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Editorial: Communication key for student engagement in austerity mobilization

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The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) recently adopted a joint anti-austerity stance at a summit in the Thomson House that brought together the two student unions. Both groups have put forward their own motions in Fall 2014 affirming solidarity against Quebec’s austerity measures, and further cuts to the university’s budget. While there is clear concern within the student unions regarding the cuts to McGill’s operating budget, the timeline for the current year is running out, and further efforts are required to communicate the severity of the losses to students in order to bring about necessary mobilization in opposition to austerity.

Student executives must continue to increase awareness about austerity and convey the gravity of the cuts to the student body, particularly amidst the relatively quiet discourse on austerity at McGill. If students can see the impacts that the austerity measures will have, not only on the university as a whole, but also on the specific services and resources that they use on a daily basis, it would likely be easier for SSMU and PGSS to mobilize students to take action against austerity.

Actions and conversations regarding the austerity measures taking place within both student societies have included the creation of a SSMU mobilization committee, which has begun strategizing for an anti-austerity campaign, the hiring of an Austerity Measures Researcher, as well as scheduled meetings with l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Etudiante (l’ASSE) and the Fédération Etudiante Universitaire du Quebec (FEUQ) to discuss mobilization.

Despite the attention that SSMU and PGSS have given to the austerity measures, the student body itself has been noticeably complacent about the cuts facing the university, which amount to a sum of $15 million in the 2014 to 2015 year. Student detachment from the issue became a roadblock against progress at the summit when quorum was lost during a motion to mandate SSMU and PGSS to create a Joint Anti-Austerity Mobilization Working Group. This incident highlighted the need for student engagement if SSMU and PGSS are to undertake concrete actions to respond to the cuts facing the university. The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) recently adopted a joint anti-austerity stance at a summit in the Thomson House that brought together the two student unions. Both groups have put forward their own motions in Fall 2014 affirming solidarity against Quebec’s austerity measures, and further cuts to the university’s budget. While there is clear concern within the student unions regarding the cuts to McGill’s operating budget, the timeline for the current year is running out, and further efforts are required to communicate the severity of the losses to students in order to bring about necessary mobilization in opposition to austerity.

SSMU […] needs to initiate further conversations with students if it wants to mobilize united and fully-informed faction of students to combat the austerity measures.

Student mobilization en masse is necessary to effectuate changes regarding austerity. One-sided lobbying undertaken by student societies lack clout without the support of large swaths of the student body.

Two upcoming events—“Put Your Politics Where Your Mouth Is: Austerity Bites,” hosted by the Midnight Kitchen, and “Anti-Austerity Activities Night,” which is being hosted by SSMU—are seeking to bridge the gap between students and their representatives regarding conversations about austerity. Both seek to inform students about the austerity measures imposed on McGill and to encourage them to mobilize against the cuts. SSMU is collaborating with the students hosting both events, but needs to initiate further conversations with students if it wants to mobilize a united and fully-informed faction of students to combat the austerity measures.

The terms that student society executives spend in office pass by quickly. The fast turnover rate of executives therefore necessitates shorter consultation periods with students in order to leave more time for executives to implement changes.

Moving forward, SSMU and PGSS need to engage students in order to make progress against the austerity measures. In addition to the oft-cited need to improve communication with students, the student unions can improve the visibility of the actions that they are already undertaking unilaterally to combat austerity. The turnover rate of student society executives is substantial, and improving the visibility of the actions that have been taken or are in progress will help to keep students engaged in combating austerity from year to year. If made aware of the constructive and ongoing steps that their student unions have taken, students will hopefully be more likely to become engaged in supporting the movement against austerity themselves.

This article was corrected Tuesday, March 10, 2015.

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