Solidarity Forever – the Union Makes us Strong

by Errol Black

The evening of Friday November 25, 2011, the BUFA Bargaining Team at Brandon University issued a terse statement to members declaring that their 45 day strike at Brandon University was over:  

A tentative agreement has been reached between BUFA and the Employer after 10.5 hours of intensive negotiations today. Details of the agreement remain confidential pending a ratification vote….With the tentative agreement, the strike ends tonight at 11.59 p.m. There will be no picketing tomorrow. Classes will resume at 6:00 p.m. on Monday.

The statement concluded with an acknowledgement of the tremendous courage, commitment and solidarity of BUFA members “You won this, guys! Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

BUFA went on strike October 12, when it became clear that the Employer, Brandon University Administration, and an anti-union labour lawyer hired by the administration were not prepared to engage in serious negotiations to get a new collective agreement. BUFA had no choice. A strike vote was taken. Seventy per cent voted for strike action. The University Administration and their lawyer interpreted this as a sign of weakness and invited faculty members to cross the picket line and return to work. Less than a handful took the President up on her offer to come back (and these were people who had already turned their backs on their colleagues).

In subsequent weeks, the collective bargaining process moved through conciliation and mediation without resolve. All the while, the union asserted that the University refused to bargain. The University Administration and their lawyer said they couldn’t bargain on wages because of a government mandated restriction on what they pay and called for binding arbitration.

All the while BUFA Union was not only dealing with an Employer dedicated to undermining the union and one of the most expensive anti-union lawyers in the country, who apparently believed that he could break the strike and ultimately the union, but also an increasingly hostile public and sustained hostility from The Brandon Sun.

However, BUFA was not completely isolated. They were supported by other campus unions, the Brandon and District Labour Council, the Brandon University Students Union, many alumni, and, faculty union brothers and sisters in CAUT affiliated universities across the country who showed up every week to demonstrate their recognition of the issues involved in this strike.

The Manitoba government intervened on November 21, to order a vote on the employers last offer, with an apparent intention to force compulsory arbitration if the vote failed. Votes were scheduled for next week.

However, faced with these conditions, the University Administration and BUFA resumed bargaining on November 25. The outcome of this day of bargaining confirmed what the BUFA executive and bargaining team had been saying all along, namely, that they could obtain a new collective agreement if the University would engage in serious negotiations.

The outcome also confirmed what most of the people on the BUFA picket line understood from the outset: collective action based on principles, commitment and solidarity will prevail.

There are lessons for all of us coming out of this strike. We will try and clarify what these lessons are in future PolicyFix posts and in CCPA – Manitoba publications.

Errol Black is a CCPA Manitoba board member

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