The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) extends its full support to the 12,000 college faculty, members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), who are on strike at Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAATs) across the province.

The strike began on October 16, after the College Employer Council (CEC) rejected a streamlined final offer from the union and walked away from the table. The offer, described by the union as “bare minimum we need to ensure quality education for students and treat contract faculty fairly,” included non-monetary proposals such as stronger recognition of academic freedom, improved seniority provisions, and longer notice periods for teaching contracts and work assignments.

The key demand in the union’s offer is for a 50:50 ratio of full-time to non-full-time faculty. This is a response to the colleges’ increasing reliance on part-time and contract teaching positions. Between 2004 and 2016 part-time college faculty increased by a huge 45%, while full-time faculty only increased by 15%. Currently, part-time and precariously employed faculty now outnumber full-time faculty by almost three times.

Focused on the demand for a 50:50 ratio, the strike is also about the faculty’s desire to enhance the quality of education they provide to students. The union members are keenly aware that the growth of precarious employment directly erodes the ability of faculty to properly prepare and present courses.

The backdrop to this strike is the growth of corporate and privatized labour practices at CAATs. This is a trend that we see is many other public services and institutions including public schools, health care and hospitals, public housing, and public transit. The college faculty and their union correctly understand these practices to be a threat to public education at the post-secondary level.

One of the underlying issues to this dispute is the provincial government’s underfunding of CAATs. Over the past decade public colleges have significantly expanded their mandates, and are now offering bachelor degrees and some post-graduate programs. Over the same period, however, provincial funding to CAATs has dropped by nearly 20%, and continues to fall. Ontario ranks tenth out of ten provinces when it comes to college funding on a per-student basis: across Canada, average provincial funding was $10,000 per student in 2014, but Ontario’s funding in that year was less than $6000 per student. At a time when the average provincial inflation rate is around 1.5%, the government has only committed to increase college funding by 0.2 per cent for the 2017-18 year, and has provided no increase for 2018/19.

The pressure from underfunding has led colleges to make up the difference through increased student fees (both tuition and ancillary) and increasingly precarious employment conditions for faculty. However, instead of standing up for public education at the college level and demanding adequate funding, the CEC has used government underfunding as an excuse to increase precarious employment for faculty, pursue different forms of privatization, and diminish education for 300,000 college students in Ontario.

The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) salutes the unity and solidarity of Ontario’s college faculty, who turned out in high numbers to deliver a strong strike mandate. We also applaud the labour and community organizations around Ontario who have rapid mobilized in support of the faculty. The CPC(O) will continue our active solidarity with Ontario’s college faculty, until this struggle is won.

The Communist Party demands:

  • The College Employer Council immediately return to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair contract offer based on the comprehensive proposals from Ontario’s college faculty, members of OPSEU;
  • The Provincial government immediately increase the provincial grant to Ontario Colleges so that the faculty can provide the quality education the students deserve;
  • An immediate halt to the provincial government’s privatization strategy, that targets public institutions and assets including post secondary education and public schools;
  • Progressive tax reform and the reversal of two decades of corporate tax cuts that currently total $18 billion in lost revenue each year in Ontario, revenue that is needed to adequately fund public services and institutions.

Provincial Executive Committee, Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) ~ October 19, 2017