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How the Quebec student movement is reaching out to Anglophones

While student movements in Quebec have been, historically, almost exclusively Francophone, the current strike seems to be making an effort to integrate both sides.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the spokesperson for the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE), said that efforts have been made to include Anglophone students in the movement.

“There is no secret, it is a question of making more effort and more mobilization,” said Nadeau-Dubois in French.

Six faculty associations at Concordia – Geography, Fine Arts, Philosophy, Women’s Studies, and the School of Community and Public Affairs – became the first Anglophone student associations to declare a strike this year on March 5. The Concordia Student Union’s (CSU) and the Concordia Graduate Student Association also voted to begin striking Thursday.

CSU is a member of the Fédération des étudiants universitaires du Québec (FEUQ), not CLASSE, but VP External Chad Walcott said in French they “feel very much included.”

Walcott added that he thinks the biggest reason behind the CSU’s activism is the current executive committee. “Everything has to do with internal mobilization. We have been getting help from FEUQ, but mobilization has to happen before other people can help,” he said.

While CLASSE’s website is bilingual, the English version seems to be updated less frequently. Furthermore, no student from an English institution sits on ASSÉ’s executive committee. Three students from McGill and Concordia sit on the subcommittees.

And while Concordia students will be joining the strike, other Anglophone institutions – most notably the Dawson College Student Union and McGill’s Arts Undergraduate Society – have voted against it.

Nadeau-Dubois noted that associations unaffiliated with a larger student federation like CLASSE or FEUQ are much more common in Anglophone institutions than in their Francophone counterparts, and that this impedes greater mobilization.

“The culture of mobilization is not as strong in English-speaking schools. When someone proposes an unlimited strike at a [General Assembly], it might seem to come out of nowhere,” added Nadeau-Dubois.

Walcott agreed that, “Political issues are much more discussed and institutionalized in the French universities. Without the culture, it is difficult to have impact and to make the message spread into a movement.”

While mobilization is often more difficult in Anglophone universities, SSMU VP External Joël Pedneault said in French it might be of more value.  “If McGill students are on strike, it means something. It is a sad reality, but when CEGEP du Vieux Montréal goes on strike, nobody is surprised.”

Another difficulty is the great proportion of out-of-province and international students at McGill and Concordia compared to that of most Francophone universities. Nadeau-Dubois countered this by saying that it is important to place the tuition debate in the context of austerity measures worldwide.

“We can see that the tuition hikes are part of a broader tendency to cut in social programs and to corporatize universities around the world,” he said.

At Concordia, Walcott says that the objective right now is to simply get the information out there.