-Is this strike indefinite?
No. At this time, the CSU only has a strike mandate that begins on March 15 and ends on March 22. We have not yet received a request by petition to have another General Assembly to vote on the continuation of the strike, though it is a possibility. After the difficulties experienced during the CSU-wide GA, it is our recommendation that if students wish to continue or “renew” the vote passed at the GA that they do so at the faculty or department level. The rationale for this is the following: the CSU-wide GA on March 7 had by far the largest turnout in Concordia history, but because of its size and scope, it posed many unforeseen complications and difficulties. In learning from this experience, we believe that these decisions may be stronger and more manageable when made at the faculty and departmental level, especially in the current political context at Concordia.
-Is this a “strike” or a “boycott”?
A student strike is the collective decision by members of a student association to boycott academic activity for a specific period of time as a form of direct political protest. At the same time, strikes are not necessarily a passive form of protest, and often occur simultaneously with other forms of demonstration such as marches, sit-ins, and forms of autonomous learning occurring outside the formal structure of the university. So yes, it’s a strike.
-Will this strike mess with exams?
Currently, the CSU strike mandate is only scheduled for six days, and it has been moved up from its original date. As such, it is highly unlikely that it will affect the exam session. Also, the university’s position has been “business will be as usual” so far, and it remains that way for the time being.
-Will the university have to extend the semester?
Again, given the length of the strike and the university’s stance, it is not very likely that an extension to the semester will occur.
-Will I be granted academic amnesty during the strike?
We advise that all students talk to their teachers regarding academic amnesty. Your professor is the only person who can penalize you for not attending class or participating in class activities, so the goal is to convince as many individual professors as possible. Almost 300 professors and T.A.s have already signed a declaration stating that they were prepared to make accommodations for students in the event of a strike. If your professor is not supportive, the CSU can help negotiate.
-Does this strike prevent me from going to class if I choose to?
Technically, the idea of going on a student strike entails not going to class in order to participate in demonstrations and direct action. That being said, we realize that this is the first time we’ve done this at Concordia, and we see this as an opportunity to create a dialogue on campus of what a student strike looks like. As such, we are encouraging departmental and faculty associations to hold GA’s to determine how best to implement the CSU strike mandate within their departments.
-Do these fee increases also affect out-of-province and international students?
Yes. In 2007 we saw a $500 increase in tuition for out-of-province students and a $5,000 increase for international students. The government has not released how much out-of-province and international fees will increase by, however we know that it will increase at least as much as the Quebec rate.
-Who else in Quebec is striking?
Currently there are more than 131,000 students on strike across the province.
-Why are we striking?
Students have voted to strike for many reasons, but more specifically, in light of the government’s unwillingness to back down from its proposed tuition fee increase of $1,625, the largest increase in the province’s history. Students have come to this point after an entire year’s worth of demonstrations, meetings with the government and MNAs, petitions, as well as gathering support from celebrities, public figures, political parties and labour unions. The government has maintained a hard line and said that they won’t back down from the increase, which is why students have come to this point.
A student strike is our most powerful expression of political discontent, and is a tactic that has worked often in the past and has a strong historical record. In fact, on almost every occasion there has been a Quebec-wide student strike, the government has backed down (most recently in 2005).
-Why couldn’t I vote to strike by secret ballot?
Our bylaws put us in a position where the results of a referendum on this issue during the regular referendum/election period for the CSU would only be valid after the proposed strike days. This is because the CSU is an incorporated not-for-profit and is therefore held within several complicated legal structures, rules and regulations (like the Quebec Companies Act to name just one), and as an organization, is subservient to a set of bylaws written specifically for the organization. The current CSU bylaws can be found on the downloads section of the CSU website.
The bylaws outline two specific ways in which the membership can make a direct decision that is binding for the organization and provides a mandate for the union. These two ways are either referenda or General Assembly. The referendum options are quite limited. Referenda can typically only be held twice a year, concurrently with the byelections in November, and the General Elections in March (for which polling runs from March 20-22 this year). There is also quite a lengthy process to have a question added to the referendum ballot, and once it has been added, it can not be changed in any way. The process involves a highly structured campaigning process, announcement of polls period, a polling period, and what sometimes becomes a multi-week appeal process following a vote, all of which needs to be done in specific legal timing constraints. The appeals period would mean that even when the results of the vote are announced, presumably on March 23, they couldn’t be put into effect immediately (effectively defeating the purpose of having a strike before or during March 22 at all, if that’s what students chose).
Referendums are also quite costly, and have historically at Concordia had poor voter turnout. Additionally, referenda do not necessarily garner greater participation than general assemblies. The Special General Meeting (known as the GA more recently) provides an opportunity for students to amend the motion to reflect the students wishes (something the referendum does not allow), and an opportunity for all who are able to attend to engage in discussion and debate—something that is not as obviously or openly conveyed through the referendum process.
While the General Assembly format leaves many wanting for more, in the circumstances at Concordia it was the only real option for a binding vote of the membership at this time. The CSU executive will be considering this issue in conjunction with the policy committee, and will be looking toward reforming the bylaws to allow for greater flexibility in important decisions such as this.
-What does the government have to say about all of this?
Currently, the government is not addressing the issue. However, the city of Montreal has called on the government to deal with the situation, as the city’s resources are getting stretched thin with all the demonstrations.
-Have student strikes in Quebec in the past been successful?
Yes. Of the eight major student strike movements in Quebec, six have been successful, notably the strike in 1968 that ended up creating the university of Quebec network and the CEGEP system, and more recently in 2005 where students were able to force the government to reinvest 103 million dollars in bursaries that it had turned into loans.