The Tribune’s editorial board was split this week over the concept of legal student strikes. This dissenting editorial argues for students’ right to strike in light of the struggle for accessible higher education in Quebec. We do not agree with the position expressed in this week’s main editorial that the individual right to attend class supersedes the right of accessibile education, or that so-called “boycotts” are an effective and meaningful way to pursue collective action.
Gaps and questions certainly exist that require us to avoid the conflation of tuition-paying students with labouring workers. That being said, strikes are, in both cases, a valuable tactic of collective action in struggling for rights. They have often ensured that a majority is not only heard, but is taken seriously by those who hold institutional power. If not enforced, a strike is ineffective, and encourages those in power to provoke division amongst strikers and to ignore their demands. Student unions, given the right to strike, would likely need to be restructured or redefined in order to function fairly in a context that does not involve workers. Yet, the need to struggle collectively remains central in light of the continuing fight for accessible education in our society.
Free education in Quebec is recognized as a universal right and has been realized in sectors of education up to and including public cégeps. University education is also public, insofar as it is overseen and subsidized by the province. Some 49 per cent of McGill’s revenue comes from the provincial government, and 28 per cent comes from student tuition—a proportion that has increased yearly, nearly tripling since the early ’80s. The average student debt after graduation in Quebec today is $13,000.
[pullquote]“Education is not an individual pursuit based on our ability to buy degrees; accessible education is a way to grow as a society, and fighting for this right is a struggle for equality.”[/pullquote]
If education is truly a public service and a universal right, why is it that students here have been burdened financially for this right, above and beyond taxation? The notion expressed in the main editorial that, rather than voting on striking collectively, students should “boycott” classes—as though they were commodities—speaks to the growing reality in our society that education is not a right, but a product that can be bought and sold. The idea is this: those who pay should get their money’s worth. However, education is not an individual pursuit based on our ability to buy degrees; accessible education is a way to grow as a society, and fighting for this right is a struggle for equality. Such a struggle requires the ability to stand in solidarity and the willingness to take personal risks in order to maintain and further this accessibility that has advanced us in our lives.
This is a debate not only about the student right to strike, but about whether education is a privilege for those who can pay individually or whether it is a public right that should be guarded for all and advanced to society’s most vulnerable. The legal inability to stand in solidarity as students risks harming our peers and future generations because we cannot unite effectively in defense of Quebec’s ideals, even after a majority vote.
In the struggle for accessible education, powerful action is required. “Boycotts” are not only ineffective but self-defeating, because such a notion promotes individual indifference and reifies the notion of education as a commodity, rather than a right we must struggle to maintain. In demanding our rights, we must each face risks, but the benefit is immense for society and for the values we wish to see passed on to future generations.
Andra Cernavskis, Victor Temprano, and Samuel Reynolds participated in this dissent and agree with the views presented. Adrien Hu, Chris Liu, Carolina Millán Ronchetti, Elisa Muyl, and Adam Sadinsky did not align with either side.