More than 58,000 students across the province of Quebec went on strike this week, demanding that they be paid for their labour. A regional protest was organized in downtown Montreal by student associations on Wednesday November 21. Both Cégep and University organizations participated, with contingents from Cégep Marie-Victorin, Cégep du Vieux – Montreal, and Cégep St-Laurent, UQAM, Université De Montréal, and McGill’s Social Work Student Association. Other protests were also organized in Sherbrooke and Gatineau on the same day.
Isabelle, a student in Social Work at UQAM, present at Wednesday’s protest, also echoed this message of inter-institutional solidarity: “we can see it today, as we’re all meeting at the same place and walking together for the same objective, I think that it’s very stimulating.” Isabelle believes the issue of unpaid labour to be a feminist one, a sentiment echoed by many others at the protest. The areas of work subject to mandatory unpaid internships often fall in the sector of care, a traditionally feminized and devalued area of labour. As many protesters asserted, expecting students to work in care sectors for free further perpetuates this notion. Student groups representing areas of study where unpaid internships are mandatory have been organizing against unpaid internships for some time. McGill’s Social Work Students Association (SWSA) has been actively working in collaboration with other social work students at UQAM and UdeM since the winter semester of last year. Vincent Mousseau, VP internal of SWSA, told the Daily that mobilization has not been easy. SWSA has encountered a strong resistance from the administration. Mousseau said they believe these attitudes to be a “complete disregard for the mobilization efforts of students, and the academic freedom of their own professors.” After professors in the School of Social Work voted to cancel their classes in support of the strike, the administration ordered them to continue holding their classes. Mousseau stressed how important it was for SWSA to be working in solidarity with students from other establishments. “There is a legacy of student protest in Quebec that has, for a long time, been regulated to the francophone spheres of postsecondary education,” they said. “A lot of the work that SWSA has been doing over the past couple of years has been to attempt to bridge the language gap between us, and to situate social work students at McGill in our communities (and thus in Quebec). We have been welcomed with open arms by francophone students, who are happy to see that these issues are finally traversing the linguistic barriers. I think it is clear that we can do so much more together than we can do individually.”