The Concordia Student Union has taken a lot of heat recently, and rightly so. They failed to properly promote two general assemblies to vote on a strike and their recent elections were an utter disaster with a seriously low voter turnout.
Nonetheless, it’s important to give credit where credit is due. The CSU proved to be a fine leader last Thursday during the massive protest against tuition hikes, when over 200,000 people, many of them students, took to the streets to tell the Charest government to take their planned increases and shove it.
Early Thursday morning, hundreds crowded around the Hall building, where they designed protest signs and discussed their strategies for the day. By noon, over 500 students were heading down to the march’s main meeting point, being lead by CSU President Lex Gill and vice-president external Chad Walcott.
Considering the controversy that has surrounded the CSU in recent weeks and the criticism the executive has faced with regards to a lack of organization, it was pleasing to see the CSU hype up the crowds and lead the massive march for the better part of the three-hour event.
The fact that it was the CSU, the student union of an English Quebec university, playing such a pivotal role in the demonstration sent a strong message, one that said that anglophone students in this province — at least a large part of them — have no intention of being left out of this fierce battle against tuition hikes. While francophone student associations continue to receive most of the praise for their efforts in mobilizing students and keeping the movement alive, the CSU showed us last Thursday that anglophone post-secondary institutions can be just as feisty in this fight with the Charest Liberals.
The demonstration as a whole was a huge success. While it may not have succeeded in swaying the government’s position on tuition, it proved how serious students and their supporters are when it comes to accessible education. The fact that so many people poured into the streets to take part in one of the largest demonstrations in Quebec’s history is very telling of the public mood in this province.
Education Minister Line Beauchamp may do her best to sleep at night by telling herself that the march was simply comprised of “the usual players,” but what the minister has failed to realize — among other things — is that it wasn’t just students or big unions out in the streets on March 22; there were countless parents, grandparents and students from other provinces (Ontario, notably) marching that day as well.
Solidarity between people of different generations and of different backgrounds has not been this evident in Quebec for many years. So it’s important to not let the power of solidarity diminish. The CSU may have taken another hit this past Monday with its failed general assembly — only about 300 students showed up — but this in no way means that the student movement at Concordia is slowly fading away.
The CSU must harness the frustration and anger Concordia students are expressing with regards to tuition increases and the administration’s mismanagement of public funds. Mobilizing students on a large scale is still very much a possibility. The CSU proved to be a powerful leader last Thursday; there’s no reason to believe they can’t do it again.