Commentary | Reconstructing student autonomy

On paradigms of discourse in student latté capitalism

Dear Student Represen-tatives: I find it incredulous that there are even rumours that a decision has been made to cancel the creation of a student-run cafe*, especially after the obvious support garnered for such a venture during the last year. I suggest VP Finance and Operation (FOPS) flip through the 2011-2012 exit report to save me from listing examples.

Disrespect toward the broad array of individuals and groups who were interested and invested in the project serves little purpose other than as a teaching tool for elucidating the concept of “alienation.”

Ultimately, by negating all previous work on the project by executive decree, y’all play a significant and intentional role in undermining the development of autonomy in student affairs.

I believe that when deciding on the forms of activities and projects that are to be completed, one should ask if they help people gain more control over their lives. The cancellation of this project is antithetical to this radical goal and leads me to believe that you cannot be operating in the interests of your constituents, in general.

By your command, each and every hour volunteered by those in working groups organized by last year’s VP FOPS has been made wasted. I imagine that any student who involved themselves in unpaid labour did so under the impression that it would result in more than complete non-recognition.

Your first lesson in Marxist economics may reveal itself when you find it tough to develop and motivate new working groups under the spectre of flippancy and irreverence. Your second lesson, on the subject of friendship, will manifest itself as previously integral community members choose to find more rewarding things to do than develop business plans and write reports for a pack of wolf criers.

The argumentation offered inside the “official texts” (Tribune Newsblog Gossip Hotline September 21) seems to be completely empty – either operating toward the goal of pretending that there is no particular and specific interest for a student-run cafe, or simply using marketing buzz-phrases to illustrate complete submission to ideology.

This reminds me of the smoke-and-mirrors approach previously employed by the administration during the gifting of a campus monopoly to military-industrial food-commodity megacorp Aramark.

In that case, the admin used obtuse soundbites to obscure the obvious link between mass privatization of campus food services and the expropriation of the Architecture Cafe – a wildly successful and autonomous student space.

No matter how our local economist chooses to frame the situation, there is more at stake here than an “eighth food service” in the Shatner building, especially when all present food outlets under lease to us are decidedly bourgeois, with the Midnight Kitchen as the sole exception.

This is particularly relevant, as Liquid Nutrition has raised the price of coffee from 58 cents to $1.55 over 12 short months. Outrageous!

Plus, the scandalous contract with La Prep should not be reason to end this project. If our cafe can only sell samosas and non-specialty coffee until the contract ends – so be it! The real concern at hand here is student-controlled spaces and autonomy from corporate exploitation.

Students are willing to work within the boundaries which your institution imposes, but to cancel this project outright is short-sighted and misguided.

Now, if the confidentiality of the four-year long discussions between SSMU and the McGill admin with regards to the Memorandum of Agreement is the reason why there cannot be transparent relations between SSMU and the students, then it ought to be time to declare the Shatner building an ongoing occupation and defend it vigorously against the $1.5 million rent fees in negotiations.

*For the purpose of this polemic, I will assume that all efforts towards the development of a student-run café in the Shatner building has been halted.

Ethan Feldman is a U4 Philosophy student and a Known Student Radical. He can be reached at ethan.feldman@mail.mcgill.ca.

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