COCAL is the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labour representing part-time university instructors (sessional lecturers, adjunct faculty, and graduate teaching assistants) throughout North America. 135 delegates from Canada, the United States and Mexico attended the latest biennial conference held on August 5 – 7, 2016 at the University of Alberta.
The COCAL Conference provided a valuable opportunity for connecting with other part-time post-secondary academic instructors, sharing mutual concerns, and drafting strategies for addressing our common issues.
The keynote speaker at the Convention was Pam Palmater from Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick, Mi’kmaw lawyer, author, social justice activist, and Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University.
Five broad themes were addressed at the conference: 1) Organizing and Reorganizing, 2) Diversity, Equity, and Human Rights, 3) Job Security, 4) Living Well in a Precarious World, and 5) What Is to Be Done? Breakout sessions provided an opportunity for attendees focus on particular issues within these broader Wiki- sites allowed participants to share discussion highlights, post resource links, and record insights from their breakout groups with all of the conference participants.
Some highlights from the conference worth mentioning: in the Member Mobilization breakout session, participants shared creative ways of mobilizing members and educating members of the public. In the Right to Academic Freedom breakout session, the facilitator described the way in which a contract favorable to instructors was achieved in her own workplace. The Impacts of Labour Legislation on Job Security breakout session highlighted the impact that essential services and right to strike legislation are having on job security. In the breakout session on Broader Implications of the Corporatization of Higher Education, the participants discussed the increasing loss of academic autonomy in institutions of higher education throughout North America.
Delegates from Mexico were given special opportunities to share with Canadians and Americans the precariousness that academic workers in Mexico experience as they strive to organize themselves for fair living conditions. Every panel included a presentation by a delegate from Mexico, and many of the breakout sessions which followed focused on Mexican issues related to the theme for the panel.
The next COCAL convention will be held in central Mexico in 2018.
Submitted by Clayton Beish and William A. Gulka