Three student associations will strike this March to fight unpaid internships
Three undergraduate student associations at Concordia voted to strike in March to fight against unpaid internships.
The COMS Guild, also known as the Communication Studies Student Association, will strike from March 6 to 8, the School of Community and Public Affairs Students’ Association (SCPASA), and the Journalism Student Association (JSA) will both strike from March 18 to 22.
“We are looking to lend our voices to the greater strike movement that is happening in Quebec right now with unpaid internships,” said Hannah Gold-Apel, vice president of academic affairs for COMS Guild.
During two separate general assemblies by COMS Guild and SCPASA, on Feb. 20 and 21 respectively, a majority of undergraduate students voted to strike against unpaid internships.
At the COMS Guild general assembly, 71 students attended; 63 voted for a strike and eight abstained. At the SCPASA general assembly, 21 students attended; 20 voted for a strike and only one abstained.
These strikes are part of the larger movement against unpaid internships that started last November, when thousands of CEGEP and university students were striking across the province, according to CBC. However, Concordia student associations did not take part in this movement.
With the department’s support, COMS Guild decided a three-day strike would be enough to address the issue instead of a full week. “We don’t want the department to suffer; they have been incredibly helpful during this whole process,” said Gold-Apel.
The association is demanding that interns be paid a living-wage and be protected under the Quebec Labour Code. They are also asking students not to attend their courses, nor their unpaid internships, and not to submit coursework during the strike.
Gold-Apel said the strike will not take an antagonistic approach to prevent blaming the department. “We want it to be a show of solidarity and community rather than […] a protest,” she said.
During the three days, communications students are planning to strike on campus outside of the Communication Studies and Journalism building. “We are going to be encouraging students not to go to class but we won’t be physically blocking any students,” Gold-Apel said.
Charles Acland, the chair of the communications department, told The Concordian he understands and supports the students’ decision to strike. “I think the students are very much engaged and interested in advancing the idea that paid internships is a much more equitable and fair way to run internship programs,” he said. “I wish them all the best in that endeavour.”
Acland said internships offered through the department are unpaid but they fulfill certain course requirements, and the interns are credited for them. However, he said companies are not offering paid internships. When they do, Acland said the communications department “will be reviewing those and considering them.”
The department is considering the possibility of having an ad-hoc committee that would “help facilitate a more equitable and fair internship policy.” Acland hopes to have student representation in the committee. The chair and the internship coordinator are in talks with the executives of COMS Guild regarding the committee.
Sean Illman-White, secretary of academic affairs and advocacy at the SCPASA, said their department also voiced a positive outlook towards students’ decision to strike. “We have a very good working relationship with our professors,” he said. “I think they’ll be working with us as opposed to against us.”
On behalf of International Women’s Day, the SCPASA will also be striking on March 8 to echo the fact that unpaid internships particularly affect many female-dominated fields, such as nursing, teaching and social work. Illman-White said public affairs students will be joining the women’s march in Montreal to tackle women’s issues in addition to unpaid internships.
The SCPASA hopes to shut down all of their classes during the week of March 18. During the strike, the association will hold another general assembly to discuss whether or not their strike should be extended.
Journalism undergraduate students Miriam Lafontaine, Erika Morris and Jon Milton presented a strike motion against unpaid internships at a JSA general assembly in mid-December, and it passed on Jan. 16.
“We wanted to have more departments on strike at the same time to combine pressure on the university,” said Lafontaine.
Lafontaine said a press conference will be held on the first strike day. Throughout the week, a series of workshops will be hosted to educate students on their working conditions, which will include one about students’ rights as interns and freelancers in Quebec, and another about safety measures during protests.
“We want to join in the Quebec-wide movement against unpaid internships, because the more students go on strike, the more the provincial government is likely to meet our demands,” said Lafontaine.
Photo by Alex Hutchins.