58,000 Quebec Students to Strike This Week for Paid Internships

French Student Associations Warn of Unlimited Strike in the Winter

Last winter 30,000 students came out on International Women’s Day to protest unpaid internsips in fields dominated by women. This week, about 58,000 students to date are set to strike against unpaid internships. File Photo Jérémie Gauthier-Caron

About 58,000 Quebec students will be going on strike this week to pressure the provincial government to demand remuneration for all internships.

Over 30 students associations across Quebec—including 20 from Montreal—will be on strike between Nov. 19 and 24, with a large demonstration planned for Wednesday in Montreal. The protest will begin at 3 P.M. at Place Émilie-Gamelin by Berri-UQAM metro.

Student associations taking part in the coalition want the provincial government to demand remuneration for all internships, regardless of a student’s level of study or department, and say a general unlimited strike will be called in the winter if their needs aren’t met.

“I see tons of students around me mobilizing. Whether they’re nursing students, social work students, or whether they’re in the Anglophone milieu, all are working together to strike,” said Sandrine Boisjoli, a student part of the association for teaching students at Université du Québec à Montréal

“I’m absolutely certain we will get remuneration for our internships, because we need interns so that our community organizations, schools and hospitals can keep running–without interns they won’t be able to function,” continued Boisjoli.

After the Liberal government agreed to compensate the final round of mandatory stages for teaching students last year, Boisjoli said she’s confident the provincial government will continue to meet their demands.

“It shows progress is being made and that our movement has them worried,” she said.

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Undergraduate and graduate social work students from McGill will be on strike from Nov. 19 to the 23, and faculty from McGill’s School of Social Work announced Wednesday classes will be cancelled to stand in solidarity with their students. The university’s administration said they won’t be enforcing their decision, mentioning their decision to cancel classes goes against the school’s regulations, collective agreements and the student charter of rights.

“As social work students we’re taught that activism and solidarity is something that we have to keep very close to our hearts and it’s something that we have to partake in for the greater good,” said Jacqueline Ohayon, an undergraduate student who helps run the Social Work Student Association at McGill.

Ohayon said she pushed for the strikes in her department because her working condition are unreasonable and unjust. She works 16 hours a week for her unpaid internship and balances it with four classes. She said many of her colleagues also have to balance those demands with a part-time jobs of 20 hours a week.

“Domains such as social work, nursing, occupational therapy, education are caring professions,” she continued. “[There’s a] widespread perception that work in domains that provide care for others do not necessarily merit pay and suitable conditions. It’s a widespread belief that people in caring professions just ‘naturally’ help others, and so it is acceptable and ‘natural’ for them to self-sacrifice.” Ohayon said she wants to fight against that ideology.

The majority of student associations that have signed on in Montreal are from UQAM, and to date the only English student associations taking part are from McGill’s School of Social Work.

“At Concordia there’s pretty much nothing going on right now,” said Pierre Luc Junet from the now defunct CUTE-Concordia, part of the Campagne sur le travail étudiant, a student-led organization that groups together interns from across Quebec.

CSU External Affairs and Mobilization Coordinator Camille Thompson said Anglophone students have been absent from the movement since Concordia and McGill students have been more focused on their anti-sexual violence campaigns, that began in response to allegations out of Concordia’s creative writing program and McGill’s faculty of fine arts.

She also said less English students are taking part since out-of-province and international students more concentrated at English schools are more likely to keep a low profile, while domestic students tend to mobilize more as their demands tend to be taken more seriously by the provincial government.

Thompson said the CSU will be organizing a contingent of Concordia students for Wednesday’s protest–with a time and place to announced soon.

“Hopefully people will show up,” she told The Link. “We’re a bit late to the party unfortunately.”

“It’s important for the CSU to show support to the people who are going on strike and actively fighting for intern wages,” Thompson continued. “The problem with the CSU is that we can’t really organize strikes per say, we can only organize symbolique actions, since we’re not structurally set up to [organize strikes]. It has to come from student associations.”

She also said if student associations at Concordia do go on strike they can request access to $10,000 the CSU has set aside for strike mandates.