As the post-secondary student strike in Quebec rages on for a third month, the University of Windsor is rallying to start a similar initiative here.
At the Canadian Federation of Students’ national conference from May 31 to June 3, student unions agreed to bring the Quebec student strike home to their members.
“It was recommended that other student unions around the country talk about what’s going on in Quebec and talk about student action and government response,” said Adam Awad, CFS chairperson. “The idea was general awareness of the decision of the government to further privatize education and to subsequently shut down civil liberties because of the protest, and shut down democratic engagement.”
“These decisions aren’t unique to Quebec,” added Awad. “The privatization happens in all of the provinces; essentially, around tuition fee increases that happen year over year, and dwindling provincial funding and federal funding.”
At the conference, student union leaders voted to condemn Law 78, a controversial law enacted last month in Quebec, which punishes demonstrations with heavy fines. Members also directed the federation to donate $30,000 to a legal fund for student protestors, and participated in two of the protests in Quebec during the conference.
“I would like to see rallies,” said Mohammad Akbar, vice-president university affairs for the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance, during at a June 6 meeting with students.
“If we are going to go the route of a strike, it wouldn’t be the UWSA saying, ‘We’re going on strike,’” Akbar said, noting that he would want students to move for a strike themselves. He added that he doesn’t believe Windsor students are in a position to strike yet— it would be a long process that they would have to build towards.
During the meeting, students were favourable toward organizing a campaign focused on rising tuition fees. Most students felt support for Quebec was a separate issue that the UWSA should not take a position on.
“I think it’s important for OPUS (Organization of Part-Time University Students), the GSS (Graduate Students Society) and the UWSA to raise awareness on the issue,” said Shaista Akbar, Social Science Society president. “Educate them, and then students can take their own stance.”
“I would love to see a coalition of all the student unions working together,” said Vajo Stajic, a director at large for OPUS, who supported the idea of a campaign to reduce tuition fees. “The reason Ontario pays the most [of all of Canada] is because we just accept tuition increases without taking a stand and fighting.”
UWindsor students will also be designing their own symbol instead of taking on Quebec’s iconic red square.
During a June 7 UWSA council meeting, student representatives voted in favour of expressing solidarity with the Quebec movement.
Recent graduates and concerned citizens are also holding weekly protests in Windsor to express support for the students in Quebec. They hope to build up to a similar campaign to reduce Ontario’s tuition fees.
“There was a national call out for every city to gather across Canada to meet in solidarity with the Quebec strike. The Quebec strike started over tuition and high debt and it has just exploded into a revolt over the austerity measures,” said Melisa Larue, a recent University of Windsor graduate struggling with student debt, who organized a May 30 protest.
Community supporters gather at City Hall Wednesdays at 8 p.m. with pots and pans to decide what the night’s action will be.