Memorial University Students’ Union (MUNSU) has decided to support the current airport worker strike at St. John’s International Airport. In order to show solidarity for the striking workers, MUNSU made the decision to cancel this year’s Global Citizens Forum, originally scheduled for October 3.
Canadian author and activist, Maude Barlow, was to be the Keynote Speaker at the event. However as an activist for workers’ rights, Barlow chose not to cross the picket line. “There are certain things you can and can’t do in life, and this is one of them for me,” said Barlow. “I support the rights of workers to strike and I support this particular strike.” Barlow says she feels terribly that the decision had to be made at such a late time, but says she initially believed that the strike would be over in time for the event.
In response, MUNSU has thrown its support behind Barlow, as well as behind the strike itself.
In an membership advisory signed by the MUNSU Executive, MUNSU stated that “As [its] members are future workers, the MUN Students’ Union feels it is important to show support and encourage the efforts of the current labour force in ensuring a fair and equitable work environment.”
“We couldn’t have a Global Citizens Forum without a speaker,” said Director of Advocacy Candace Simms. “We supported her decision based on the historical ties between the students movement and the labour movement[….]Whether it’s campaigns for accessible education or lobbying for grants not loans, the labour movement has been there for us.”
Barlow says that she is very impressed that the Students’ Union chose to support the striking workings. “We have to stand together for certain principles,” said Barlow. “That’s what a students’ union is. It is acting[…]for a set of principles beyond just the years that one is in university.”
The decision came under controversy at the MUNSU Board of Directors meeting on October 3. Certain members felt that the decision to support the strike should not have been made without a more public discussion. There were concerns that while MUNSU was right to support Maude Barlow, it was inappropriate to declare support for the strike itself, especially without consultation from the entire Board.
Some members at the meeting were also concerned that it was not MUNSU’s place to take sides in external affairs unless it was negatively affecting students. The fact that Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union is non-partisan organization was brought up by one concerned member.
Simms says she cannot say whether or not MUNSU’s support of this strike will set a precedent for MUNSU support in the future. However she says it is a discussion that will be held at the Students’ Rights and Action Committee meeting on October 10.
“We need just to have some guidelines in place so that everyone knows what to do and it’s not a last minute decision,” said Simms.
Barlow plans to reschedule her visit to St. John’s and is looking at possible times in the Spring. Details as to when this will happen have yet to be defined.