Commentary  Vote to strike

Tuition hikes must be stopped

This Tuesday, March 13, McGill Arts undergraduate students will take an historic vote on whether to join the ongoing, province-wide unlimited general student strike in opposition to impending tuition hikes. These hikes will come to a total of $1,625 over the next five years, representing a 75 per cent increase in Quebec tuition fees. This increase will also harm out of province and international students, given that they pay Quebec tuition as a base fee in addition to an out of province or international supplement.

These hikes must be stopped. They will have a concrete and immediate effect on the accessibility of education in Quebec – despite government promises to increase funding to student aid, 83 per cent of students will have to pay the full amount of the hike without government assistance, according to the Institut de recherché et d’informations socio-économiques (IRIS).

History has proven that tuition increases lead many students away from post secondary education. Between 1992-1993, there was a five per cent decline in Quebec post secondary enrollment, following tuition hikes of $700 earlier that decade. Further, this increase will disproportionately affect already-marginalized groups. According to a Canadian Federation of Students report, visible minorities spend a greater percentage of their income on tuition than non-visible minorities, and are thus more affected by tuition hikes.

Furthermore, if these hikes are not stopped, they set a precedent for raising tuition even further. This has been the case earlier in Quebec’s history. During the early 1990s, Quebec tuition increased by more than 100 per cent. The government tried to raise tuition again in 1996 by 30 per cent, but rejected this plan because of a large scale student strike.

In order to halt this trend, it has become clear that students need to take direct action. Since 2010, students have taken part in a number of actions against the hikes: there have been major demonstrations in Montreal and Quebec City, occupations and blockades of government buildings, letter-writing campaigns, banner drops, and an over-200,000 strong symbolic student strike on November 10. Students have asked the government – time and time again – to reconsider their decision and stop the hikes, but the government has refused to listen.

It is now time to use the tool of an unlimited general strike. It’s the only recourse students have left to make the Charest government pay attention to our demands. Unlike previously-used tactics, it would give students real leverage in their fight for accessible education, since it puts economic pressure on Quebec.

A prolonged strike will be a financial burden for some McGill students. While not a perfect solution, SSMU’s Strike Solidarity Fund will provide some assistance to the students who will be hardest hit. However, in the face of this difficulty, it must be remembered that the actions we take now are to prevent a much greater financial burden from affecting generations of future students. Additionally, some student associations have been on strike since February 13, while others are now entering their second or third weeks of striking. They are facing strike-related financial difficulties and have persevered in spite of them. It’s time for McGill to join these students and stand in solidarity with their struggle.

Going on unlimited general student strike is a chance for McGill to take an active part in the larger student movement and band together with the more than 170,000 students in Quebec who are already on strike or who have a strike mandate. This group includes the Concordia Student Union, which represents 30,000 undergraduates, who voted last week to begin striking on Thursday. In addition, multiple student associations – including the Macdonald Campus Students’ Society and the PGSS – have declared limited strikes on and around March 22, a provincial Day of Action.

Historically, McGill has not played a major role in the Quebec student movement – we’ve never gone on an unlimited general strike and rarely have had a significant presence at demonstrations or other actions. This political indifference needs to change. McGill should break this tradition of apathy and join the student movement in an unprecedented way. AUS students can start by attending the General Assembly on March 13 and voting ‘yes’ to go on an unlimited general student strike.