” “No Devon, you fool! Students think this.”
In this strike, both sides are claiming that the general student body is empathetic to their cause. Obviously, one side has to be lying. Let’s find out which side that is.