The Other Side of the Line
Christina Chrysler – InSolidarity, Local 417
I was a relative union newbie in 2017 when college faculty across Ontario voted to strike. I was a contract employee, forced into ‘precarious’ work; one of the key issues on the table. In fact, I didn’t have just one contract. I had five separate contracts so my employer could avoid awarding me a full-time position. I considered myself lucky.
Now full-time, and once again facing a forced offer vote, I find myself reflecting on my strike experience.
When the announcement was made that we would go on strike in 2017, there was a feeling of apprehension but also an overall expectation that things would be okay. We’d never been on strike for long, apparently. Unfortunately, it turned out to be one of the longest strikes in our history, lasting from October 16 to November 21.
I didn’t want to be on strike. As a single mother with no job security, I couldn’t afford to be either. My contracts outside of union protection were both a blessing and a curse. These contracts meant that I still had some income in addition to strike pay, but it also meant I had to cross my own picket line. I had to picket the same hours as full-time employees and then still work my other contracts. I wasn’t alone in this, many people worked other jobs. It was stressful and we were exhausted. However, while the experience was at times unpleasant, wet, and cold, some really amazing things happened too.
We discovered that we had been working in silos. Suddenly, we were all in one place and we were talking. We commiserated and supported each other and, in so doing, relationships were formed. We didn’t just talk about what we were doing in the classroom, we were learning from each other ways to do our jobs better. People put their skills to use, producing infographics and communicating between our campuses. Students were visiting and we were forming more meaningful relationships with them. Businesses donated food and other unions and locals joined us on the line as we walked in the cold. A community was forming.
We took turns bringing hot lunches to share, some members developed ‘play-lists’ to keep morale up, and our campus ran a ‘strike-pool’ (which I won and donated to the Student Emergency Relief Fund). Between the laughter there were threats, assaults, and a lot of name calling toward us, but the community we formed made it somehow bearable.
I entered into the strike frustrated, resistant, and even a little resentful of what I felt was being forced upon me. I didn’t understand the union and I didn’t think I had a place in it. What I realized is that being a member is being part of something much bigger than myself. I went from saying things like, “I’m not a union person”, to appreciating how truly fortunate I am to be a member. I now recognise that the action we take as a union has a ripple effect; creating change in legislation and working conditions across our country and around the world to the benefit of those who aren’t so fortunate as to belong.
In 1776, American political activist Thomas Paine wrote, “It is not in numbers, but in unity, that our great strength lies; yet our present numbers are sufficient to repel the forces of all the world”. Six months later, the Declaration of Independence was signed.
We all have the power to create change, even when it seems bigger than ourselves. As a workforce we have the numbers, but as a union, we have solidarity.