Analysis: The Role of New Brunswick Labour in Transgender and Queer Struggles

 By Fredericton IWW member Kelly Jarman with consultation from the Fredericton Gender Minorities Group

*This analysis is the opinion of one member, not the Fredericton IWW*

          A frank reality that the labour movement in New Brunswick has to confront is that AUNBT didn’t enjoy widespread popular support. The obvious problem is that AUNBT has kept itself isolated within the university since its creation. The union has publicly emerged only at times that the collective agreement needs to be negotiated and then disappeared from the public consciousness. The public reaction to the 2014 strike was a rude awakening to many of AUNBT’s members. However, the strike also showed the power of solidarity with the teamsters working at UPS and Purolator, and other unions, refusing to cross picket lines and the coming together of unions and students on campus. Still, solidarity is not a concept that only appears in the time of an emergency. In order for it to work, solidarity has to be practiced constantly. AUNBT did not enjoy popular support because it has not done enough to fight for other struggles or connect other struggles to its own.

            AUNBT missed a great opportunity to connect the strike to struggles larger than wages.Academic freedom and the corporatization of the university has far reaching consequences that make labour struggles in the university part of larger struggles such as queer and transgender folk. Academia is the centre of groundbreaking queer and gender theory but no connection was made between the strike and queer and transgender struggles. The loss of comparability for teachers at UNB and the continued cuts to the university’s research would mean that New Brunswick would lose access to quality thought around gender and sexuality. Gender and sexuality theory changes rapidly and for groups trying to educate the public, access to quality professors and librarians makes a huge difference. There needs to be a serious acknowledgement of this by both AUNBT and members of, or organizations of, the queer and transgender community.

            There are many simple actions that AUNBT, or any union, could take that would make a huge difference. AUNBT currently has a committee on the status of women but does not have a anything of the same likeness for queer and transgender folk. For reference, the IWW has written into our constitution a resolution on biology and gender. On campus, there is an association of LGBT faculty but it is not associated with any union on campus. The adoption of queer and transgender struggles as a central issue only requires a small change in mindset by working within the union rather than outside of it. Currently, queer and transgender faculty have raised concerns that queer and transgender folk are discriminated against for employability at UNB because it is believed by administration that they won’t stay in Fredericton long. It should be noted that because of transmisogny, trans women face the worst discrimination for employability, discrimination in the workplace and make less money than trans men. There is no reason a union cannot fight against discrimination in the workplace and make it a prominent issue.

            Inequality and discrimination exists both inside and outside of the workplace. They do not exist in a vacuum outside of our working lives. Workplace organizing is an effective tool to gain power that does not leave people who are transgender or working class out. Legal movements like the fight for marriage equality ignore transgender struggles and are often content to ignore economic inequality. There are queer and transgender members of AUNBT who are fighting for respect and there is no reason why they shouldn’t be supported by the rest of the queer and transgender community. The fight for wage comparability is also a fight for access to costly medical procedures that are not covered by the Government in New Brunswick. Teachers at comparable universities in other provinces not only make more money than AUNBT members, but they also have access to medical procedures (Note: Not all transgender people choose to use any medical procedures). New Brunswick is one of the worst provinces in Canada for even recognition for transgender folk by the provincial government. AUNBT has to step up and fight for the queer and transgender community too. Members of AUNBT have privilege with economic security that many transgender people do not. If AUNBT steps up and supports those who do not have privilege then it will be much harder for there to be resentment of good wages.

            We only have to look next door to Halifax to see how the labour movement has prospered by working with larger struggles. Solidarity Halifax is an organization that “fight[s] capitalism on multiple fronts” and is a collaboration of, among others, labour and transgender and queer activists. It proclaims that “too often vibrant organizations and movements lack the staying power to survive the departure of individual organizers or find themselves limited to fighting against single causes in isolation of the larger systemic problems. We seek to overcome these pitfalls.” It sees the enemy of both the social justice and labour movements as being an economic system that exploits people. Social justice and labour causes are limited as long as they are isolated from each other but can do amazing things when they work together. In the lead up to the next labour conflict, labour unions in New Brunswick have a choice between being isolated and winning marginal victories for themselves or coming together with the larger community and winning victories as a whole.