It’s official: Concordia students are being asked to go out on strike Oct. 31 to protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
Last Thursday at Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs (SCPA), the Quebec branch of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS-Q) and students from Concordia held their first meeting to discuss strategy for the Hemispheric Day of Action and Student Strike against the FTAA. It was decided unanimously to focus on organizing a student strike and not simply a day of teach-ins.
Whereas some universities across Canada have opted to simply ask students to participate in demonstrations or to attend workshops, those at the meeting felt that anything other than the word “strike” would give too soft a message. Many expressed the feeling that even the words “walk-out” wouldn’t carry enough weight.
Jenny Reid, a third year Sociology student, was at the protests against the FTAA Quebec meetings in 2001 and plans to be at the Oct. 31 student strike. “The FTAA is being negotiated behind closed doors, with no citizen input but plenty of suggestions from business interests,” she said. “That scares me.”
Over 30 people attended the meeting facilitated by CFS-Q chair Aimee van Drimmelen. “Tonight’s meeting was to find interested people who could help start the mobilization process,” she said.
The decision to strike goes hand in hand with a CSU referendum question asking Concordia students to speak out as a whole against the FTAA.
In a related decision made at a university senate meeting on Sept. 13, Jack Lightstone, the provost and vice-rector of Concordia, is preparing a memo to professors asking them to be lenient and to re-schedule exams so that students may participate in the day’s events.
The FTAA, currently being negotiated by the 34 countries of the Americas minus Cuba, would be the most far-reaching trade agreement in history. Although it is based on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, the US and Mexico, the FTAA would go far beyond that agreement in both its scope and power.
The FTAA is set to be in place by 2005, but the U. S. is pushing for an earlier completion date of 2003.
Much of the attention has been focused on the exporting of education and training services. The US, for example, is currently the world’s leader in exporting education, garnering $7.5 billion in revenue in 1996.
This translates into increased tuition fees to fuel economic growth, or what activists are calling corporate control of education. Other FTAA concerns include cuts to public spending in healthcare and social programs.
The CFS-Q’s involvement in organizing against the FTAA is part of a larger body mobilizing across Canada, the U. S. and South America. The Canadian component of the Day of Action began organizing earlier in August when a pan-Canadian student conference was held at Concordia.
This meeting was simply the first in several preparatory meetings leading up to the day of strike, said organizers.
“What the CFS-Q intends to do is create more awareness of the FTAA,” said van Drimmelen. “We can begin by putting up posters, presenting films, organizing peaceful rallies and holding more strategy meetings.”
Meetings will be held at the SCPA (2149 Mackay) every Thursday at 6 p.m.