The following is a response to Activist Communique: Open Letter to the Canadian Federation of Students, which was published on May 18 on krystalline kraus’s blog. The letter called for the CFS to “engage in a consistent and serious mobilizing effort to bring the Quebec student movement to the rest of Canada.”
Open Letter to the CFS: A Response from Quebec Activists
We write as student activists in Québec who have been involved in organizing the 2011-2012 general student strike – on both anglophone and francophone campuses.
We are ecstatic to hear that so many students in the rest of Canada are building a campaign to mobilize similar strikes in Ontario and elsewhere. We are heartened by the outpouring of solidarity, and we believe that the best way that students outside Québec can join the movement is by mobilizing strikes from the ground up in their own communities.
Open Letter to the CFS assumes that strikes can be organized by “elected student leaders” and masterminded provincially, if not nationally. Certainly, the Federation can and must support strike initiatives. However, these have to be built from the ground up and through structures of direct democracy – specifically, general assemblies which are fully empowered to make real decisions. This is something that we have learned again and again in Québec, and this method of organizing has consistently proven to be the only way to build viable strike movements. Students feel a sense of ownership over movements created this way, which cannot be undermined by claims of a minority imposing their will on a majority.
Strike campaigns or votes must not be imposed by student federations, or even individual unions. They must be organized by activists on the ground and discussed in regular general assemblies to involve the broader student body. Strategically, organizing strikes first where they’re most likely to succeed – in traditionally progressive departmental unions rather than faculty or campus unions – will ensure the kind of momentum-building that could lead to a general strike of Ontario students.
There are, however, a number of things that the Federation can and must do to support a general strike movement. Educational campaigns, facilitating solidarity delegations, workshops, and activist exchanges are extremely important, even if they do not replace locally-focused campaigns. Perhaps most importantly, the CFS could facilitate the creation or mobilization of politically autonomous departmental associations, which barely exist on many anglophone campuses. In fact, the first unlimited strikes in the history of McGill and Concordia Universities were organized mainly in previously dormant departmental unions.
The formation of mobilized, combative departmental unions built upon structures of direct democracy needs to be seen as a consequence of strike campaigns, not a necessary precondition without which activists’ hands are tied. There is always a way forward.
We are optimistic that a general student strike in Ontario can and will succeed, given the right ingredients. Open Letter to the CFS represents a first step towards creating a radical, democratic strike movement in Ontario and beyond. As we watch students lay the foundations for powerful strike movements across the country, we hope we can continue to share our experience in Quebec – both successes and failures.
1. Jamie Burnett – former member of the Board of Directors of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)
2. Jérémie Bédard-Wien – Coalition Large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE)
3. Kevin Paul – former Political Campaigns Coordinator, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)
4. Christopher Bangs – Strike Organizer, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)
5. Zachary Rosentzveig – Councillor, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) & Co-President, NDP McGill
6. Irmak Bahar – Concordia University
5. Robin Reid-Fraser – Vice-President External 2012-2013, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)
8. Mathieu Murphy-Perron – Staff, Dawson Student Union (DSU), Local 108, Canadian Federation of Students
9. Ethan Feldman – McGill Philosophy Strike Organizer, Victim of Police Brutality
10. Kenevin Søraynr Parent. Local 108. Dawson Student Union
11. Léo Fugazza – Dawson Student Union, 2011-2012 Director of Internal Affairs & Advocacy. Local 108, Canadian Federation of Students.
12. Kayla Christos, Director of Clubs and Services, Dawson Student Union.
13. Xavier Lafrance. York University. Local 84, CFS.
14. Nicholas Di Penna, incoming Director of external affairs. Local 108 Dawson Student Union
15. Audrey Deveault – Dawson Student Union, Chairperson. Local 108, Canadian Federation of Students
16. Fatima Santin- Dawson Student Union. Incoming Director of Student Life. Local 108
17. Gabrielle Brais Harvey – Fine Arts Student Alliance-Concordia.
18. Alexis Blanchard-Méthot – Société Générale des Étudiants et Étudiantes du Cégep de Maisoneuve (SOGÉÉCOM), Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ)
19. Laura Dolan, McGill University, OSMC
20. Rushdia Mehreen, Strike organizer, Concordia University; Coalition Large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE)
21. Farah Noun, Dawson Student Union. Local 108, Canadian Federation of Students
22. Marianne Breton Fontaine, AFESH UQAM
23. Agatha Slupek – Steward at A.M.U.S.E, Student at McGill University
24. Eleanor Foulkes – BA 2012, McGill
25. John-Erik Hansson, McGill Alumnus, Outreach worker at Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE).
26. Sunch Av Sunci Avlijas – Strike organizer, McGill University graduate student; Mobilization Officer on the Executive Committee of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) TA Unit 2012/2013
27. Amber Gross, former Political Campaigns Coordinator, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU); Labour Relations Officer, Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE-PSAC); member of the Board of Directors of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at McGill (QPIRG-McGill)
28. Robert Green – Former President of the Concordia Student Union (99-01) and former CFS National Executive Representative for the Province of Quebec (98-99)
29. Dmitri Zrajevski, former member of the Vanier College Mob Squad
30. Morgan Crockett Dawson Student Union, 2012-2013 Director of Internal Affairs & Advocacy. Local 108, Canadian Federation of Students.
31. Anthony Kantara, Vanier College Mob Squad
32. Soeleman Hassan, Vanier College Mob Squad
33. David Bernans, former Concordia GSA President, former York U GSA VP Liaison
35. Cloé Zawadzki-Turcotte – Coalition Large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE)
36. Mathieu Frappier, former CFS-Québec executive assistant (staff)
37. Carl Y. Prévil, Vanier College Mob Squad
38. Frank Lévesque-Nicol – Executive committee of AFESH-UQAM; Social struggles committee of the Coalition Large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE)
39. Nicolas Vittorio Saavedra Fusinato, Vanier College Mob Squad
40. Amber Gross – former Political Campaigns Coordinator, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU); Labour Relations Officer, Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE-PSAC); and member of the Board of Directors of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at McGill University (QPIRG-McGill)
41. Jaime MacLean – Strike Organizer, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), President, Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE-PSAC)
Some names have been excluded, as this letter is addressed by activists in Quebec. Your support is noted and appreciated, however!