Calgary—Workers at the University of Calgary Bookstore are cautiously optimistic following an announcement that the postsecondary institution will be cancelling plans to immediately privatize the bookstore.
The university has announced that it will shelve plans to contract out the bookstore for at least one year. This announcement comes in the wake of a concerted effort by bookstore workers, U of C students, and the university community to prevent the bookstore’s privatization.
“We’re happy to see that the university administration has listened, and that they are putting the brakes on their privatization plan,” says Kevin Barry, a vice president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents bookstore workers. “We know that this wouldn’t have happened if the bookstore workers hadn’t put up such an impressive organizing effort.”
For months, the university has been moving towards replacing the in-house bookstore with a contracted-out model. The company suspected to take over the bookstore was Follett, an American company which has been the subject of criticism in other universities where it operates.
“Selling off the bookstore, which generates revenue for the U of C, to an American corporation was always a bad idea,” Barry says. “The university would lose out on many of the essential services the bookstore provides.”
Barry, who is also the chair of the union’s Anti-Privatization Committee, says that the bookstore staff are an example of how workers can build broad coalitions and successfully prevent privatization. Along with the bookstore workers, students and community members all mobilized to share this victory.
Of course, the win is not final, Barry stresses. The university has said that it plans to reexamine the bookstore in one year, after June 30 of next year.
“It’s unfortunate that workers at the bookstore will have to spend the next year with a sword hanging over their heads,” Barry says, “but these workers are dedicated to providing an essential service to the U of C community. They will continue to provide top-quality services over the next 12 months, and they’ll prepare themselves to defend that service.”
But Barry adds that the U of C bookstore workers don’t want a pointless battle. “They want to be able to focus on their work. This pushback has been a tough and unnecessary distraction from that work.”
For now though, Barry says the workers are using this breathing room to celebrate. They know that they’re capable of running an efficient service, and that their work is appreciated by the university community. And most importantly, they know how to organize.
“We’re so proud of what these workers have accomplished,” Barry says. “As postsecondary institutions across Alberta cut programs and services, the workers at the U of C Bookstore have shown the entire province that we can fight back and win.”
Kevin Barry is available for comment. Please contact Jon Milton, Communications Officer, at email@example.com.