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Notes from Quebec by Ethan Cox

Ethan Cox's picture
rabble's Quebec correspondent, Ethan Cox is a 29 year-old journo, pundit and incorrigible rabble rouser from Montreal. A former union organizer and student union executive, Ethan has also worked on a number of successful municipal and federal election campaigns, and was a member of Quebec central office staff for the NDP in the 2011 election. More recently he served as Quebec Director and Senior Communications Advisor on Brian Topp's NDP leadership campaign. He now spends his time writing for rabble, freelancing for outlets like the National Post, appearing regularly on CJAD radio in Montreal and working on a book about austerity. You can follow him on twitter @EthanCoxMtl

16 schools to leave CFS in coordinated campaign

| September 4, 2013
Image: CFS

The release below went out to media across Canada this morning. This defederation campaign is the latest in a series which have seen membership in the national student lobby group plummet as accusations of corruption and anti-democratic tactics multiply. 

In 2009 all Quebec members of the organization save for Dawson left the federation (or tried to, the CFS isn't a big fan of recognizing the results of defederation referendums, and the Concordia Student Union is still suing the Federation to force them to recognize the result of that vote) after CFS employees were implicated in several cases of electoral fraud (seeking to keep their allies in office) and even attempted bribery in relation to the CFS health plan.

Whenever anyone tries to leave the CFS, the organization inevitably bleats that it is under attack by the right/Conservative Party and tries to rally progressives to defend it against this "union-busting."

Don't be fooled. In my experience the CFS is a top-down, bureaucratic institution which spends most of its time viciously attacking critics, and fighting off any attempt to reform its own anti-democratic processes. In this defederation, as in all of them, it is the architect of its own misfortune. 

In Quebec, we saw first hand the lengths the CFS would go to to maintain their hold on power. We also saw, last year, what a truly democratic and open student movement looks like. Far from advancing the cause of students, the CFS occupies space needed to organize, and does nothing with it. 

Small wonder then, that once again the impetus for this campaign comes from Quebec. We know how to fight, and how to win, and the CFS is doing it wrong.

I know many, many good people who have been involved with the CFS, including decent and dedicated provincial reps I met on my speaking tour last year with Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. They, and their efforts, will continue to be undermined by a bloated bureaucracy in Ottawa which cares for nothing but maintaining their own power and hawking profitable services to member unions. 

Repeated efforts to reform the organization have failed. It is time to blow it up. Only then will the space be liberated to allow a real grassroots, democratic student movement, built on the Quebec model, to flourish.

 

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Students Across Canada Petition to Leave Canadian Federation of Students

September 4, 2013 - College and University students across the country are beginning the process to end their membership with national lobby group, the Canadian Federation of Students. This initiative to “defederate” includes petitions among students at Dawson College (Local 108), as well as the largest schools remaining in the Federation: the University of Toronto, York University, and Ryerson University. Over 15 student associations are currently taking part and this number may grow throughout the fall.  Their aim is to end the Canadian Federation of Students’ control over local campus affairs, but also to begin discussions about alternatives for provincial and national organizing that keep decision-making power in the hands of students.

“Many of us are longtime student organizers and have seen students attempt to reform the CFS from within for decades, but to no avail.  We are taking these steps to defederate because of our dedication to students and to the student movement,” said Ashleigh Ingle, a graduate student at the University of Toronto.  “Students are realizing that their interests are not served by the Canadian Federation of Students. We are not walking away from organizing at the national and provincial level; we are creating the space for that to happen effectively.”  

The Federation has recently lost traction in a number of provinces, with its control loosening on many campuses nationwide.   This latest mass defection from the CFS could leave them without representation in British Columbia, Manitoba and Québec.  Combined with their lack of representation in Alberta and much of the Maritimes, this significantly challenges the idea that the CFS represents Canadian students.

“Every student - from every part of the political spectrum - has a reason to want to leave the Canadian Federation of Students. For us, we have come to this decision because of what we feel are ineffective organizing practices and lobbying efforts, a bloated bureaucracy, questionable financial decisions, and low standards of democratic processes. We believe students deserve better,” says Brendan Lehman, a student from Laurentian University.

Some students plan to create new organizing bodies directed by principles of free association and direct membership control, the founding congress of which is planned for 2014.  The organizers tell us that “the proper approach to student organizing involves limiting dependence on members’ money while maximizing student decision-making in the fight for free public, high quality education. But even if students have no desire to join a new organizing body, they should still consider terminating their membership in the CFS. It's time to take a stand. If you want to start a petition on your campus or help out with an existing one, email timetomobilize@gmail.com. It is time to defend the interests of students; it is time to say no to CFS.”

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For more information, please email: timetomobilize@gmail.com or contact:

Ashleigh Ingle: Ontario, Central and Eastern Canada Spokesperson 

Nicholas Di Penna: Francophone Spokesperson

 

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Comments

This project looks like a shortcut to me. Or maybe a huge detour. There will be little momentum from the student left to shitcan the CFS because most on the left don't know how to grapple with the dilemma that is the CFS. The student left has no publication, website or organization independent of CFS capable of providing the necessary space to hammer out these problems and develop a strategy for relating to the CFS (whatever that might be).

We've been trapped in this problem for years, and it is absolutely not clear that defederation is the answer. If there have been internal challenges to CFS as the press release claims, most student are totally clueless, including those on the left. It's a safe bet to assume that most on the student left don't want to push through CFS defederation while university admins and the student right (at least in Ontario) are trashing our local CFS-aligned student unions and their services, community radio stations, PIRGs and other non-CFS student-run organizations. Many will also balk at ditching the CFS while we undergo further neoliberal restructuring of post-secondary education to serve the needs of the labour market, shackle thousands more with debt, and undermine education as a public good. How does the defederation strategy at all relate to these problems? I want a sufficient explanation. Where is the literature? When are the public meetings? Is there something more than a press release and sympathetic commentary?

Which brings me to the question of organization vs defederation. If there is coordination across multiple campuses, why not focus on building a multi-campus student left network where the student left, with its many varied critiques of the CFS, can create the meeting spaces, the websites and the publications for us to really research, discuss and debate how the left should relate to the CFS? I would love to be part of such a project and would do what I can to build it. Such a network should exist and needs to exist.

I have been at three Ontario campuses - Carleton, Trent, Queen's - in the past decade, and have always been a member of a CFS local or prospective local. But I have yet to see these internal challenges to CFS orthodoxy reach out to students in a grassroots campaign. That I'm learning about this new challenge via press release that had the good fortune (or good connection) to be published on Rabble, smacks of the same top-down who-is-calling-the-shots student politics.

Sincerely,
Doug Nesbitt
PhD candidate, Queen's University
studentsyndicalist.blogspot.ca

This is encouraging. Even the institutional left needs democracy to bite them on the ass from time to time.

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