As over 200,000 students from across Quebec go on strike today – including McGill’s Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) – McGill’s graduate students, teaching and support staff are adding their voices to the fight against tuition hikes.
Unions representing McGill’s TAs, course lecturers, striking support staff, and even some professors, are mobilizing around today’s province-wide student walkout that could see tens of thousands of students take to the streets of Montreal.
The Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill represents TAs, invigilators, and – as of this year – course lecturers. AGSEM will be hosting an assembly for its members at the Y-intersection at 12:30 p.m., after which members will be encouraged to join the main McGill contingent at the Roddick Gates, who are meeting at 1 p.m.
Lerona Lewis, AGSEM president, said that the union’s participation in the protest is mandated by a 2010 General Assembly, in which members voted to “support the movement against the increase in fees.”
After months at the bargaining table, Lewis spoke against the Quebec government and the McGill administrations’ claims that higher tuition will allow schools to attract better teaching talent. “The University has not yet come back with a response that says [we] will get more than 1.2 per cent increase in pay,” she said, referring to TA salaries.
Lewis added, “We don’t think…students have to pay more so that educators can be paid,” citing a “bloated administration” in her criticism of University management of finances.
The McGill Faculty Labour Action Group, a loose organization formed in response to the recent MUNACA strike, has been circulating a statement pledging to grant academic amnesty to any striking student.
At press time, the statement had been signed by 17 professors two days after an AUS General Assembly voted to lobby professors for academic amnesty. Derek Nystrom, a professor in the Department of English and a signatory, said that while AUS has been encouraging professors to cancel class, there is no organized campaign to cancel Thursday classes.
Asked if he expects any repercussions from the McGill administration, Nystrom said, “It does raise questions about academic freedom, pedagogical freedom, and things like that. So I genuinely don’t know if they’re going to bother.”
Yesterday morning, Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi sent an email to department chairs reminding them that there is no “general academic amnesty” for students who miss class.
If professors cancel their classes, the email continues, they will be required to inform the chair of the department, provide “Reasonable Justification,” and indicate how the missed class time will be made up.
The Post-Graduate Students’ Society is encouraging their members to participate in the demonstration, though it has not voted to strike. The PGSS contingent will meet up with striking Concordia students at Ste. Catherine before moving to the main protest site, Place Émilie Gamelin.
According to PGSS VP External Mariève Isabel, the society has been publicizing the day of protest since September with posters, fliers, and a town hall on tuition fees. They have also been working closely with the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), their parent student lobbying organization.
The union representing support staff at McGill, on strike since the beginning of the school year, will also be joining the demonstration. According to MUNACA VP Finance David Kalant, the union has moved its picket duty to the march so striking workers can fulfill their duties by attending. The union and student protesters share similar concerns, he said.
“We do support the students fighting an increase in tuition fees. We think the problem really is not the funding, it’s a matter of how it’s used. That’s [MUNACA’s] issue as well… It’s part of the same problem.”
Kalant said he expects roughly 900 MUNACA strikers to attend the march, based on the number of workers regularly on the picket lines.