Students from across Canada are planning a day of strike and action on Oct. 31 to stop the establishment of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
“The creation of a free trade area of the Americas would result in a continent wide labour pool, with countries competing to provide the cheapest labour resulting in a race to the bottom,” said Phil Ilijevik, one of the organizers of the three day conference leading up to the decision to strike. Ilijevik went on to add that health care, education and the environment are all threatened by these negotiations and that people must do their best to stop it.
The decision was made by students from across Canada attending the first Pan-Canadian Student Conference Against the FTAA, held at Concordia and McGill Aug. 9 to 11.
The date was agreed upon on the last day of the conference, after over three hours of discussion between nearly forty activists from across the country. In the end, Oct. 31 was adopted as the working date in solidarity with similar events being planned across South America and in parts of the United States to coincide with the next round of FTAA discussions.
There was much debate over the name, with organizers hoping to appeal to the largest number of people, while not weakening the message of opposition to the FTAA. The name finally adopted was the Solidarity Network to Stop the FTAA (SNSF). Participants decided early on to forego putting “student” in the title of the group, in hopes that it will eventually be possible to reach out to community and labour activist as well.
The proposal for a day of strike and action originated with South American activists who had been in contact with members of the Quebec branch of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS-Q). The date is intended to correspond with the fifth round of FTAA discussions of the Organization of American States to be held in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, in November. This was the same motivation for the protest in Quebec City in 2001, which attracted over 40,000 demonstrators to the provincial capital.
Opposition to corporate globalisation and the FTAA in particular has been growing ever since the first major demonstration against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Seattle in 2000. Specifically, students fear clauses in free trade agreements calling for the increased privatisation of the public sector, including education and health care.
Organized by the CFSQ and by the Association for a Solidarity among Student Unions (ASSU), the three day conference attracted over 30 students from across Canada and dozens more from Montreal and the rest of Quebec.
“[The conference] clarified things that may have been a little ambiguous. It set a good foundation for a project together. It’s exciting to see all these people together at the same time,” said Jaydeep Singh
Mangat, the external relations officer for the Simon Fraser Student Society, who was in Montreal with several other BC students for the conference. The biggest draw was the panel discussion held Aug. 9 at McGill’s