What a Way to Make a Livin! Graduate Students Are Barely Gettin’ By

Graduate Students Across Montreal Demand Better Wages At May Day Protest

Photo Abby Cole

An ocean of flags and signs rippled across Parc du Souvenir as workers of all ages and backgrounds prepared to disrupt the city streets. The frustration of Montrealers, who are struggling to make ends meet, was felt on Monday May 1 when various labour unions converged near Verdun to demand better wages.

Also known as May Day, International Workers’ Day has become a day across the world for unions and workers’ movements to come together and fight for their rights.

Monday’s march was organized by Coalition 1er Mai, who invited labour organizations, community organizations, and student associations from throughout Quebec to come together and rally around the theme of inflation and the rising cost of living. A collective of graduate students, organized by the Quebec Student Union, Science and Policy Exchange, and other graduate student unions joined the event. 

Organizers commenced the demonstration with speeches, “More and more workers find themselves in a precarious financial situation,” announced one organizer. 

“Meanwhile, it’s the same people, the rich and the big corporations, including the grocery chains and the oil companies, who profit from this inflation,” they continued.  “It is about time that in Quebec, and in Ottawa, that we consider the interests of workers. Instead of those most powerful who get rich on our backs, while everything gets more and more expensive and we can’t make ends meet.” 

Students gathered together in the protest to demand change from the government and universities. Leading the graduate students was Elvis, a PhD biology student who was holding a large “Support Our Science” banner. He said, “We are representing here all the students, graduate students that work on research at the masters, PhD, and postdoctoral level to ask the federal government to improve, increase the funding for research that hasn’t been increased in the last 20 years.”

Concordia graduate students also participated in the protest, including Lauren who stated, “as graduate students, we’re both employees and students. So we have to kind of fight on two fronts. Fight for a wage increase but then also fight for increasing graduate student funding.” 

Concordia’s Research and Education Workers’ Union (CREW-CSN), a new student-led worker campaign who seeks to represent TA’s and RA’s at Concordia University, was present at the demonstration.

Alex Engler, a CREW organizer, PhD biology student at Concordia, and an organizer with the Support Our Science movement told The Link “We are here to protest–to demand–higher funding for PhD and Master’s students. All federal, provincial and internal–to Concordia–funding are below the poverty line.” 

Charlie Bond, another CREW organizer, also emphasized the significance of the protest by adding “If you add up the wages, the yearly salaries of the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies Effrosyni Diamantoud, Concordia’s Vice President Paul Chesser, and Concordia’s President Graham Carr, their salaries are almost a million dollars. That’s a lot of PhDs that they could be funding.” 

Bond continued, “It's completely disgusting that Concordia pays its graduate students for PhDs, a baseline of $14,000 once you pay Quebec great tuition fees out of that–let alone medical insurance–you're living off less than $10,000 a year.” 

In a recent report by the Institut de recherche et d’informations socioéconomiques (IRIS), it was found that for a single-person to live with dignity in Montreal in 2023, they would have to earn $32,252 annually. 

“You'd have to do two TA-ships every semester for three semesters to even get close to the poverty line in this city,” Bond elaborated. 

Emma McKay, a member of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) explained that students are not paid a living wage because their stipends are misrepresented as a bonus, rather than a wage. “But in fact, it is a wage,” they added, “being a graduate student is labour since they’re getting trained in a field they will eventually be working in.”

McKay also explained that “at McGill, there is a lot of food insecurity. We know that TA’s don’t make enough money. We’ve heard stories of people who are in shit living situations, who cannot eat well enough to support themselves through their degree, let alone if they have a family or something.” 

The fear of not having enough money to pay your rent or buy food permeated the marching crowd as they shouted their way through Montreal's streets. Students face a particular struggle in the labour rights movement, and their needs were made clear this May Day.