A rally by York University students protesting the 12-week strike affecting their studies got some unexpected support from members of the provincial government.
Standing in front of Queen’s Park on Jan. 28, the group of 100 students braved a snowstorm and huddled together not only for warmth, but also to listen.
The rally was an open microphone event where students could voice their frustrations about the strike. Yet the students weren’t the only ones with something to say, as Member of Provincial Parliament Peter Shurman and Lisa MacLeod joined them at the microphone.
“The first thing I’ve got to say is congratulations to all of you for enduring this for 12 awful long weeks. You guys are amazing,” Shurman said. “The learning experience here is that collective bargaining, while a legitimate aspect of the existence of labour and management, has to have a victim and I’m looking at a couple hundred of them right now.”
Lisa MacLeod joined the students and relayed a message from Ottawa that was serious in content but ended up getting laughs from the students.
“You were all on our minds yesterday,” MacLeod said. “When we were at the federal budget (we were) thinking about how we want students working this summer and not going to class so you can finish your degree and be great taxpayers for the government.”
Despite the political undertones, the event was all about students voicing their opinions about their situation. York student Fil McCollum took to the microphone to let loose his frustrations.
“Now this group has always stayed in a position of neutrality towards the negotiations,” McCollum said. “But I am not neutral in the petty politics and the lies and disrespect from the game players. I will not be collateral damage in the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) labour movement. I will not be a statistic of Yorks PR. I will not let a sham like the York Federation of Students (YFS) speak for me. I will not be a pawn for McGuinty’s re-election campaign and I will not be silent and understanding of the New Democrat Party’s stalling tactics.”
“It’s time we each tell CUPE, the YFS, York (University) and the parliament that I am a human being, goddammit, and my life has value,” McCollum said.
The York students weren’t the only group rallying on the front lawn of Queen’s Park yesterday. A few hundred feet away, a group of York teaching assistants walked the picket line in support of their cause.
Jamie Smith, a member of CUPE 3902, voiced his feelings about what was happening.
“When education is well funded, that helps everyone including students,” Smith said. “So when we go back with worse benefits and a worse deal, I don’t see how that’s going to help them. They (the students) should be angry at York for not bargaining in good faith and for extending the strike for so long.”