Student interns gather to protest unpaid labour

With increasing rent and tuition, students cannot afford to work for free.

On March 29, students from Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Concordia and other universities gathered to protest against unpaid internships at Parc Émilie-Gamelin. The Coalition de résistance pour l’unité étudiante syndicale (CRUES) planned a three-day strike along with the protests.

Attendees weren’t only students. Alice Lefevre, who graduated from UQAM, came to show solidarity as a former student intern.

“At UQAM, there were people from social sciences, education and political sciences that were striking,” Lefevre said. 

The jobs these students are being assigned is stressful, especially in emotionally difficult fields such as social work. Lefevre did 800 hours of internship in this field.. 

She chose not to pursue the field. Lefevre now works with the student union at UQAM. 

“Maybe if I’d had a pay and a salary… I felt during my studies that if I was being treated fairly as any other male workers, maybe I would be a social worker today,” Lefevre said.

There were feminist and pro-transgender chants as well. One of the chants referenced the comité des sages, a committee started by the CAQ to discuss gender issues which has been protested by advocates, showing the interconnected nature of these issues.

Gender plays a role in inequalities of internships. According to data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, women are more likely to be unpaid interns than men. 

“The audacity of these major corporations or government institutions to tell them: ‘Give us your labour, give us your time, your passion, for free.’ I find it very disrespectful,” said Angelica Antonakopoulos, academic coordinator for the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA).

Antonakopoulos was lucky enough to get a paid internship, but wanted to show solidarity with her fellow students. With rent and tuition rising, and the ending of lease transfers, students can’t afford to do unpaid labour.

“You can’t tell people to work for free anymore,” Antonakopoulos said.

She was one of two speakers who got the crowd energized. They spoke to the frustration of the students, saying that they’re sick of being exploited and used by the government. 

As such, students are asked to pay even more to work for free, according to Lefevre.

The demonstrators marched to the ministry of education building on Fullum Street, where they stood outside chanting and singing.

Alicia Aubin is in her third year of a degree to teach English as a second language at UQAM. She pointed out that teachers and nurses are commonly unpaid interns. This ties into the gendered aspect, as women are more likely to be in these fields

“Sometimes it lasts up to eight to ten weeks of us doing 100 per cent of the teacher’s workload,” Aubin said. “That’s really draining.”


Concordia student associations move to strike against tuition increases

Mobilization against tuition hikes continues with multiple student groups moving to strike on Nov. 30. 

The Geography Undergraduate Student Society (GUSS) moved in unanimous support to block access to classrooms in accordance with a “hard picket” on Friday, Nov. 30 against the tuition hikes for out-of-province and international students.

Another student protest is set to happen on the corner of De Maisonneuve and McKay at 12 p.m. on Nov. 30. The movement is currently supported by the CSU, ASFA and the McGill student associations.

The tuition hikes will raise tuition for out-of-province students from around $9,000 to $17,000. For international students, the government will charge universities $20,000 per international student outside of France and Belgium. Concordia has now started a page for FAQs and the implications of the tuition changes

In a general meeting open to all members of the geography undergraduate program on Nov. 17, GUSS moved to block the entrances of geography classes on Nov. 30 as an action of hard picketing. They will be accompanied by a number of other student associations including the Fine Arts Student Association (FASA), the Urban Planning Association (UPA) and the School of Community and Public Affairs Student Association (SCPSA) among other MAs in defiance against tuition hikes. 

“I found a program here that I really like, and I’ve found a community and a city I really like,” said Max Neumann, a student on the GUSS mobilization committee.

Neumann is from British Columbia and was looking to pursue a masters degree in Quebec, but will not be able to because of the tuition increases. She said that Concordia’s opportunities for geography students are unique to the university and that many students will be pushed into programs in Ontario because of the tuition hikes.

Some students have expressed concern with what they will potentially lose out on by not attending the classes that they paid to attend, but GUSS is lobbying to make sure that the effects of the hike on the students will not be detrimental. 

Jackson Esworthy, a GUSS executive, said that a lot of the faculty informally supports student action against tuition hikes since this will affect the faculty and Concordia will see cutbacks in funding. They have not seen information from Concordia on which will be the most impacted programs nor any specific reports per program. 

Students have a long history of successful student strikes in the province of Quebec. Esworhty added that GUSS was one of the first student associations in the province to lead the strike against the increased tuition. “That [strike] started at Concordia on the MA level,” Esworthy said about the 2012 “Red Squares” strike against the increase of tuition. 

In 2012, students across Quebec mobilized against tuition increases posed by Jean Charest’s Liberal Party at the time to increase tuition by $325 every year from 2012 to 2017. Thousands of students across Quebec took to the streets to participate in the longest general unlimited strike in Canadian history. 

As for the current tuition increases, weekly meetings are held with Concordia’s student groups as well as groups from other universities across Montreal including McGill and UQAM to maintain a front of solidarity and to work together to hold student strikes.

UQAM’s ASFA equivalent, Association Facultaire Étudiante des Sciences Humaines de l’UQAM (AFESH), told The Concordian that they “offer solidarity to student associations of English universities,” but offered no comment about whether they were participating in the strikes on Nov. 30.

