SCPA students join journalism students in fight for paid internships
Undergraduate students from the School of Community and Public Affairs (SCPA) officially launched a week-long strike on Monday, March 18 which lasted until Friday, March 22.
On Monday, SCPA students picketted in front of classrooms in the Hall building. There was also a workshop about the importance of strikes, which explained why people should not cross picket lines and what tactics to use during a march.
“Unpaid internships are a pressing issue because it is unpaid labour,” said Rhys McKay, a member of the SCPA strike committee. “We are paying [tuition fees] to do free work.” They added that internships in the program are mandatory for graduation and most of them are unpaid. “The internship needs to be 120 hours [in total] and we need to find it ourselves.”
McKay said this issue mostly affects people from marginalized communities who face financial barriers that impede them from taking an unpaid internship. “It really puts people who are low-income in a precarious position because the completion of their education is based on them completing unpaid labour,” they said.
According to McKay, many people are not aware of the unpaid internships in SCPA because it is a small program. “There isn’t much awareness about our program in general,” McKay said. “Our field is diverse, so the internships are similar to the ones found for social work or political science [since] they deal with non-profit based work.”
While McKay planned on taking an unpaid internship this semester, they are waiting until the strike ends to see what happens.
“We shouldn’t have to do unpaid labour in order to accomplish our studies,” said McKay. “If there are no changes that happen, it really demonstrates that the Quebec government does not care about students.”
The strike goals echo those of other student associations, in saying that all internships should be paid and that interns should be protected under Quebec’s labour law.
SCPA students participated in two protests against unpaid internships alongside journalism students and students from other Quebec universities and CEGEPS.
“Supporting each other is really important, as we organize such a big undertaking and learn what it takes to work towards such an important goal,” said Brenagh Rapoport, the finance secretary of the SCPA’s student association.
Rapoport said the strike has helped educate the student body about the purpose of a strike. “The reaction has been engaging from many students,” she said. “Not everyone has understood why the strike is necessary, but that’s just generated a wonderfully productive community conversation around the necessity of student organizing.”
Rapoport hopes the two marches will result in systemic changes. “The stronger our presence together, the stronger the message we will send to our university administrations and the Legault government that unpaid internships unfairly hurt students,” she said.
Photo by Hannah Ewen.