On February 29, the Women’s Studies Student Association (WSSA) and the Geography Undergraduate Student Society (GUSS) at Concordia voted to strike in opposition to tuition hikes. The votes, which were held at departmental General Assemblies (GAs), made these student-run faculty associations the first Anglophone associations to join thousands of other Quebec students already on strike.
Earlier this year, the Simone de Beauvoir Institute – the Women’s Studies College of Concordia, which encompasses all faculty, students, and research associates in the department – took a strong stance against tuition hikes, releasing a document outlining why tuition increases will have a particularly significant impact on women.
WSSA VP External Gabrielle Bouchard explained that the WSSA decided to take this official position a step further by going on strike.
“We needed to go on strike, because just voicing our disagreement with [the tuition hikes] didn’t work. I think the government hasn’t heard this disagreement over the last two years, and we just have to go on strike because it is going to affect people we are going to class with,” Bouchard said.
When WSSA voted in favour of a strike, they became the first association at Concordia to ever participate in an unlimited strike. 50 out of about 150 students in the department voted at the GA. Quorum is set at 10 per cent of students.
“We wanted to join the National Movement. Never in Concordia’s history have there been associations like ours voting for open-ended strikes. It never happened. So this is kind of historical,” noted Bouchard.
Not only is the WSSA the first Anglophone association to officially join the Quebec student strike, but it is also the first feminist organization to do so.
“A feminist perspective on the tuition increase is missing, and when I say feminist, it’s not just for women. A feminist position is really to understand marginalization and how people are affected and but because of their life or class or race may not be able to come to university, or, if this increase happened, may face stronger barriers to access, and that’s not being taken into account right now,” Bouchard said.
Molly Swain, president and communications coordinator of McGill’s Gender, Sexuality Diversity, and Feminist Studies Student Association (GSDFSSA) agreed.
“The Simone de Beauvoir Institute released a really great document stating why the tuition raise is a feminist issue. We absolutely support that document, and we believe that a strike is a great way for people to stand up. Not only is it an injustice about money and class. This is also about gender,” Swain said.
The GUSS was the second student association at Concordia to vote for a strike on the same day at their GA.
According to GUSS VP Finance Trevor Smith, students first discussed the possibility of a strike informally, and then a motion for strike was proposed. It was amended as necessary, with some portions being borrowed from the WSSA strike mandate. It was then voted on and passed by about forty students out of around 750 in the Geography and Environment Departments. Quorom is twenty people.
Both strikes are going well, according to Bouchard and Smith.
“There has been a lot of organization on the part of the strike movement. The degree to which people have been able to organize and mobilize and perform information dispersal is unprecedented. I’ve never seen this kind of activity ever before,” said Smith.
Both associations have formed soft picket lines outside of classrooms, meaning that no one is blocked from entering classrooms. Students and professors alike are largely respecting these picket lines.
Bouchard explained that “no students or professors forced the picket line, and they were all supportive of the idea. People who didn’t come to vote actually are going with the mandate that we voted as a whole… The Institute is not that big, but we still had 21 people showing up to celebrate this strike.”
Professors have been showing up to teach their geography classes, but once they see that students are picketing, Smith explained that they don`t bother to push through. They have been instructed not to break picket lines by Concordia University Faculty Association (CUFA) and Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association (CUPFA), the full and part-time faculty associations.
Smith also explained that there has been tension between students and the upper administration.
“There has been tons of misinformation going around. We are just trying to get information out and not have people be intimidated. There is a lot of upper administration saying that if we go on strike, we will probably lose our semester or lose all your money and you won’t graduate. It’s all BS,” he said.
If it weren’t for CUFA and CUPFA clarifying what the exact policies around the strike are, there would be a lot more confusion, he added.
Some Geography students are hesitant when it comes to the strike.
“The goal of the strike coordinators is to shake the student body out of this apathy that everyone seems to be in. There are a lot of students with individualistic goals. They’ll say, ‘I’m all for you guys having your strike and being democratic, but I want to go to class and I want to learn.’ We respond by challenging them to think about what learning is,” Smith explained.
He also noted that the GUSS has received personal attacks and verbal harassments from a few students displeased with the strike vote.
“I just want to tell people we are doing our jobs. If you are angry with the coordinators, talk to them, get informed, have a discussion,” Smith added.
The Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), Fine Arts Student Alliance (FASA), Political Science Student’s Association (PSSA), and Students of Philosophy Association (SoPhiA) also voted to join the strike following WSSA and GUSS’s votes.
The Concordia Student Union (CSU) voted on March 7 to join the unlimited student strike from March 15-22.
WSSA voted on March 9 to renew its strike mandate for another week.