The strikes on Nov. 30 will not be the last. The ASFA is moving to host a three-day strike from Wednesday, Jan. 31 to Friday, Feb. 2. 


PHOTOS: Quebec student strike ‘Maple Spring’ marks 10 years

Students and teachers protest against tuition hikes and demand free education at all levels

On Tuesday, March 22, hundreds of students gathered around Place du Canada to strike and mark the tenth anniversary of the 2012 Quebec strike against the provincial government and its increase in tuition fees. The demonstration was organized and led by several student associations across Quebec.

While others were marching and blocking the streets of Montreal, dozens of Concordia students set up tents on the second floor of the Hall building to show their support.

Concordia University students camped out in the Hall building in solidarity with the Free Education protest. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

At the march, Ludmila Hérault, a 17-year-old student and spokesperson for Collège de Bois de Boulogne, addressed her speech to the government of Quebec.

“Dear government, aren’t you supposed to encourage a world in which every individual would have the same rights?” Hérault asked. “A world in which education is not about money, or a world in which each person is given the same opportunities in order to build the future they wish?” Hérault added.

According to Gratuité Scolaire, 85,000 students from 50 student associations in Quebec planned to go on strike that Tuesday.

The strike was largest downtown near UQAM, Concordia, and McGill University areas. KAITLYNN RODNEY/The Concordian

Students moved from downtown to flood St. Laurent St. in the Village. KAITLYNN RODNEY/The Concordian

Among the different students associations across Quebec demanding reduced fees was l’Association étudiante du Cégep de Sherbrooke (AÉCS) who travelled close to two hours to attend the protest.

“We came today [with] two buses from CEGEP Sherbrooke because we think that education is a right and not a privilege,” said Hugo Forget, a member of the AÉCS.

Since 2006, annual tuition for undergraduate students in Quebec has increased by $111 every year. Today, tuition for an undergraduate student reaches $4,310, compared to $2,506 in 2006. The Quebec government recently announced a 5.4 per cent increase in spending on education.

Many demonstrators marched wearing a red square of fabric to symbolize support for the 2012 student strike. The symbol has been used historically to represent students opposed to tuition increases and their supporters.

On March 18, 2011, the Quebec government, led by Jean Charest and the Quebec Liberal Party, announced a budget that hiked university tuition fees in what would amount to a 75 per cent increase from $2,168 to $3,793.

The decision to increase tuition fees sparked the longest student strike in history. From February 13, 2011, to September 7, 2012, student associations went on strike for an indefinite period before Bill 78 was passed, which forced students to go back to class and limited their right to protest.

At the strike on Tuesday, the Fédération nationale des enseigantes et enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ) walked alongside student associations in solidarity. Benoît Lacoursière, a member of the FNEEQ, was one of the many teachers present at the 2012 strike and was back to show his support.

“For us, it is a fundamental value to access education, and solidarity is a fundamental value,” said Lacoursière. “It is important to continue to maintain this current struggle.”

The main message of the recent protest was to give students a voice and hope for their future education. Speakers also called attention to unpaid internships and demanded free education at all levels.

“We are on their side not only in class, but outside in their demands, and then it is their turn to speak,” said Martine Huot, a professor at Cégep du Vieux Montréal.

Following Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs Students’ Association (SCPASA) assembly on March 16, many members of the SCPASA joined the free education strike.

“Today is about showing the students are capable of mobilizing and creating momentum for future movements,” said Joshua Sallos, a member of the SCPASA.

At Concordia University, the students who set up tents on the second floor of the Hall building to occupy the space requested to be referred to by their first names to demonstrate a group effort.

“We’ve been a group of non-hierarchical students who are looking to democratize education, to exercise our power and our right as students to demand change and to organize as students to kind of force that change upon institutions, rather than just as individuals trying to approach an institution with issues,” said Luna, a participant.

Though the occupation was a joint effort among students, a source clarified both Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) and Concordia Student Union (CSU) helped fund and provide food for the protest.

The group camped for three days and held general assemblies every night at 7 p.m. to discuss their demands about free education.

“We were trying to keep it under wraps. […] It was mostly affinity-based,” said Errico, one of the group’s security liaisons.

On Tuesday night, students shared their demands, writing them on a whiteboard. A few requests included free education, commitment to divest, more voices in student government, disability justice, non-corporate education, better engagement from faculty, and more.


A list of demands was written by the protesters to put on display. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

On Wednesday morning, Andrew Woodall, dean of students, was on-site to speak to the occupiers.

“My role is to develop relationships with the students, understand what they are doing and make sure that they have someone to whom they can reach out if there are any problems or concerns about logistics or anything else,” said Woodall.

The occupation ended on Friday following a teach-in rally where Indigenous leaders and activists spoke about the climate crisis at the Sir George-Étienne Cartier Monument in Mount Royal Park.










The sit-in lasted 3 days and ended on Friday, March 25. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

Photos by Kaitlynn Rodney and Catherine Reynolds


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

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