On Monday, April 2 the McGill Social Work Student Association (SWSA) voted in favour of renewing their unlimited strike against the Quebec government’s proposed tuition fee increases, with 49 for, 30 against, and 2 abstentions. As of today, SWSA has been on strike for four weeks.
Over the past several weeks, the SWSA has seen open support from the Canadian Association for Social Work Education, the Canadian Association of Social Workers, and the Ordre professionnel des travialleurs sociaux du Quebec (OPTSQ). In addition, SWSA has gained support from some tenured faculty members.
“We were the first department [sic] to go on an unlimited strike and I feel like that was instrumental in helping other departments that choose to do so,” Leah Freeman, a first year social work student, said.
Radney Jean-Claude, one of two VP externals for SWSA, noted that support for the strike grew as time progressed.
“We’re supporting this [strike] because we’ve been mandated to do so, regardless of how we feel about it,” Echo Parent-Racine, SWSA’s other VP external, said on student support for the strike.
However, Jean-Claude pointed to the lack of support from McGill faculty members for the student strike.
“At McGill the dynamic is different, the professors are willing to accommodate at the discretion of the student, however, there’s no real open support for the strike as it is,” Jean-Claude said.
Other student groups saw mixed reactions following Quebec minister for education Line Beauchamp’s statement on April 5 that Quebec would be improving the loans and bursaries program for students. McGill’s Association des Ã©tudiant(e)s en langue et littÃ©rature franÃ§aises inscrit(e)s aux Ã©tudes supÃ©rieures (ADELFIES) has been on unlimited strike for four weeks.
“People mostly think it’s a proposition that would benefit the banks more than the students, who would only be even more indebted,” ADELFIES President Mathieu Simard said in an email to the Tribune.
“I think that it just shows [Beauchamp is] starting to listen,” Freeman said. “I don’t think it’s going to bring anybody from striking to not striking, but I do think that it’s a sign the government’s starting to reconsider its position and is open to talking with student groups.”
“I think it’s going to galvanize the groups,” Freeman added. “We’re going to stay strong because of that; it just shows that our activities are working.”
“I don’t think it’s a proposition we necessarily want to jump on because it will only indebt students,” Jean-Claude said. “The reason we’re on strike is to exactly prevent … people from getting indebted because they want to pursue post-secondary education.”
The next strike renewal vote will happen today. “I don’t see any reason why social work students would vote now to not continue. I think we’re encouraged by our beliefs and by other departments and by the province-wide activities,” Freeman said.
With the end of semester quickly approaching, another topic of discussion will be on what the SWSA strike’s end goal will be in order to determine how and when they will end the strike, outside of a renewal vote.
“A lot of the student associations throughout Quebec are willing to stop striking at least when the government opens up dialogue on the tuition fees, not on Quebec loans. So maybe we will go that way,” Jean-Claude said.
However, until the discussion opens, it remains to be seen exactly what will happen.
Simard expressed the same plan with regards to the ADELFIES strike, stating that they would continue their strike activities past the end the semester until the Quebec government agrees to stop tuition increases.
Freeman remained optimistic about the coming weeks.
“It’s been a short amount of time in the context of the whole strike and I’m encouraged by these gains and I think in the next week we’ll see more collaboration and activities from McGill as a whole,” she said.