Teaching Assistant Union Strike: A Public Affair

There has been some talk amongst the graduate students this past week about a possible teaching assistant strike in the near future. On January 29th, there will be a vote amongst the members of CUPE 3908 Unit 2 to decide whether or not the union will move forward to bargain with the university in order to achieve their conciliation goals. These goals are mostly due to concerns of finances and working conditions for graduate workers.

So this issue caught my attention this week in particular because I noticed something interesting about the situation. As a graduate student, and a teaching assistant, I am a default member of CUPE 3908 Unit 2 – I know this because I was given a free mug at the beginning of the year with their logo on it. As such, I am automatically eligible to vote at this meeting. It doesn’t matter whether or not I did any research into the issue, or if I actually benefit from going on strike, or if I really have no interest at all – I still get my vote. Plain and simple.

As we discussed in the previous post about who makes up a public, a union consists of a roster of members who are all affected by university policy and come together to negotiate with the administration (or authority) in order to amend the policies. A union, then, is a public and operates in the pubic sphere.

So to take this discussion one step further, it got me thinking about how to classify a “union.” A union is an established public that is in place to make sure that its working members are always protected. In order to provide protection, there needs to be a more powerful, dominant public that might poses a threat to the union members. I would personally argue that the union is an example of a “counterpublic” as put forth by Michael Warner in his book Publics and Counterpublics.

What do you think? Is a union a counterpublic, or is it a different kind of public? Post your thoughts below!

About dontpanictrent

DON'T PANIC: A Trent Graduate Student Blog

2 Responses to “Teaching Assistant Union Strike: A Public Affair”

  1. I’m not sure if a union would qualify as a “counterpublic” in Warner’s terms. My understanding is that a public should be open to indefinite membership, and a union is a closed group. This single union couldn’t potentially represent everyone, only those of us who are currently working as teaching assistants.

    Although I can definitely see the resonance between what counterpublics and unions do.

    • Do you think it’s possible to have a counterpublic within a union, then? Perhaps the groups that gets together to vote on the issues versus the group that is indifferent and abstains from voting?

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