Precarious Labour and Neoliberal Universities: The Case of Food Service Workers at York

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 08:45
Oral Presentation
Mina RAJABI PAAK, York University, Canada
In the winter of 2017, a group of food service workers at York University in Canada went on strike. The workers were employees of Aramark, a multinational food service corporation with questionable labour practices. The seemingly small and insignificant strike of this group of less than 100 workers soon turned into a big movement against indecent working conditions in universities and the complacency of neoliberal universities in creating a precarious and poor labour force.

The debates around the university sector’s rapid move towards corporatization and neoliberalism in the last decade has focused mostly on the academic actors on university campuses, i.e. faculty, instructors, and students and the issues around precarity of academic work, the surge in contract faculty and sessional appointments and rising tuition fees. What often tends to be left out of the conversation though is non-academic work on campuses and the role of universities in creating a precarious, poor labour force.

The York strike brought about a community alliance of students, teachers, staff, and campus workers fighting the university administration for the rights of the workers on campus. It also intersected with a grassroots labour movement in the province fighting for an increase to minimum wage and decent working conditions for all Ontario workers. This resulted in not only a unique win for the workers who managed to win every single of their strike demands[1], but also initiated a broader debate in Ontario around the university governance and the turn from collegial governance to corporate managerial style of governance at universities that places profits above all.

As an active participant in the strike, my work employs the participatory observation method along with interviews with strike participants, community activists and university administrators to look at the possibilities of anti-capitalist and anti-racist movements and actions on university campuses.

[1] http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/striking-cafeteria-workers-achieve-ground-breaking-settlement-york-university-show-15-2201153.htm