Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs to strike against tuition hikes

Strike planned on the anniversary of the Maple Spring student strikes which prevented tuition hikes in Quebec in 2012

At a special assembly on Wednesday, March 16, Concordia University’s School of Community and Public Affairs Students’ Association (SCPASA) voted to strike. The demonstration will take place on March 22 – the ten year anniversary of the Maple Spring student strikes, one of the largest student walkouts in history, which saw thousands of students protest tuition hikes.

Today the SCPASA is striking for many of the same causes which students walked out for in 2012. Their primary concern is ongoing tuition hikes, although specific numbers regarding hikes were not shared in the motion.

“We continue the concerns about the ongoing privatization of education and the increasing tuition,” said Ellie Hamilton, a co-chair of the SCPASA Strike Readiness Committee and third year student at the School of Community and Public Affairs. The SCPASA is also striking for reasons that students in 2012 could never have seen coming – a lack of what they believe to be adequate health and safety measures provided by Concordia to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Concordia Student Union (CSU) published an open letter in February requesting the university implement a number of additional health and safety measures to accompany the return to campus, however Concordia has yet to comply with many of these requests such as providing K95 and KN95 masks to students.

“COVID exposed weaknesses. It didn’t create them, and they don’t go away just because we’re pretending the pandemic is over. So primarily tuition, secondarily health and safety and accessibility on campus.”

According to the SCPASA, 30 per cent of students at Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs voted in favor of the student association at the special general assembly where the strike was voted on. The School of Community and Public Affairs is an interdisciplinary program which integrates public policy, advocacy, and community development.

“For our first vote we had 76 per cent in favor, which is a very strong start. And again, we’re emphasizing over and over this is the first step, not the last.” said Hamilton.

The SCPASA will be planning other strikes in the near future with one set to take place on March 25, in order to line up with a future climate strike.

On March 22, the SCPASA will send representatives to the Large Protest for Free Education, an event organized by many Quebec student associations including the CSU, which will take place at Place Du Canada. Those involved will also be walking out of classes and engaging in friendly picketing on campus.

“In the short term, we want students to get experience with these types of mobilizations and we also want them to see that this is part of a bigger moment,” said Hamilton who explained that one of the main goals of this strike is “To help people place themselves within history. Understanding that this is the first step that builds us towards that point we saw with Maple Spring, where students were actually at the negotiating table directly with the government and not trying to do it by proxy through the provincial legislature.”

To Hamilton, organization, mobilization, and strikes like these are important because they have yielded very real and tangible results in the past, as was the case with the Maple Spring.

“This is what democracy looks like at its strongest; it’s when the people are able to get to the negotiating table and have a much more active voice informing policy than just casting a ballot through party machinery that they’ve never touched in their life,” said Hamilton.

Furthermore, to Hamilton fostering this democratic involvement is an essential role of education, which is hindered when universities become further privatized by increasing tuition costs.

“It’s important to protect education, because this is a necessary component to democracy,” said Hamilton.

“We want people to get good work from their university degrees. But if that’s all a university education is to people, we’re losing sight of that second piece that we need to be democratically engaged citizens.”

Photo by Caroline Fabre


Where do we go from here?

Photo from last week’s Nov. 22, 2012 protest (left) by Madelayne Hajek. Photo from the Nov. 10, 2011 demonstration (right) by Navneet Pall.

Several thousand protesters weaved through downtown Montreal in support of free education Thursday despite the Parti Québécois’ reversal of the tuition fee increase implemented by the former provincial government led by the Charest Liberals.

Starting with speeches from the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, students and their supporters gathered at Victoria Square at 1:30 p.m. to promote accessible education in solidarity with the week-long International Student Movement from Nov. 14 to Nov. 22 and address the quality of post-secondary institutions.

The Vanier College Student Association voted this week in favour of a strike and administration cancelled courses at Vanier on Thursday. As the only Anglophone institution to collectively go on strike, many were present for the march including VCSA student representative Nhat Martien Pham.

