McGill, Montreal, News

McGill, Concordia students go on a three-day strike against proposed tuition increases

From Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and Concordia Student Union (CSU) led a student strike against the Quebec government’s tuition hikes first proposed in October 2023. On Nov. 29, the provincial government announced that Canadian students from outside of Quebec will have to pay an additional 33 per cent in tuition fees, backing down on their initial plan to raise fees by nearly 50 per cent, and international students will have to pay around $20,000 starting next academic year. In response, the universities’ student unions organized three days worth of activities to inform students about the strike and encourage more to join the collective movement.

McGill departmental students’ associations called General Assemblies (GAs) in the weeks leading up to the strike to vote upon a strike mandate. The Religious Studies Undergraduate Society (RSUS), the McGill Undergraduate Geography Society (MUGS), and the Student Association of Sustainability, Science and Society (SASSS) reached quorum and a consensus concerning a strike mandate during meetings from Jan. 23 to 29. 

In an interview with The Tribune, Emily MacDougall, U3 Arts and Vice President (VP) External of the RSUS, stated that the association’s members voted unanimously on the motion to strike against tuition increases at the GA.

“Especially for smaller departments like the School of Religious Studies, it leaves us in a very precarious position,” MacDougall explained. “[Members of the McGill administration] haven’t promised any sort of safeguards for the smaller departments [….] In the process of intense financial problems, our school could literally either be closed; it could be absorbed into a different school; we could have intense layoffs; we could lose funding for some of our incredible work that we do here.”

Emma Reddy, U3 Arts and co-president of MUGS, explained that MUGS held their GA just three days before the strike began. Reddy noted that this affected the impact and reach of the strike within McGill’s student body.

“I think that because a lot of McGill students did not know how big the Concordia strike was […] it kind of just felt like we were going to be alone,” Reddy explained. “So I think that it spread some fear. Maybe people had a bit of trepidation.”

Fred Azeredo, U3 Arts and VP Finance of RSUS, expressed his disappointment at McGill students’ reaction to the strike.

“What I think just stuns me is the amount of apathy that we’ve been getting from the student body as a whole,” Azeredo said.  “I went to the […] Blue Fall protest last semester and the turnout was not great. There are a lot more Concordia people, there’s a lot more Concordia people striking. There’s so much apathy from the McGill student body. So many departments did not vote to strike, and that disappoints me.”

SSMU VP External Liam Gaither noted that although he wished that more of the large student societies at McGill had mobilized for this strike, he was still very pleased with the turnout.

“It was really amazing to be in a room when a general assembly is going down for the first time ever for some of these departmental associations. All three of them had no bylaws about general assemblies and so the executive took it upon themselves to design bylaws that were in line with others,” Gaither stated in an interview with The Tribune.

Gaither believes that McGill students do not have the same educational and institutional resources when it comes to organizing a protest or striking compared to Concordia students. Even as he is working to supply students with a “toolbox” of resources, he noted the importance of making students aware of those resources available to them.

“I think overall, what is lacking at McGill is that sense of political education, or [it] being available somewhere on campus,” Gaither said. “It seems at Concordia, it’s very palpable, it’s in the air. And there are a lot of workshops and things always going down on campus [….] I think that, as we continue to improve larger goals, we can actually expand this [movement].”

According to Global News, approximately 11,000 students at Concordia were on strike from Wednesday to Friday. In total, there were twelve student associations on strike. 

In the CSU lounge, a station was created by students who organized a schedule of picketing for different classes across faculties. One of the organizers, Alesia Chyme—a third-year Arts student and president of the UPA—expressed her awe at the number of Concordia students who mobilized for this strike in an interview with The Tribune

“It’s awesome to see how many students are mobilizing, especially [compared to] our strike last semester, to see the difference,” Chyme said. “The growth and amount of people that are going to be involved with, now, is astonishing. And like we’ve already hit almost 12,000 students that are striking just at Concordia, which is so powerful.”

As groups were heading in and out of the lounge, other Concordia students set up activities such as legal self-defence and Black radicalism workshops. 

John*, a third-year student in the School of Community and Public Affairs and Community Outreach Coordinator for the GUSS, spoke about the importance of these activities in the creation of generational knowledge within the alumni, current, and future students. 

“There’s a long history of popular education in student movements, sort of like us teaching each other [and] not necessarily having to go to an official institution to get education,” John said. “The idea here is to bring people from different generations of the student movement in Concordia and in Ontario, to be a transmission of knowledge. So that current students involved in organizing can be inspired by previous generations and not repeat the mistakes that they made. They can learn from the things that they did well, they can continue to do and really have a space for sharing.”

Marion Miller, a 2019 Concordia Fine Arts graduate, led an information session on the 2015 student tribunal that deemed some students to have violated Concordia’s Code of Rights and Responsibilities by picketing and disrupting lectures. During the activity, Miller and the attendees discussed the purpose of picketing, the different types of picketing, and the power of picketing.

In an email to The Tribune, McGill Media Relations Officer Frédérique Mazerolle stated that the university “supports the rights of students to exercise their rights in connection with civic engagement in accordance with the Charter of Student rights and applicable laws.”

“The university does not and will not take a position on the cause on which students might decide not to attend classes because of civic engagement from time to time,” Mazerolle added.

According to Gaither, there will be another strike spanning the length of a week in March. He hopes that larger McGill student associations, such as the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) and the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) will join this movement and help to mobilize students. 

“We have to recognize that in 2012 everything was disruptive, and we need to bring back some of that disruption to be able to properly get gains because our power lies in a collective effort.”

The following Concordia student associations were on strike: The Geography Undergraduate Student Society (GUSS), The School of Community and Public Affairs Student Association (SCPASA), The Urban Planning Association (UPA), the Science College Student Association (SCSA), The Concordia Undergraduate Biochemistry, Chemistry & Physics Society (CUBCAPS), The Women’s and Sexuality Studies Student Association (WSSSA), The Concordia Association for Students in English (CASE), Students in History at Concordia (SHAC), The Sociology and Anthropology Student Union (SASU), The Political Science Student Association (PSSA), The Communication Studies Student Association (Coms Guild), The Fine Arts Student Alliance (FASA), The Geography Planning and Environment Graduate Students Association (GeoGrads).

*John’s last name has been left out to preserve his confidentiality.

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