Up in arms over anti-austerity

Photo by Keith Race.

Over 10,000 march against budget cuts to public sector on Halloween

A familiar sight presented itself in downtown Montreal on Friday as tens of thousands showed their displeasure with provincial austerity cuts. At the protest, students weren’t the only marchers, but were rather joined by professionals, unions members, and public servants.

Concordia’s contingent to the morning protest commenced at the Sir George Williams campus before joining the main group at the McGill University Roddick gates. Colourfully dressed in costumes as befit the occasion and the event entitled “Austerity: A Horror Story,” all assembled were protesting against the large cuts in spending by the Quebec government.

“I think it went really well,” said Concordia Student Union (CSU) President Benjamin Prunty, who noted the comparably large turnout.

“It’s not quite the same as tuition,” he said, referencing the 2012-13 protests that saw hundreds of thousands of people protest against cuts to the education sector. “When the university is looking to cut 180 positions and [is] losing $16 million—and that’s only in one year, obviously the year before they lost more—it’s really easy for students to realize this is affecting them in a real way, and not only that, it will be affecting them in the future.”

Sustainable Concordia’s (SC) External Coordinator, Mike Finck, also agreed that the event was a marked success.

“I think [the event] was very successful on the amount of people who came out on such short notice and looking across who was represented,” he said.

Beside the CSU and SC, representatives from a dozen Concordia student organizations across most faculties. Labour unions like Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) and the Concordia Undergraduate Part-time Faculty Association (CUPFA) were also present.

“The government is not prioritizing the public sector, and so the public sector needs to remind the government … why they exist—which is to provide support for citizens,” said Prunty. Many of the labour contracts at Concordia and Quebec as a whole are up for renegotiation next year, and he says austerity won’t be lost on the negotiators.

“This is all very top-down. We’re told this is the case, we have no choice, and things are compartmentalized,” said Prunty, who disputes the idea of austerity as the only course of action and without alternative discourses. “We have cuts to the public sector, and low and behold, there’s also tax cuts here to certain parts of the private sector or certain parts of the financial sector.”

Prunty would like the university to take a clear stance on the austerity measures coming from the provincial government.

“When you’re making cuts to education instead of to other places, you’re affecting the people who really need it most. It doesn’t make any sense to me when there’s so many opportunities,” said Concordia student and protester Alejandra Melian-Morse. “We’re struggling, and we’re individuals, not huge corporations.”

“The key, really, is to not feel disempowered by this message being constantly pushed down and that we’re always hearing from the figures we see as authorities. The only answer is to start the conversation ourselves,” said Prunty.

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