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

“After the tuition hikes were cancelled, we […] thought that it could have been over, since the purpose of the protests were to oppose the hikes,” said Pham. “I liked that we could show that we are still socially and globally conscious. I was happy to participate, and I was happy Vanier participated.”

The contingent marched for hours without incident before arriving at Place Émilie-Gamelin. While an itinerary was not provided before the march, the Montreal Police allowed the demonstration to continue since it remained peaceful.

Many expressed concern over the provincial budget presented by the PQ last Tuesday. While a higher education summit is planned for February to address concerns associated with the governance of universities and CÉGEPs, the budget provided little information on tuition but reversed the increase in bursaries.

According to Anthony Kantara, a VCSA Mob Squad member, the protest served as a warning to the PQ to abide by its promises.

“It is a statement and reminder to the current PQ government that we are watching and have not forgotten what has been promised,” said Kantara. “We hope that going on strike [will] help put more support in for the major student associations, like ASSÉ.”

L’ASSÉ announced Sunday it will send representatives to the higher education summit.

Photo by Madelayne Hajek

“We remain distrustful of this consultation,” said spokesperson Jérémie Bédard-Wien, “and we stress that only a large, collective action can bring social change.”

Therefore, the ASSÉ will bring the notion of complementary education to the discussion and organize a protest beforehand so “all voices will be heard.”

Conversely, other student associations including the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec and the Concordia Student Union, championed for a rollback and freeze of the tuition fees but not the abolishment of fees altogether.

“The CSU has no mandate for free education,” said VP external Simon-Pierre Lauzon. “We’re mobilizing our student body in order to get a clear idea of their wishes. Once this idea is clear, we will push for it at the education summit.”


A march for free education

Hundreds of demonstrators marched in the pouring rain Saturday, to celebrate the repealed tuition fee increase and abolished Law 12 while continuing to take a stand for free education.

The newly formed provincial government scrapped the proposed seven-year tuition fee increase of $254 per year Thursday, following months of social unrest from the student strike movement. The Parti Québécois also abolished the controversial Law 12 aimed to limit protests implemented by the former Liberal government.

The Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante led the protest through the streets of the downtown core around 2:50 p.m. from Lafontaine Park. Members of CLASSE began the monthly protest with speeches congratulating the student movement on their victory.

“The goal of this protest is to revive the debate about free tuition,” said Jeanne Reynolds, a spokesperson for CLASSE.

Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec and Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec were not present for the march, as both student groups fought for a tuition fee freeze and not free education. Both student associations declared victory following the repeal of the tuition hike.

Concordia University undergraduate student Robin Sas marched in support of the PQ’s decision to stomp out the hike.

“We have to celebrate the victories because they are rare,” said Sas. “That’s not to say I think it’s over but it’s a big victory in a continued fight.”

John Aspler, a recent McGill University graduate, said this was the first monthly protest he did not participate in. Aspler felt that the PQ’s position on universities’ management of funds and financial aid for students remains unclear.

“I don’t even know what we’re protesting anymore,” said Aspler. “I mean, maybe learn to compromise.”

Bishop’s University student Matt O’Neil believes that the student strike movement already won their victory and that the demonstration was unwarranted.

“It’s ridiculous, they already got their freeze,” explained O’Neil. “Now it’s getting down to greed.”

“CLASSE is leading the way in the fight toward free education, a model I personally agree with,” added Sas. “Why have any barriers based on income to education?”

“As long as there is a fee, some will be excluded, regardless of ability. Loans and bursaries are often insufficient, and student debt can be crippling,” Sas explained.

The demonstration ended with the arrest of two protesters and a police officer was injured on Sherbrooke St. after being pelted with a projectile outside of Loto-Québec. The Montreal Police declared the protest illegal around 4:30 p.m. and asked demonstrators to disperse.

“I think the protests will continue but with the most radical elements involved which could be awful,” said Aspler. “All of the 22nd protests have been peaceful except for this one.

Anthony Kantara, a Vanier College student, said that students must put pressure on Premier Pauline Marois because of her plan to index tuition fees.

“She’s not perfect,” said Kantara. “That’s why we have to keep fighting.”

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