The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) hosted an Anti-Austerity Activities Night on March 19. Structured similarly to Activities Night, which traditionally happens at the beginning of each semester, different McGill groups set up tables and stations related to the local effects of recent austerity measures.
“Sustainability groups, labour unions, and campus media have all come out because this issue affects them directly,” Bronwen Tucker, SSMU Campaigns Coordinator and co-organizer of the event, told The Daily. “We were really lucky to be able to collaborate with a lot of different groups, I think it shows how many aspects of society austerity affects […] and helps get a lot of students engaged.”
The Union for Gender Empowerment (UGE), Demilitarize McGill, CKUT, the Association of McGill University Research Employees (AMURE), and other groups hosted stations to inform those at the event about how the effects of austerity pertain to education, colonialism, environment, labour, health, militarism, and gender issues. People at the stations also shared skills about safety at demonstrations, student strikes, net security, and direct action.
“Sustainability groups, labour unions, and campus media have all come out because this issue affects them directly. We were really lucky to be able to collaborate with a lot of different groups, I think it shows how many aspects of society austerity affects […] and helps get a lot of students engaged.”
“I’m here to make connections with community groups and see how I can join them in their struggles,” first-year student Aishwarya Singh told The Daily. “On an individual basis I find it difficult to fight austerity, because I think it requires mass mobilization.”
The event, attended by roughly fifty students, follows a motion passed at the Fall 2014 SSMU General Assembly regarding solidarity against austerity. “The aim of SSMU’s campaign right now is to give students resources to mobilize around the issue,” noted Tucker.
Tyler Lawson, AMURE Collective Agreement Coordinator, discussed the impacts of austerity on McGill employees. “The [McGill] administration uses the provincial cuts to justify freezing full-time positions or precariously hiring more casual employees,” Lawson told The Daily. “What’s been happening now is people are working three-month contracts without job security, pensions, or any benefits, fulfilling the responsibilities that otherwise would have been accounted for under full-time positions.”
In terms of actions taken in response to such budget cuts, AMURE has launched a sexual assault counselling program to support members who have experienced sexual assault, domestic violence, or abuse.
“The government is choosing to make budget cuts that hurt the most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations,” Tucker pointed out. “Even though it affects students directly through tuition, it affects everyone in so many other ways.”
“With austerity, you start to see a lot of disturbing colonialist rhetoric. People start saying, ‘If they’re going to raise tuition, why don’t we just continue expanding resource extraction in the North via Plan Nord, and pay for the tuition using that money?’”
McGill student and member of the Indigenous Women and Two Spirit Harm Reduction Coalition Molly Swain highlighted the effects that austerity has on the Indigenous community.
“With austerity, you start to see a lot of disturbing colonialist rhetoric. People start saying, ‘If they’re going to raise tuition, why don’t we just continue expanding resource extraction in the North via Plan Nord, and pay for the tuition using that money?’” Swain explained at her station.
“Continuing the expropriation of Indigenous lands often ruins them for activities such as fishing, hunting, and harvesting,” she added.
“This is also an issue of […] violence [specifically] against Indigenous women and children,” continued Swain. “There’s been research done that shows that gendered and sexualized violence against women and children tends to go up a lot once areas get opened for resource extraction, since what ends up happening is these corporations will bring in largely male-dominated and transient populations.”
Although McGill has not taken as much action against austerity as other universities in Quebec, the Activities Night was evidence of ongoing interest in anti-austerity activism among students.
“It’s definitely not an issue that’s going away,” Tucker stressed. “For this mobilization […] to continue, we’re trying to use the last bit of the semester to really get students involved before the summer, so it’s something that will definitely still be relevant next year.”