Wednesday, March 9 at 1 pm, Concordia students will hold a general assembly to decide whether or not to join 70,000 post-secondary students across the province already on strike. The goal is to force the provincial Liberal government to replace the $103 million it cut from the bursary program and transferred to loans.
Concordia’s general assembly will take place simultaneously in H-110 of the Hall Building downtown and in the Guadagni Lounge at the Loyola campus in NDG. The purpose of having it on both campuses is twofold: It allows students with classes at Loyola to take part in the process, and it will also help the assembly to reach the 750 student attendance necessary for quorum, which would make the vote binding.
“The CSU thought it was necessary to call a general assembly as a forum to discuss the strike and come up with a plan of action,” said Concordia Student Union President Brent Farrington. “There was a lot of pressure coming from outside the university and inside, from students asking what we were going to do for the strike.”
Farrington admitted the preparations for the assembly vote have been hurried, with the motion put forward last Tuesday and the general assembly and vote scheduled for this week. If the motion is passed, Concordia students will go on strike next Wednesday.
“It would start on the 16th, because that’s the day of the city-wide protest, so we’d add our numbers to the protest,” said Farrington. “The protest goes right to [Premier Jean] Charest’s office, so it will really drive home the message we’re trying to send to the Liberal government.”
When asked how long the strike might last if the general assembly votes in favor, Farrington said the duration will also be decided at the assembly.
“We’re going to start from the bottom,” he said. “We’re going to start with a one-day proposal, and if [it passes and] people choose to expand it to a three-day or weeklong strike, then that will be decided afterwards. Personally, I think a one-day strike would be the most effective of the options, but it’s really up to the general assembly.”
If quorum is reached and the motion to strike passes, the decision is binding on the CSU and all the subsidiary student associations. The only exceptions are CASA (Commerce and Administration Students Association) and the ECA (Engineering and Computer Science Association), because they are not governed by the CSU.
Farrington said that whatever the outcome of the vote, the effects will extend far beyond Concordia.
“Our school is a very important part of the mobilization and activist system in Quebec,” he said, “so our actions are taken as a barometer for how students feel across the province. What we decide will affect the actions taken at other institutions.”
Other recent developments will also influence the associations who have yet to strike.
On Tuesday, the Federation Etudiante Universitaire du Quebec (FEUQ) announced it has given up on negotiations with the government and is now recommending that all of its member associations join in the strike. The FEUQ is the largest student organization in Quebec, and counts Concordia’s students among its 170,000 members.
According to Nick Vikander, FEUQ’s Vice President of University Affairs, the decision was taken in response to Education Minister Jean-Marc Fournier’s announcement on Monday that the provincial government will not replace the $103 million cut from bursaries.
“What we had been doing until this point was helping out on the ground, helping out logistically and supporting those who decided to go on strike,” he said. “Now it’s come to the point where we believe we have to increase the pressure.”
Vikander said the FEUQ’s goal is to keep the pressure on the Quebec government between now and the release of the provincial budget in early April. If the strike is big enough, he hopes it will force the government to adjust the budget and put the money back into post-secondary education.
Vikander cites a recent Leger Marketing poll that shows 70 per cent of Quebecers support the students’ demands. “Since the strike began, support for the students has gone up, and support for the government has dropped,” he says.
Vikander said he hopes the endorsement of the FEUQ will result in many more faculties and student unions joining in the strike. “It might not be every single school, but we’re confident that a number of universities will get on board. The state of mobilization on campuses across the province is pretty high right now.”
This mobilization is continuing to show results, with eight faculty associations at other schools voting on the strike the same day as Concordia, and at least 17 this week. Around Montreal, six of UQAM’s seven faculty associations are on strike, and five of 27 at Universite de Montreal. 12 other faculties at U of M have voted in favor of striking, but have yet to implement the decision.
This faculty-by-faculty system is different from Concordia’s, because most of the other universities in Quebec don’t have a mega-union like the CSU, which unites the faculties under one umbrella. This allows each faculty to vote separately on whether or not to join the strike.
Another organization that has been pushing for a province-wide student strike is the Canadian Federation of Students-Quebec (CFS-Q). Tim McSorley, chair of CFS-Q, believes that striking is the only option left for Concordia students.
“We’re definitely pushing for it. At this point, the outcome that seems most likely is a three-day strike,” said McSorley. “From talking with students, that’s what students seem to be supporting.”
McSorley said the strike has already had an effect on the Charest government. “It’s reaching the point where [they] can’t ignore it anymore,” he said. “Last week they basically came out and threatened that students who go on strike for more than a few days will have to redo their semester.”
McSorley believes the threat is hollow and shows that the politicians are panicking. “There’s been seven other large-scale student strikes in the past, including the huge strike of 1974, and the government never resorted to that tactic.”
He expects public support for the striking students to remain strong, because students aren’t blocking access to services, and the protests have been non-violent. “It’s sending the message that students are so upset about the cuts that they’re willing to miss out on classes that they’re already paying for in order to voice that anger.”
McSorley said that Concordia was a little late getting involved with the strike. He mentioned several possible reasons for this, among them that Concordia only joined the FEUQ during this academic year, and that it’s an English-language university.
“Anglophone schools don’t have as much of a tradition of striking,” he said. “Its not really built in to the political culture at the schools. It took the ball to get rolling at some of the major French universities for Concordia to get involved.”