News  Undergrads and post-grads adopt joint anti-austerity stance

SSMU-PGSS summit brings councillors together to coordinate lobbying efforts

Correction appended February 26, 2015.

On February 23, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) councillors convened in Thomson House to help the two associations coordinate their efforts in lobbying for student priorities in the University’s upcoming budget planning and in countering provincial austerity measures.

This was the first time that SSMU and PGSS have held a joint meeting of this type, with the decisions made at the summit to be binding on both student associations. While councillors from both associations voted at the same time, motions required a separate two-thirds majority within both SSMU and PGSS to pass.

Budget priorities

Regarding McGill’s upcoming budget planning, councillors voted to prioritize lobbying for the continued support for research opportunities and funding, the diversity of course offerings, the promotion of experiential learning opportunities, the provision of student space on campus, the maintenance of scholarships and financial aid resources, the maintenance of the library services budget, and the maintenance of non-academic staff.

The motion was drafted after consultation among SSMU’s and PGSS’s constituent bodies for input on priorities.

Two other items were also added to the motion and passed: one to express SSMU and PGSS’s “discontent with the current lack of transparency of funding transfers from the government of Quebec through the central administration earmarked for student services,” and another to lobby McGill to provide the Student Health Service, the Mental Health Service, the Counselling Service, and the Office for Students with Disabilities with sufficient funding.

Supporting students in other universities

SSMU President Courtney Ayukawa put forward a motion regarding provincial austerity measures and McGill’s proposed budget cuts. “SSMU has a mandate to support anti-austerity work, and I believe PGSS has some similar mandate or policy as well,” Ayukawa said at the summit.

As initially presented, the motion resolved that both SSMU and PGSS jointly reaffirm their “complete and definitive opposition to the austerity measures in their actual form,” and their commitment to support other Quebec student associations’ efforts against such measures.

Medicine Representative to SSMU Joshua Chin took issue with committing to support other Quebec student associations, given that some of these associations had already voted to strike.

“I know a lot of other Quebec student associations are going that route within the next few days or weeks. I’m wondering if we would be committing ourselves to support those strike measures, and if this will also extend to us, whether SSMU or PGSS, or even their constituent schools, faculties, or departments,” said Chin.

Engineering Representative to SSMU Anikke Rioux echoed Chin’s sentiments. “We don’t know what other student associations are going to do, therefore we shouldn’t be committing ourselves to something we don’t actually know.”

Rioux then moved an amendment to strike out that part of the motion.

In response, PGSS External Affairs Officer Julien Ouellet said, “I think, instead of striking [that part of] the motion, we should amend it, so [as] to make sure that we support [the other associations] in spirit. We support the fight against austerity, and we will create alliances with other associations in that regard.”

The amendment to strike the clause failed, but the clause was amended to read that SSMU and PGSS would support other Quebec student associations in “similar” efforts against austerity measures.

Anti-austerity working group, loss of quorum

Another motion, which would mandate SSMU and PGSS to create a Joint Anti-Austerity Mobilization Working Group, was also on the summit’s agenda. However, quorum was lost midway through the discussion of the motion, meaning that any decision regarding that motion was purely consultative.

The working group’s purpose would be “to inform member constituents of the impacts of budgetary cuts, and to help organize demonstrations and campaigning against cuts to specific university budget lines.” The original motion stated that the group should use “only non-violent and non-defamatory strategies to reach its goal.”

SSMU VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette moved to strike the words “non-violent” and “non-defamatory” from the motion.

“I think that this is unnecessary,” said Moustaqim-Barrette. “I think that generally mobilization requires some sort of defamatory strategies, like picketing, and direct action could fall into those things.”

SSMU Engineering Senator Morgan Grobin spoke against Moustaqim-Barrette.

“I just want to speak to the rational people in this room. We should keep both of those things in there. We do not want to make any enemies,” said Grobin. “People in government don’t respect people running around picketing stuff; they respect people writing well thought-out responses to things, showing up to meetings, not boycotting them.”

The words “non-violent” and “non-defamatory” were struck from the motion, but the motion was amended to read “without the express intent to cause physical or psychological harm to people.” The motion will have to be passed separately by the councils of both SSMU and PGSS due to the lack of quorum.

Speaking to The Daily after the summit, SSMU VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan commented on the use of the term ‘violent.’

“Dissent is necessarily disruptive,” she said. “Defining our committee as non-violent is not going to prevent external actors from defining the actions of the committee as violent. If the committee, for example, organized some kind of demonstration, it would be just as likely to be defined as violent by the outside, so we shouldn’t be giving more legitimacy to that side.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the words “non-violent” and “non-defamatory” had not been struck from the Joint Anti-Austerity Mobilization Working Group motion. In fact, the words were struck and replaced with “without the express intent to cause physical or psychological harm to people.” The Daily regrets the error.