Since the UMFA strike began on Nov. 2, students have stepped up to provide support for their peers and organize demonstrations in support of UMFA. One student group, Students Supporting UMFA (SSUMFA), has gained attention for its activism. To get students and faculty involved, SSUMFA is hosting teach-ins with striking faculty members. According to Olivia Macdonald Mager, a SSUMFA organizer, these research talks offer students a valuable perspective on the ongoing labour dispute during the temporary suspension of courses.
The purpose of the teach-ins is to connect a faculty member’s area of expertise to the labour dispute. In this way, faculty members can continue to support teaching and learning while abiding by the conditions of the strike.
As a student leader, Macdonald Mager felt a duty to take on responsibility during the strike. She is the president of the University of Manitoba history students’ association, which works alongside the Arts Student Body Council and the University of Manitoba Students’ Union to provide support to students.
“I think that a lot of students were looking to me for answers,” Macdonald Mager said.
The strike has forced student leaders to pick up the slack. They quickly became responsible for sharing information, and now, even hosting learning opportunities.
Macdonald Mager recalls the uncertainty surrounding the beginning of the strike. She noticed that as the strike deadline grew nearer and there was silence from both the university and the union, tensions among students grew higher.
“The entire Monday [there] was a lot of texting back and forth and emailing and time [spent] to sort of allay a lot of fears,” Macdonald Mager said.
“And to the extent that you can with the platforms that we currently have. If we were on campus, that would be one thing because I could go to the lecture halls and say, ‘This is what’s happening.’ But I only have a certain number of emails and contacts.”
Teach-ins bridge the communication gap between faculty and students. Macdonald Mager said faculty members are excited to be able to interact with students despite the strike. “There’s also an aspect of educating students that […] the strike is not simply about one thing,” Macdonald Mager said.
“It’s not simply about wages […] There are a diversity of reasons why this strike is important, […] and the different impacts on history, gender [studies], labour studies and Indigenous studies.”
For some, like David Camfield, an associate professor in the labour studies program, or Julia Smith, an assistant professor in the labour studies program, the connection between their research and current strike is apparent. Camfield gave a talk on Nov. 11 and Smith gave her talk on Nov. 15. For others, the connection between a professor’s research and the current strike requires more explanation.
Adele Perry, director of the Centre for Human Rights Research and distinguished professor in the department of history, plans to relate the commemoration of social movements and recent challenges of colonial commemoration to the current strike in her Nov. 17 teach-in. Likewise, Sean Carleton, assistant professor in the departments of history and Native studies, hopes to historicize the current strike with examples from Winnipeg’s labour history in his teach-in scheduled for Nov. 18.
The first teach-in occurred on Nov. 8 and featured Niigaan Sinclair, acting department head of Native studies. Sinclair discussed how the department continues to struggle with recruiting and retaining faculty members — owing in part to the working conditions at the University of Manitoba. Sinclair was joined by David Parent, an assistant professor in the department, to offer his perspective as a recently hired staff member.
The idea to host teach-ins, allowing students and faculty to continue to connect over important ideas and research, goes back to the 2016 strike. At that time, students and faculty could meet in person to continue their discussions. This year, the teach-ins have been hosted virtually thus far and plans for research talks on the picket line have been dashed by recent inclement weather.
Currently, SSUMFA has teach-ins tentatively scheduled until Nov. 24.
“We’re hoping for the best,” Macdonald Mager said.
“If the strike ends over the weekend, then [the remaining talks] will be cancelled.”