The nearly two-week labour dispute between Memorial University and the university's faculty association finally came to an official end in late February when the faculty ratified a new collective agreement. The new deal includes higher wages and formalized commitments to support collegial governance.
But while students are back in class, there are still lessons to be learned from the strike.
One of the lessons is about the importance and power of normalizing the dignity of labour — the idea that all types of occupations deserve to be valued and respected.
Granted, the strike had its uglier moments and finger-pointing. There were disagreements about advice for crossing picket lines. MUN's senior administration faced criticism from students, faculty and residents, some of it veering into the territory of personal attacks.
But most of those incidents were largely footnotes in the broader public discourse. The faculty association's handling of the strike was exemplary in the way it put the focus on the work of its members and their reasons for the strike.
University professors are highly educated professionals who make significantly more than the average person in Newfoundland and Labrador. Memorial University put out a figure for the average salary of MUN tenure track/tenured faculty of $137,700, although the faculty association disputed the university's figure.
Workers who make that much money and argue for a higher salary might not be the most sympathetic figures in the public eye, so the faculty association's decision to strike for better working conditions could have been received poorly.
That was not the case this time.
Faculty focused on the value of the work
Public perception of the striking faculty appeared to be largely positive. There were no reports of widespread confrontations at the picket line. The strike action had the support of Memorial University's students' union and hundreds of people showed up at a St. John's rally to support the striking faculty.
Other unionized staff, labour leaders and students talked to media and posted on social media about their reluctance to cross the picket line out of respect for the faculty association's efforts to obtain better working conditions.
I believe the faculty association achieved this success by focusing on earning the public's respect. They appealed to the public by taking time to raise awareness about their workplace issues and getting people to recognize and respect both their work and the profession.
Take collegial governance, for example. As a concept, collegial governance is something typically learned about in post-secondary educator courses.
But it became a familiar concept that entered the public lexicon in the province thanks to the faculty association's efforts to explain what it is and why it's important that they fought for it.
This effort to get people to realize the value of their work shows how powerful the idea of dignity of labour can be.
It also illustrates why it should be a more universal philosophy in day-to-day life for all sorts of occupations.
Work is valuable whether it requires physical or intellectual labour. It's also valuable whether it requires a high school education, a post-secondary education, or no education at all.
If Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were able to respect our most educated workers and support them as they sought better working conditions, then they should be able to do the same for workers in other occupations.
After all, all work is valuable whether it requires physical or intellectual labour. It's also valuable whether it requires a high school education, a post-secondary education, or no education at all.
As the pandemic taught us, front-line workers such as grocery store employees, food producers, and restaurant staff are essential to day-to-day operations.
Skilled trades workers such as welders and millwrights are necessary for the province to take advantage of projects that help the province's economy prosper.
Health-care professionals such as nurses, doctors, and emergency responders work long hours to take care of their neighbours.
The examples of occupations and the social benefit their work produces are endless. Remembering this is crucial as inflation remains high and financial pressures persist because it is during times like these when obtaining fair working conditions is the most difficult.
So take the time to show your gratitude to the people whose work touches your life. A simple thank-you or a small token of appreciation might not seem like much but they can do wonders for self-value.
Then be willing to hear others out when they talk about issues they are experiencing in their occupation.
Because if the teachers at MUN have taught us anything over the past few weeks it is that when workers feel valued and enough people understand their situation, then those workers can achieve the fair deal that everyone deserves.