Beginning on Saturday November 20, students at CEGEP du Vieux Montreal (CVM) were locked out of their college for five days. The lockout came as students prepared a week of mobilization against the Liberal government’s planned tuition hikes. The week of student action included strikes, sit-ins, and an outdoor bed-in.
“The goal of closing the CEGEP…is really to prevent the mobilization of students,” argued Laurent Cornelissen, a spokesperson for the AEGCVM, the CEGEP’s student association.
According to Estelle Desgerlis, another AEGCVM spokesperson, students received an email on Saturday morning saying that the CEGEP would be closed until Thursday. In the email, the administration cited the difficulty of securing the school in the face of the week’s coming activism, as the reason for the closure. The CVM administration could not be reached for comment.
“It took three weeks for us to organize the strike and the cultural conference with workshops outside…to really inform people what is happening,” said Fallon Roullier, a student who played a large role in organizing the action.
Last week’s schedule included two strike days on November 23 and 24 along with participation in protests on René Levesque and a protest on McGill campus.
AEGCVM has traditionally held bed-ins the night before student strikes to prepare students for the action and to facilitate more students attending the strikes. This year, in the face of the lockout, students slept outside in a tarp-enclosed barricade.
“In the past we had a lot of experience with bed-ins, we had an experience where things went badly in 2007…[At that time the bed-in was] illegal because the administration did not permit them except that some activists decided to sleep there anyway,” Roullier explained.
Rouiller said that in 2008 the CVM administration oversaw a successful bed-in. The role of the administration included supervision of students and help in accessing bathrooms and water.
This year, in the week before the lockout, there were no negotiations between students and the administration.
“The CEGEP administration refused all forms of negotiations with us in regards to this strike. All we wanted to do with the administration was to talk, make an agreement, make compromises, discuss. But the administration refused that right,” said CVM student Corrine Lagoie.
“It is due to [the unwillingness of the administration to negotiate] that we organized a pacifist sit-in [for Monday afternoon] then in reaction to this pacifism they closed the school for five days,” Lagoie added.
Students eventually staged a sit-in scheduled for Monday, November 22 – the day before the two days of student strikes were set to begin – in order to demand that the administration negotiate with students.
“I think that…[the administration] saw on Facebook the group had 250 people who said they would participate in the sit-in … They feared the would lose ground so they decided simply to close the doors [of the CEGEP],” said Desgerlis.
How the lockout and subsequent student protests will affect long-term relations between the CVM administration and students remains to be seen. But students are bitter about what a student association press release called “a pure display of paternalistic behaviors.”
“[The strike] is the only democratic medium that we can use to be heard apart from voting,” CVM student Jeanne Pilot pointed out. “We cannot wait until 2012 when the [increased tuition fees] have arrived. … I think that [a strike] is the way to send a clear message if you are not heard.”