The McGill Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) voted overwhelmingly last Wednesday to go on a three-day strike, March 20 to 22, in protest of upcoming tuition hikes. PGSS represents roughly 8,000 graduate and postdoctoral students at McGill.
The strike, voted on at PGSS’ Annual General Meeting (AGM), will take place on the days leading up to and including the March 22 provincial day of action against the hikes.
PGSS has a policy in place calling for free tuition for Quebec students and a freeze on tuition for international and out-of-province students.
“It’s one thing to have a policy; it’s another one when students overwhelmingly vote for a strike. That will surprise many people coming from graduate students at McGill, I think,” said PGSS VP External Mariève Isabel.
PGSS has only declared two strikes in its recent history, once in 1996 and once in 2005. Both were one-day strikes.
Wednesday’s strike motion, moved by Isabel, resolved that PGSS hold a one-day strike on March 22. A motion from the floor amended the motion to lengthen the strike by two days.
Steve Peters, a PhD student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education and member of the Graduate Students Mobilization Group (GSMG), moved the amendment. In an interview with The Daily, Peters said he and the GSMG had got the sense from talking to other graduate students that they wanted to “up their participation in a student strike.”
“Many of them want to see something more than a one-day strike – that’s more or less symbolic – to a three-day strike, which would allow more graduate students to participate and, I think, send a stronger message to the administration and the government,” said Peters.
The AGM also approved a slew of changes to PGSS’ governing documents. Various motions were passed without debate, changing PGSS’ name, purpose, and bylaws, as well as restructuring its Board of Directors and Executive Committee.
“The purpose of the PGSS literally was changed; they changed the name of the PGSS, the French name, and all of this went with no debate,” said PGSS VP Finance and former Daily columnist Adrian Kaats, who called the changes a “100 per cent overhaul.”
Kaats objected to the fact that, while the motion was passed, it was “called to question” – a call for a vote – before the AGM engaged in any debate.
“I think if that happened at a place like the SSMU, it would have gone a little less unnoticed, it would have garnered a little bit of debate. So, I’m disappointed in that,” he said.
He said the vote was premature because the PGSS executive had planned on amending the motion at the request of PGSS Council. The amendment would have empowered Council to review the changes in the intervening period between the AGM and the changes going into effect June 1.
Should Council insist on the amendment being made, Kaats explained, PGSS may have to call a Special General Meeting.
“Doing it now is a big, huge pain in the ass, because how the hell are we going to call a Special General Meeting, get quorum again, piss all that money away, when we had the people in the room right there?” he said.
However, Kaats said he was happy with the results of the remainder of the AGM. Kaats was in favour of voting to join over 130,000 Quebec students on an unlimited general strike, but admitted that “logistically, it’s nearly impossible” for McGill graduate students.
“You’re talking about flushing work, which could be years of work, and it could actually mean lots of money and resources that are going to be wasted. So, it’s not just about losing your semester for a lot of grad students, it’s about losing a hell of a lot more,” he said.
Isabel spoke to the challenges of hikes for graduate students. Citing studies conducted by the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) – PGSS’ parent society – Isabel said the average master’s student earns $16,000 a year, while working 25 hours a week on top of full-time studies. She also said one out of every five graduate students has a family.
Peters said the hikes show that McGill doesn’t appreciate graduate students’ contribution to the University, “especially to [its] research agenda.” He drew attention to the most recent contract between McGill and teaching assistants, ratified last November. Graduate students criticized the agreement for not increasing the number of hours TAs are allowed to teach.
“Grad students are being squeezed on all sides, and I don’t think that the contribution they make to the University is being acknowledged at all, especially by our administration,” said Peters.