Students often take it for granted that there are more than 3,000 workers on campus who make up the McGill community. This was blatantly evident in The Daily’s leading story on the Reclaim Your Campus (RYC) September 10 rally (“Students unite to take back campus,” News, September 11).
The Teaching Assistants’ union (AGSEM) and the non-academic workers union (MUNACA) are also active members of the RYC campaign, which aims to unite students and workers on a common goal to reclaim McGill. As far as I can remember, RYC is the first seriously organized coalition between students and workers that goes beyond the usual nice-gesture-but-weak-solidarity of past protests.
Now, I won’t even get to the disturbing fact that about 300 out of 540 words in that News piece were dedicated to the bike protest, and that the subheadline was also about the bike protest. This shifted the focus from the real demands of the campaign, which include the following: a fair contract for MUNACA, justice for TAs who were victimized during the strike, a democratically elected McGill Board of Governors (BoG), student space and freedom to organize events, and respect for referendum result.
However, I am not trying to attack The McGill Daily or their writer for underreporting the workers’ participation in the RYC campaign. The point of this article is to expose a bigger problem we have on our campus, which is the chronic ghettoization of student movement and student life in general. For many students, workers on campus are almost invisible; they are not part of campus life. Instead, the librarians are just staff members who are paid to maintain the library. The janitors are just some people paid to mop the floors. Student issues are the students’ only. Worker issues’ are the workers’ only. And not for the better.
This process of alienation is part of the privatization and underfunding of our public education system, in which students and the workers are pitted against each other by university administrations. If students demand lower tuition fees, the administration responds by saying this will lead to a decreasing quality of education – which is an euphemism for sacking workers. If the workers demand better working conditions and salaries, the administration complains that they are working on a deficit budget already, which is another way of saying that this will require an increase in tuition fees. Although, in reality, neither the students nor the workers ever win, since tuition fees are still shooting through the roof while the workers aren’t getting better working conditions.
However, if we frame the issue in such a way that all members of the McGill community should be treated with respect – not only in words but also in deeds – which can only mean accessible quality education for the students and better working conditions for the workers, then we can clearly see that students and workers have the same interests. The only thing standing in their way is the corporate interest – represented by the high-ranking officers at McGill and the BoG – which is encroaching on our education system.
This is not a personal appeal for each student to start getting buddy-buddy with the workers on campus. No. This ghettoization of student life is a social issue and cannot be solved through individual actions. It will take a collective effort from all members of the McGill community – students and workers – and the people of Montreal to break the stronghold of corporate interest on our campus, the driving force behind the alienation of students and workers. Furthermore, this collective effort has to be organized, and the RYC is the first step toward that.
Ted Sprague is a Master’s II Chemistry student.