Moving Forward By Looking Back

Students Fighting Tuition Should Use Their History

On Nov. 10, Concordia and McGill students joined hundreds of thousands of across Quebec for a one-day strike. But until all students are clear about our history and unity, we won’t fully reap the benefits from student strikes.

Last week The Link’s joint special insert misleadingly stated that if we “decide to go on an indefinite general strike in 2012 over the winter semester, international students could stand to lose over $10,000 in tuition fees.” Such inaccuracies are detrimental and disrespectful to students, and our history.

Let me clarify: international and out-of-province students have never lost a semester in the history of unlimited general student strikes in Quebec.

In 2005, student unions made it clear to the government that if even one school lost a semester, they would return to the picket lines. When necessary, the semester was extended and evaluations were re-negotiated.

No one lost $10,000 in tuition fees. Rather, we collectively gained $103 million per year in bursaries. International and out-of-province students directly benefited from that strike as soon as they became Quebec residents.

The more students look out exclusively for their individual interests, the greater the risk to all students. Focusing on differences between us only benefits the government.

The Minister of Education already justified her intransigence on Nov. 10 by saying “we can’t describe the totality of university and CEGEP students as being part of a monolithic group.”

I’m not an out-of-province or an international student, but we all pay taxes. We all face the same base Quebec tuition increase, we all benefit from attending a university of economically and culturally diverse students, and so will our friends and family.

We all seem to take Quebec student history for granted.

It’s about time for us to accurately commemorate our student predecessors who brought us accessible education. Take 1986: After five days of unlimited general strike, the Liberal government retracted on tuition increases and ancillary fees, and opened negotiations about loans and bursaries.

Then in 1996, an unlimited general strike yet again prevented tuition hikes.

This time, in the upcoming strike, we have to include international and out-of-province students’ perspectives and thier experiences of strikes from back home.

International students, in 2010, you made it clear to Concordia’s administration that you would tell folks back home not to study in Quebec because of disrespectful tuition increases. In doing so, you managed to improve the new graduate fee structure.

You are an indispensable part of the future of Quebec and Canada and you have more power and more rights than you think.

The government will continue to increase your tuition by thousands of dollars unless we stand together as a united student body.

The same goes for you, out-of-province students. Your home province won’t pay for this tuition hike, nor the supplemental fee increase that Quebec will soon make you pay. Instead of comparing provinces, join your concerns and national perspective to the movement you’ve inherited here.

I worry about the quality of our education when we talk about diversity, democracy and social justice in heated Sociology seminars, yet we don’t put it into practice in our university.

If there was a time to start, it’s now. Join the Concordia student mobilization committee. Better yet, start a mobilization committee with a few friends from class, organize a general assembly in your departmental student association or pressure your student representatives to do so. Historically, it’s what has worked in this province.

If part of the purpose of higher education is to think critically, that includes looking at our current situation as a student body with a historical eye. And that eye tells us that when united, student strikes make history.

Nadia Hausfather is doing her PhD thesis on the history of student strikes at Concordia University and is an elected Graduate Students’ Association Councillor and a founding member of Free Education Montreal.
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