Fed up with the government’s looming tuition hikes and with its general disregard for student concerns, the Concordia Student Union is set to hold a vote on a potential general strike that could happen by the end of March.
On the professors’ side, the full-time faculty association is presently in negotiations over a collective agreement with the administration, while the part-time association is gearing up for similar talks later this year. The United Steel Workers, whose members provide services so crucial to this university, are still seeing their negotiations with the big ConU bosses lag.
What all these groups have in common is not only a general sense of frustration, but also an institution that they can all claim as the source of their frustration: Concordia University. So as students prepare for a possible strike, one that they may or may not want to take part in, they should also keep in mind that there are other organizations at this university that find themselves in a similar boat and merit solidarity.
For months, if not years, Concordia students have called for an increase in transparency at this university, especially after former president Judith Woodsworth was so unceremoniously ousted from office by the Board of Governors and sent packing with a $700,000 severance package. It’s important that students remember that faculty members and staff have, for the most part, always stood alongside students in their quest for better governance at Concordia. They have also written letters to the editors of newspapers expressing their discontent, and they have also spoken out at Senate against Concordia’s sometimes questionable administrative practices.
With exams, social lives, part-time jobs, and potential bad weather to balance, it wouldn’t be that surprising if a majority of students decided against a general strike. Certainly, a protest of that magnitude would send a message to the Charest government, but whether or not it would be effective (remember Nov. 10, anyone?) remains to be seen.
Nonetheless, it would not hurt for students to keep in mind that the professors, librarians, plumbers, and electricians who also contribute to the fabric of this university are at times teetering on the edge of a potential strike themselves. The USW workers have already walked out before, and a general strike among their members has not been completely ruled out. The facts are there: the USW members at Concordia are among the lowest paid in their field in Quebec, while the part-time faculty association had to wrestle for seven long years with the university the last time a collective agreement was in the works.
People’s jobs and benefits are at stake, and a strike for some of them may be the last resort. Will the university listen, or turn a blind eye the same way the Charest government has done repeatedly to students? Whatever the result, solidarity will be remain crucial throughout this year. Strength through numbers could be the deciding factor in whether or not students, faculty, and staff get what they want from their university and from their government.