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by Archives February 3, 2009

After a labour dispute that ran just over three months, students at York University trickled back into classes last week. Negotiations between the university and its employees were never settled but, feeling that enough was enough, Ontario’s Premier Dalton McGuinty put an end to the proceedings.
The Liberal back-to-work legislation easily passed, but not before being stalled by the New Democrats. In what seems like an odd move the New Democrats, a party known for championing student issues at provincial and federal levels, sided against the students on this one.
Though this looks like a classic case of opposition for the sake of it, the episode may not be so black and white. Let us not forget that there are more than two parties at play here. First, there are the students, restless at the thought of having the better part of two semesters robbed from them. But there are also the official dispute’s two parties, the university and the union, specifically the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
The Liberals, who saw the dispute as being waged between students and the university, wanted to put an end a messy situation. They did just that, and did so relatively painlessly.
But things weren’t so cut and dry for the NDP; for them the situation was a conflict of interest between two of their major constituencies, unions and students. For a party that got trounced in the last election, that’s a difficult choice.
Because the NDP have only 10 seats in the provincial legislature, no matter what side they choose their actions would be purely symbolic. In this predicament, we could ask why they even took a side if there was so little to gain. Wouldn’t it have been safest to sit this round out? But they made a choice, and they weren’t quiet about it either.
Superficially, the students appeared to be the victims, and in many ways they were. The strike was a major inconvenience for them, a waste of time and money. Media coverage for the most part was sympathetic to their cause, and as the strike dragged on they got more and more coverage.
But, while students are good at making a scene, they’re not always so good at following through. One area in particular where students often talk the talk but seldom walk the walk is politics. They do what they’re good at, but what they don’t do is vote. The NDP knows this, and what more? They know that unlike students, unions do vote, and in a big way. That’s why they stuck their heads out for CUPE, a union that represents 570,001 members across the country, even if it was just a gesture. So for all you students out there wondering why your beloved party abandoned you in your hour of need, remember: there are a lot of constituencies out there, but political parties only stand up for the ones that get up on Election Day.

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