Far too much power is centralized in the hands of union presidents, the executives and union councillors. At Concordia, individual undergraduate students cannot actually make proposals to vote upon during the union’s general assemblies.
The agenda is decided beforehand by the president, the council or through a petition. This applies at the undergraduate level and somewhat less so at the graduate level. It does impose strict limits on the democratic process.
It is little wonder that students are so disengaged from the political process. They have very little direct influence or say in the affairs of their own associations and unions. General assemblies are rarely held, and the agenda is often drafted with minimal consultation from the membership.
This is not a critique of the current union executives and councillors at the graduate or undergraduate level. The Graduate Students Association and the undergraduate slate, Your Concordia, are both filled with strong union organizers and activists.
The undergraduate slate has everything going for it, but it only has one semester left to live up to its name. How has the union lived up to its name thus far?
The MobSquad is a union-run space for students to mobilize against impending $1,675 tuition hikes in Quebec. But the Squad was created under the previous union executive, and has no decision-making power within the union.
The mobilization efforts around Nov. 10 are encouraging. This is a major change from last year, when outgoing union president Amine Dabchy had to be prompted to show up virtually alone at a province-wide protest against the 2012 provincial budget. Where was the rest of the union?
Concordia will have a much stronger presence on the street this Nov. 10 thanks to the efforts of countless students and union members. But more can be done by working together.
One alternative would be preparing for a popular general assembly well in advance. Consultations on drafting the agenda can begin now, with a general assembly taking place before the proposed province-wide student general strike in January.
Another strong option is introducing structural reforms by the end of the academic year. McGill’s undergraduate union is in the process of holding consultations to reform its general assembly bylaws. These changes should make the general assemblies as democratic as possible, and Concordia students can learn from these reforms.
Guillaume Beaulieu, who is actively mobilizing at UQAM, believes that Concordia should go even further and start creating faculty-based and even departmental unions. This structure would bring union members closer to the decision-making process.
“Having only CSU and nothing else is just preventing the social sciences from having their own union,” Beaulieu argues. “And CSU can’t afford to have a strike vote as they can’t mobilize more than 400 to 500 to their general assemblies.”
Concordia students have proven that they can easily reach these numbers, but his point has merit. Having decentralized decision-making structures that feed into the larger union could be a viable option.
An even better source of inspiration is Occupy Montreal. Decisions are made based upon popular consensus during the general assemblies. Anybody can make a proposal and the motions are passed after collective deliberation.
The key is to start thinking outside of the current system. The structures at Concordia can be democratized. It can become your Concordia.
One critical step in this direction is the strike vote taking place this Thursday. Based on existing bylaws, roughly 500 people are required for the votes to be considered legitimate.
Graduate students vote at 1 p.m. and undergraduates vote at 4 p.m. in room H-110 this Thursday, Nov. 3.
Matthew Brett is a graduate student in political science and an active member of the MobSquad.