| OFL president Laura Walton speaks at a rally in support of UofT students on Monday May 27 Credit OFL X Credit OFL X | MR Online OFL president Laura Walton speaks at a rally in support of UofT students on Monday, May 27. (Photo: OFL / X)

Ontario Federation of Labour rallies with students at UofT encampment

Originally published: rabble.ca on May 27., 2024 by Nick Seebruch (more by rabble.ca)  | (Posted May 29, 2024)

The leadership of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) held an emergency rally on Monday morning, May 27 on the University of Toronto (UofT) campus. The rally was in solidarity with students and their supporters who for three weeks have set up camp on the university grounds to call for their school’s disclosure of, and divestment from, investments in Israel.

UofT president Meric Gertler announced in a statement on Monday that lawyers for the university were seeking an injunction from Ontario Superior Court to have the encampment removed. This comes after the protesters were served with a trespass notice by the Toronto Police Service (TPS) late last week with a deadline to vacate the campus by Monday morning.

“In addition to pursuing this legal avenue to return King’s College Circle to the University community, we continue to engage in discussions with students representing those in the encampment,” reads Gertler’s statement.

We held a long and productive meeting yesterday and are meeting again today. We remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement and bring the unauthorized encampment to an end.

Labour rallies in support of students

In an open letter to Gertler, OFL President Laura Walton accused him and the university of failing to bargain in good faith with the students involved in this peaceful protest.

Walton explained that OFL members have successfully bargained with university administrators in the past and that they should take the same approach with these students.

“The same approach should apply here. Negotiations must continue in good faith, and without threats of police intervention. The recent successful conclusions to the encampments at Ontario Tech University and at McMaster University, for example, shows what’s possible,” the OFL letter reads.

“Universities should be where we learn to debate and disagree with each other—without the fear of violence. For Canada’s largest university to decide unilaterally when the debate should end, and when police repression should begin, is a betrayal of the values we claim to uphold,” the letter goes on to read.

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902, which represents 11,000 educators and researchers at UofT likewise expressed their support for the students and condemned the university for making threats.

“Your recent letter to U of T Occupy for Palestine and accompanying offer constitute a serious and deeply concerning escalation of the administration’s negotiating tactics. The CUPE 3902 Executive condemns the administration’s presentation of an offer to student organizers under the threat of forceful removal from their protest encampment,” reads a statement from CUPE 3902’s executive committee.

CUPE 3902 executives added that they were prepared to take further action against the university in support of the students.

Students holding firm to their demands

Students involved in the encampment protest are remaining clear and consistent in their demands to UofT administration.

A joint letter sent out on Friday, May 24 by the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS), University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU), University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) and Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), and the University of Toronto Students’ Union reaffirmed their demands that UofT administration disclose and divest from all investments in support of Israeli apartheid.

“Students have been clear with their demands. The University must divest from all direct and indirect financial investments that sustain Israeli apartheid, occupation and its illegal settlement of Palestine including any manufacturing and sales of military weaponry in the ongoing genocide in Gaza,” the student unions’ letter reads.

They are also calling on the university to cut all ties with Israeli academic institutions that support Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

The unions also condemned Gertler’s threat of police force to silence them.

“As a result of the recent announcements made by President Gertler to the students, we fear an escalation of the violence by the institution and police on students similar to other university campuses when their administration moved to dismantle encampments and student organizing and silencing student voices who continue to hold the university administration accountable,” the unions state.

The unions also point out that UofT was one of the last Canadian academic institutions to divest itself from supporting apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.

“We continue to express our support for the calls of students to the administration to take action and ensure that they divest from all forms of financial investments that sustain Israeli apartheid, occupation and its illegal settlement of Palestine,” the unions’ letter goes on to read.

Nick Seebruch has been the editor of rabble.ca since April 2022. He believes that fearless independent journalism is key for the survival of a healthy democracy. An OCNA award-winning journalist, for six years Nick was the Editor of the Cornwall Seaway News, a weekly newspaper with a daily online presence covering news in the City of Cornwall, the United Counties of SD&G, and the Indigenous people of Akwesasne.

Monthly Review does not necessarily adhere to all of the views conveyed in articles republished at MR Online. Our goal is to share a variety of left perspectives that we think our readers will find interesting or useful. —Eds.