Talks shouldn’t involve hostages

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The students are right in demanding open arbitration in the strike at St. Francis Xavier University, now marking 13 days of no classes. The two sides haven’t reached agreement despite having first sat down to negotiate eight months ago. Obviously they could use help to get by the impasse.

Arbitration would have been the wise answer before the talks disintegrated into a labour dispute, putting the term in jeopardy for thousands of students.

In the history of labour relations in this country, strikes or lockouts have been tactics available to each side to pressure the other. If you don’t have workers to make your product, the company is pressured financially. Likewise for workers who need to pay bills and put food on the table.

And the customer? In the case of many consumer goods they might decide to go to the competition – another risk in a labour stoppage.

How different that is for students. It’s been noted by many that this particular set of customers has paid up front for a product that now is not being delivered. Doesn’t that in itself say that this archaic means of “negotiation” shouldn’t apply in this situation?

As the two sides in this dispute continue their staring match – the St. FX administration and the Association of University Teachers – they have fallen short a number of times to finally reach resolution. On Tuesday, they agreed to sit down at the table today and give it another try.

We applaud any optimism, but the students, the Town of Antigonish and others who rely on the university for day-to-day business are growing desperate.

Open arbitration, as the students are demanding, involves an independent third party who weighs outstanding issues and crafts a settlement.

It would find middle ground, which is about where any labour standoff is going to end up anyway – eventually. It sounds like a good way to get the job accomplished.

In fact, next time around, do it at the outset so that an innocent third party isn’t ripped off.

Organizations: St. Francis Xavier University

Geographic location: Antigonish

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