Saint John – A National Solidarity Rally was held in Saint John on Friday, Jan. 24, in support of the locked out professors and librarians at the various University of New Brunswick campuses in the province.
About 150 people turned out in the frigid temperatures to march around King’s Square in the city’s downtown. The group then gathered at the bandstand for speeches and chants. UNB Saint John Professor of History Greg Marquis was the Master of Ceremonies. Many other unions and associations were present in support.
In her speech, Miriam Jones, President of the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers (AUNBT), stated: “The people in this province are still having to fight for decent post-secondary education. (…) There is a slow bleed going on (…) This strike is about rescuing the reputation of our university.”
Referencing the looming faculty strike of the Mount Allison Faculty Association, Jones went on to say that it “is not an accident that things are getting fractious in this province right now. There is a politics of scarcity that they are trying to sell us. (…) and to some extent, it’s working.” Jones denounced the widely held assumptions vehicled by NB’s mainstream media: “we are being told that there’s a fiscal reality that we just have to accept (…) that New Brunswick is special.”
The AUNBT President countered this notion by declaring: “New Brunswick is special in a good sense. I don’t think I could find a better place to raise my child. I want him and all his friends to be able to have access to quality higher education in their home province.”
As with the previous Friday in Fredericton, solidarity messages and cheques of support were brought by the various university faculty associations. Flying pickets, representatives from faculty unions from across the country, had made their way to Saint John. This included representatives from as far away as the University of Saskatchewan, St. Paul University, Carleton University, and Wilfred Laurier University. Driving pickets were also present from sister Maritimes universities including the Université de Moncton, Dalhousie University, St. F.X. University and Mount Allison University.
Canadian Association of University Teachers Defense Fund President Brian Brown was present for the second week in a row to deliver a second million-dollar cheque to AUNBT President Miriam Jones.
However, the most significant support was from the larger labour community in Saint John. Members from many unions and councils were present to pronounce their support for both excellence in education and labour rights in the province.
Among the groups represented were: the Federation of New Brunswick Faculty Associations, the NB Council of School District Unions, the NB Federation of Labour, CUPE 2745 (Educational Support Staff), the Canadian Labour Congress, UNIFOR St. John’s, the Saint John District Labour Council, UNIFOR Local 506 (Bell Aliant Workers), the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Local 279 and the Canadian Media Guild.
From the Canadian Media Guild, Gary Stackhouse’s support was most touching. Stackhouse is a member of the “Saint John 7” (as they’ve come to be known) who have also been on strike against their employer, Halifax-based Maritime Broadcasting System. Stackhouse stated: “Unfortunately we can’t bring you a cheque but we can bring you –and we’re talking about education- a valuable lesson. And that is: in the 20 months we’ve been on strike, we’ve learned how much our sisters and brothers in the labour movement have been behind us and we are behind you.”
Despite their own hardships, Stackhouse and his colleagues have been joining the locked out AUNBT members on the picket line in downtown Saint John and near the UNBSJ campus every week in solidarity. At the rally, Stackhouse said: “the Saint John 7 will win our fight, you will win yours!” Mike Osborne, from CUPE 2475, reiterated this: “Together Labour will win.”
Referencing the 2007 PSE Polytechnic struggle, Pat Riley, from the ILA Local 279, reminded the crowd about the “elitist and corporatist ‘powers that be’ that thought they knew best and the rest of us did not count. Well, they learned otherwise when all was said and done.” Riley reminded all the union members present that they were under attack simply for being members of a union because the corporatist influences resent unions’ “organized ability to stand up and fight against their vision of what the world should be all about in the future.
The 600 UNB full-time members have been without a contract since July 1, 2013. Despite ongoing negotiations since March 2013, AUNBT members in Fredericton, Saint John, and Moncton went on strike at midnight on Monday, Jan. 14th and were locked out by the university’s administration the next day. No strike protocol was in place and all classes have been cancelled since then by the administration. Principal among the union demands is the issue of comparability. Negotiations are at a standstill.