Commentary  Students stand with MUNACA

Why the demonstration last Thursday helped the union’s cause

To cheers of “solidarity forever” and “worker’s rights,” thirty to forty brave McGill students marched through the Roddick Gates on Thursday morning. Armed with pots, pans, and a megaphone, it was a show of solidarity with striking MUNACA workers. The strike, which has been going on since the beginning of classes, is an attempt by McGill’s non-academic staff to reopen talks with the University about a new collective agreement. The strikers are simply asking for a contract similar to those held by other university workers in Montreal regarding wage increases that are on par with inflation, pensions, and benefits. The students who marched on Thursday took up this call for parity. It’s a call not only issued by MUNACA, but also by SSMU and the consciences of those who chose to attend the protest. We must take a stand against the administration’s unfair unilateral actions. Only through solidarity with MUNACA can we ensure that workers’ rights are respected.

The students gathered at the Roddick gates around 9:45 a.m., assembling near the picket line and arming themselves with signs proclaiming support of McGill students for MUNACA. After the group had gathered, they prepared to march through the gates and into the campus. Some students pulled their signs off the sticks holding them up, wanting to make sure McGill security – who were massing to block their entrance to the campus – knew that they weren’t planning anything violent.
It’s unclear whether the marchers’ numbers were too great for the handful of security guards to handle or if the agents (who were listening nervously to their radios) were ordered not to deny students their right to enter campus. Either way, students marched through the gates in true activist fashion.

They made their way to the MacDonald Engineering building, chanting and bolstering their numbers with students who spontaneously joined their ranks. Once they reached MacDonald, Joel Pednault, SSMU VP External, explained to the group that the Board of Governors was having their annual cocktail inside. The marchers booed and chanted in response, hoping that the Governors inside would hear their cries and consider MUNACA’s proposals. It made for a powerful scene: a band of students demanding justice from a group of invisible and powerful executives that were sequestered away behind a guarded door, presumably pleading bankruptcy and preaching austerity while enjoying their cocktails.

The group then headed to the Administration building, where Pednault explained that over $2 million had been spent renovating a set of administrative conference rooms, a fact commonly used by the strikers to call into question the University’s lack of funding. Another student then took the megaphone and shouted “I have a message for Principal Heather Monroe Blum and the members of the administration!” and then called for the principal to come out and talk to them, explain her position, and resume negotiations. That same student then demanded that Munroe Blum respect the University’s status as a place of social change and as an institution committed to democratic principles by engaging in an open debate.

The students received no answer. In the end, they rejoined the three MUNACA picket lines on campus where they were greeted with shouts of appreciation (and Timbits) from the strikers, as well as honks from supportive drivers.

Security guards took videos of the protestors, but that shouldn’t discourage other students angry at the University’s negative unilateral actions from participating in future demonstrations. A McGill security manager said that the videos taken by security guards were only to be used in the event that an infraction was committed. He specified that the tapes would not be used to target students who participated in the march. The administration cannot hurt you in any way if you simply exercise your democratic right to peaceful protest.

The strike’s effects are already being felt, as it affects registration, building opening times, lecture recordings, and countless other University functions. However, the administration’s has not been open about the issue. SSMU released a statement claiming that Monroe Blum’s responses were “less detailed than [they] had expected.” Only as of last Friday, were more details of the strike made available by the administration via McGill mail and the University website.

Actions such as the march, the picketing, and the outpouring of support all contributed to the resumption of negotiations on Friday. But these negotiations were only achieved after the University saw the McGill community’s solidarity with MUNACA.

These events as a reminder that if we all act together, we can bring about the changes we believe in. MUNACA strikers are not alone in their opposition to the University’s proposals, and students will keep fighting for social justice and fairness.

*The byline attributed to this article is a psuedonym.