Striking Up a Debate

ASFA and GSA Hold Symbolic Vote in Advance of Nov. 10

Concordia Student Union VP External Chad Walcott leading a protest outside Education Minister Line Beauchamp’s office. Walcott was on hand for ASFA’s strike vote on Nov. 3. Photo Adam Kovac

Graduate students and students in the Arts and Science Federation of Associations voted for a one-day strike on Nov. 10, joining 140,000 students across the province also confirmed to be on strike for the Day of Action against tuition hikes.

“I think this is a historical day for Concordia University,” said Nadia Hausfather, a Councillor in the Graduate Students’ Association. “It’s not very common for Concordia students to go on strike or to show up in big numbers to general assemblies. Hopefully this will be a change in the way student politics is done at Concordia.”

During a joint Special General Meeting on Nov. 3, over 500 students from ASFA and the GSA congregated in room H-110 of the Hall Building, opposing the tuition fee increase of $325 per year from 2012 through 2017.

Over 98 per cent of ASFA members who turned out voted in favour of the strike, while the GSA students who voted were unanimously for it. The unions represent 14,825 and 6,000 students, respectively.

“This is a clear, legitimate and democratic statement from the ASFA and GSA students,” said Concordia Student Union President Lex Gill. “They are against the fee hikes and for a strike. They could have said this before, but now they have a binding vote. It’s powerful. It means something.”

“The buzz in the school was at an all-time high,” said ASFA President Alex Gordon. “Even students that were approached to come to the meeting knew about it, regardless of whether or not they could come.”

With 2,500 Timbits being passed around, ASFA students waited nearly an hour for the 371-student quorum to be attained, which was necessary to make the vote binding.

GSA VP External Holly Nazar was scheduled to give a short presentation on successful student strikes in Quebec history—instead, students yelled, “Vote!” until ASFA members proceeded to the vote without discussion. Six members voted against and one abstained.

“I think people were pressed for time and getting antsy,” said Conor Murphy, a Political Science major. “They just wanted to get it over with and I think most people were fairly informed. Those who weren’t [informed] learned the way to access the information.”

The 80 graduate students briefly discussed the strike and voted 20 minutes before ASFA reached quorum. GSA’s quorum was 60 members.

Erik Scanlon, an ASFA member, voted against the strike and called the meeting undemocratic due to the lack of discussion. He also said that the arguments made in favour of the Day of Action were false.

“A bunch of students are going to be out on the streets on Nov. 10,” said Scanlon. “But they are not going to represent the majority of Concordia students.”

GSA President and Mobilization Squad member Robert Sonin said he was surprised with the turnout. He also expected more questions from the undergraduate students, but then figured that they were near unanimous with their decision.

“The issue is pretty obvious from a student’s point of view,” explained Sonin. “Very few students, especially those who pay for their own tuition, want to see their bills go up.”

The vote was largely symbolic, as striking will garner students no special privileges. Though they won’t be granted academic amnesty from Concordia University, Concordia Dean of Students Andrew Woodall has recommended that faculty be lenient with students walking out on Thursday.

While the CSU did not hold its own strike mandate vote, citing the difficulty of mobilizing the 900 students necessary to reach quorum, Gill did say that the Nov. 10 Day of Action will set the tone moving forward.

“[All the student unions] in Quebec are looking at a strike mandate in January and February, depending on what happens on Nov. 10,” said Gill.

“Engineering students, business students, Fine Arts students, [etc.] are mobilizing. It’s just not strategic for the CSU to duplicate efforts by calling a strike mandate when [the associations and the Mob Squad] are already organizing thousands of people to walk out of class.”

According to the event’s Facebook page, students will meet at 11:00 a.m. on the Reggie’s Terrace for music, sign-making, free food from the People’s Potato and information. Students at the Loyola campus can board buses to the downtown campus at 12:30 pm. The march begins at 1:10 pm.