Sacrifices of the Student Strike

Why It’s A Counterproductive Strategy Against Austerity

‘Tis the season for student strikes. Whether students are driven by a “Je me souviens” nostalgia for the Maple Spring that is innate to their Québécois identities or the government’s austerity policies are weighing on their fabricated economic authority, the time has come for student associations to support or oppose a strike against austerity.

To be fair, I am generalizing, as there are students who are constructively voicing legitimate grievances and approaching the government’s undesirable policies with tact—at least, I hope so.

I’m not purporting to be any more of an economic authority, but we should adopt a dose of pragmatism. I understand that austerity measures affect more than education, but I will limit my claim to this. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have no tuition fee increases and no austerity measures. The cost of higher education is only increasing, which reflects the increasing cost of living. Even without the cuts, higher education is still underfunded. Realistically, we’ll need to pay more.

Before I get carried away with that opinion which few of you will support, the point I truly want to emphasize is the inherent trade-offs of strikes. To those of you who support a student strike, consider what it entails. It is not simply a protest, although it will likely include participation in demonstrations. It’s the deliberate obstruction of professors from entering their lecture rooms and a softer insistence on students to not enter. Furthermore, consider what the incentive behind the strike is.

A healthy democracy necessitates social movements. It requires citizens to express their views and be free to demonstrate peacefully against the views with which they disagree. However, the nature of strikes in particular requires sacrifice from those involved. A hunger strike sacrifices one’s own nourishment. A union worker sacrifices a day’s worth of earnings to pressure an employer for better wages and working conditions. So, what are a student strike’s sacrifices?

Naturally, class attendance as well as any test or assignments one would miss is a consequence. It seems to me that the reason certain individuals are insisting on a strike is because they don’t want to bear these sacrifices. If not, they would be satisfied with demonstrations scheduled outside of class time. They want to put everyone’s schedule on hold while they demonstrate and resume at their convenience. Does this make sense? If you don’t want to make any personal sacrifices by protesting, do it on the weekend or wait for the summer.

How effective is a student strike? A strike is an inconvenience because it disrupts scheduled activity—lectures in this case. The strike is an inconvenience to the wrong individuals, though. First, students and professors are not the originators of the policies the strike is intending to oppose. Second, except for a demonstration, which creates awareness and influences political actors, the people for which the strike is an inconvenience—namely students who wish to attend class and professors—cannot change the undesired policies because they have no authority on the matter.

This strategy seems counterproductive. Ask yourself: is it the students or professors that are causing the austerity measures you oppose? No. So, why are you directing your grievances towards them and not the policy makers? A true lose-lose outcome if I ever saw one. I don’t go to class. Austerity is still on the agenda. What was the point? Moreover, why would a politician care if you attend class or not? You’re kidding yourself if you think it puts pressure on Couillard. This is frankly an ill-conceived strategy of political activism.

The proposed response to austerity is to deprive yourself and others from attending scheduled lectures at our institution of higher education, where we can educate ourselves in order to execute better decisions than those putting forth the policies you oppose. So, your solution to deter policies of regress is to withhold our own progress? You need to put pressure on those making the policies you oppose, not prevent your classmates from acquiring the education they paid for. The only pressure there’ll be is on you and I to finish our exams in time, if the strike extends itself indefinitely.

Once again, I’m not saying “don’t protest,” but evaluate the cost of a student strike. Above all, take responsibility for the sacrifices of your striking and direct your protest towards the appropriate audience. If you want to attend class as usual, don’t let anyone stop you. And for those of you who will obstruct the entrance to classrooms, bonne chance.