Arts students voted against joining the unlimited general strike in Quebec on Tuesday evening, in the third Arts General Assembly (GA) of the year.
Beginning three hours after its scheduled start time with the last-minute addition of two overflow rooms, the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) GA convened in the SSMU cafeteria at nearly 9 p.m., with over 1,000 students in attendance in various campus locations.
While six resolutions were on the agenda to be discussed, the majority of students attended to vote on the resolution calling for AUS to join in an unlimited strike against the impending Quebec tuition hikes.
There are currently over 144,000 students on strike across Quebec in protest of a five-year, $1,625 tuition increase scheduled to begin this September.
In an informal discussion period prior to the start of the GA, a student questioned the AUS as to how they were not prepared for the volume of students – the line to enter the Shatner building stretched across campus for over an hour – resulting in a hours-long scramble for additional space.
AUS Speaker Ben Lerer said that this rate of attendance could not have been anticipated based on prior participation at AUS GAs, both of which had showings of fewer than three hundred students, and lost the 150-member quorum within the first few hours.
U1 History student Ben Patrick Stidworthy expressed frustration with the disorganization, indicating that they “gave plenty of warning regarding how many people were going to show up. We told them to prepare for at least 1,000.”
Communication between the SSMU cafeteria and overflow in the SSMU Ballroom and Leacock 132 was facilitated via Skype. Logistical issues continued to be a problem throughout the GA, with ten to twenty minute delays while waiting to hear results from all of the rooms.
Students who were not in the cafeteria and wished to participate in debate were required to walk over, and it took several minutes to arrange the lines of debaters.
Those in attendance criticized the management of the overflow rooms. Kearsten Chau, a U2 Arts student, was in Leacock 132 during the GA.
“It was actually very upsetting, as I felt that a lot of it was handled undemocratically in the sense that a lot of the time the media feed was muted during really important points of debate,” she said.
“It was also muted when [Lerer] was reading through the text of what we were actually voting on,” she added.
After a quick passing of a motion to allow a TVM livestream, and a slight rearrangement of the agenda, debate on a resolution that would place the more than 7,000 AUS students on an unlimited general strike took place.
A mandatory six-minute debate period was enforced, with three speakers in favour of the motion and three against.
Strike proponents emphasized the historic success of student strikes in Quebec and the limited access to education that a tuition hike would entail. Anti-strike debaters focused on the unrepresentative nature of the vote, the impact a strike would have on the rest of the semester, and the pursuit of better financial aid programs rather than a strike against the tuition hike.
AUS VP Finance Marlene Benavides added the fact that the joining of the strike mobilizing body CLASSE (Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante) – which the resolution would mandate the AUS to request to join – would cost the AUS $5,600.
Before any amendments to the motion could be made, a motion to suspend the rules and call the strike vote to question was raised by Brendan Steven, a U3 Political Science student and member of the McGill Moderate Political Action Committee, in the SSMU cafeteria. All three rooms voted on the motion.
The motion to call the question passed with 777 in favour and 236 against, though students in Leacock 132 voted to recount, and were still voting on whether to call the question when the ballroom and cafeteria began voting on the actual motion to strike.
After a suspenseful thirty-five minute wait for the results of the final vote, the call to go on strike was voted down with a final outcome of 495 for a strike, 609 against a strike, and 16 abstentions. The vote constituted a 55 per cent vote against the strike.
Harmon Moon, a U2 History student and Daily columnist, came to vote against the strike. “I think that we proved pretty conclusively that McGill does not want to strike…and as a result McGill is not going to go on strike, despite this attempt to shoehorn it through a GA,” he said.
Reflecting on the sentiment of the evening, U3 Arts student and President of the History Students Association Michelle Reddick told The Daily, “It was extremely intense, and extremely close, and very nerve-wracking.”
“I was a little surprised that [AUS] hadn’t anticipated for more space. I know that that is really hard to do but given the enormity of the issue in the province, they had to know SSMU would fill up,” she continued.
Students left en masse after the results, and the GA was left with 119 people to vote on the remaining four resolutions.
With the required quorum of 150, the group became a consultative body, with any passed motion becoming solely a recommendation to the AUS Council; the body voted to adjourn shortly after, without discussing or voting on any further motions.
The resolutions that were tabled include a constitutional amendment requiring online ratification of GA resolutions and an increase of GA quorum. Other resolutions included the creation of a Committee on Equity and Dignity, the creation of an AUS Audit Committee, and a series of amendments to the constitution regarding AUS spaces.
Last week, the McGill Post-Graduate Students’ Society and Macdonald Campus Students’ Society voted to go on three-day and one-day strike respectively, leading up to the March 22 provincial day of action against the tuition hikes.
The Concordia Student Union (CSU) and Graduate Student Association also voted to strike last week. CSU will begin striking Thursday.
In the aftermath of the GA, the SSMU Executive Committee issued a statement to AUS communicating that they were “disgusted by your sense of entitlement and disrespect for the space, time, and resources of others,” as “the SSMU Executive and full-time staff had to neglect their other responsibilities to intervene in the crisis.”
A number of actions were taken in addition to this statement, including a banning AUS from room bookings in the Shatner building for the remainder of the semester, except on a case-by-case basis.
Additionally, AUS will be billed for “all security agents, staff overtime, services (including TVM), and cleaning costs incurred [during the GA].”