Voices from the Strike


As part of my work on Picket Parade Performance, I devised a ten-minute written script based on principles of Verbatim theatre. On the day of the re-enactment, it was recited aloud to sections of the picket line. Originally compiled from dialogue spoken or written by real CUPE 3903 members (as well as York faculty), the text offers a broad swathe of opinions and reflections on the 2015 strike. I am posting it here in the hopes of generating a critical conversation on the politics of this text. What voices does it privilege? What voices are missing? How does the juxtaposition of these voices ultimately impact their testimony? In what way do these voices speak to, complicate or contrast with your own understanding of the strike?
-Andrew Winchur

Speaker 1:

So, the picketing, we went in circles and around and around and around. So there is that force of building things in the centre. And how it unites people. Just a symbol of a circle as uniting, but walking in circles unites people, but when you’re also listening to music, or doing any kind of cultural activity, people’s brainwaves change, and they start to entrain. So just like clocks, old-fashioned clocks, start ticking together, when they’re all together, and they start to entrain, people who are dancing together, or doing art together, you know doing circles together, their brain waves start to entrain as well, so that, on a really fundamental level, is creating a cohesive community.

Speaker 2:

It felt like a lot of particularly racialized low income people are the ones that are being hit the hardest, and it felt like the people that were advocating ratification are not racialized low-income people. And the ideas of the union of them supposedly not leaving anyone behind, well you are leaving people behind… There were members that spoke about how there are not people from their communities in higher education past undergraduate, and there’s a reason for that.

Speaker 1:

Tomorrow, as some of us partake in the ordeal of a family Seder, it is important to remember the true lessons of Passover:

  1. when workers organize, even mighty Pharaoh and his feckling empire can’t stand in their way.
  2. get drunk early.

Speaker 2:

Moving into the 8th line, it was very isolating and I missed my comrades on the line. But I also knew that who I was, ensuring that people got paid for work was mandatory… So the fact that the executive decided to go on strike without a vote for membership, already silencing and marginalizing people, who are vulnerable within the system, and then they don’t get paid, you know, because the executive decided, they get to define “what is a disability.” And myself having issues with that word “disability.” I’m not disabled from living my life. I’ve coped quite well in my life. So I think this whole, homogenous component of striking erases people.

Speaker 1:

Once again an event starts after morning shift leaves for the day – requiring people to either stay longer (after being up super early in the cold) or leaving them out of any motivating actions such as rallies. I would like to suggest for the future that rallies either start at 11 or 11:30 a.m. to be more inclusive to those who daily hold the fort down in the dark, cold mornings – these people need love too!

Speaker 2:

When my friend walked into a store this past week, the clerk and a customer started sniffing around asking if either of them smelled smoke. “I think something is burning”, they said. He started to sniff too, and realized it was him they were smelling. That’s “Fire Barrel”, a new fragrance from CUPE.

Speaker 1:

Part of my issue with the strike was the shaming that went on for people who had to cross. So even for myself, as a student with disabilities, having to access services that are only available on campus, and then having that be stigmatized, by people who I’d be marching four hours in a circle with. So again, “equity.” Equity for who, and definable by who?

Speaker 2:

Some of the coolest moments have been just in walking in circles with a bunch of people. There have been some really neat conversations that have happened. I’ve made quiet a few new friends, which is pretty awesome! And I’m also enjoying the strike, the picket, you know? I think that’s an important part of it. A few of us were talking at a bar downtown, and somebody said, like, “Oh, you know, you guys are getting criticized a little bit, because you guys are playing soccer, and there’s music and you’re dancing.” And I was like, “Well, that’s the point, is that we can take the space and say, “this is how we wanna use it.” And this is what we’re doing with it.

Speaker 1:

The Rexall Center is located on campus. If we are serious about disrupting “business as usual” at York and minimizing our use of York U facilities while we are on strike, then why oh why are we using the Rexall Center? We lack legitimacy as a union when we move off of campus during a strike, but then turn around and book a space for union purposes on university grounds. We also risk losing our credibility and legitimacy with important allies like YUFA who have moved off campus during the strike and in solidarity with us.

Speaker 2:

The past few days I’ve been feeling really tired and exhausted all of the elements of the strike–picketing, internal union struggles, struggles with the univeristy–hit me. This weekend I took time to myself, rested a lot and just took care of myself. Today I feel much better, albeit nervous about the amount of traffic coming towards the pickets, and I’m really glad I listened to my body and took care. Many people involved with the strike are not doing this, you are not sleeping enough, or giving yourself a break from strike duties and organizing–I am worried about you. In this fourth week I hope we can all take a step back, check in with ourselves and make sure we are taking care. If you need support let me know, I am here for you.

Speaker 1:

I have several students who are experiencing conflicts regarding remediation (in other classes, not mine, thankfully, as I have a wonderfully supportive course director!). I keep reminding them of their rights, but it is hard to guide them in advocating for themselves when I don’t really know the process.

Speaker 2:

Who’s in the stream of precarious academic labour? I think it’s very telling, and the data not being collected is absolutely a political problem and political issue. There’s a reason that the data’s not collected. Now, in the US, the adjunct faculty, they’ve tried to organize state by state and nationally to collect this data, but I think it’s very telling that our national union organizations…have opted out of doing detailed surveys of contract academic staff, and particularly, faculty of colour.

Speaker 1:

From my foggy vantage point, it sounded as if the people with the loudest voices were heard. Literally and figuratively. You needed loud voices on the picket lines. But also I think people with loud voices push their own agenda harder, and I think my experience was affected by that. I think people thought holding up traffic into the school was an appropriate disruptor, but they didn’t care that making individual enemies is, in my opinion, unproductive and against the whole point of striking. In trying to disrupt “the system” you take away that there are individuals who are not taking into consideration why they’re disrupted – they’re just getting mad at you.


One response to “Voices from the Strike

  1. Pingback: Picket Parade Performance | Picket Parade·

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