On Sept. 30, around 34,000 supporters of the Fédération Autonome de l’Enseignement (FAE) protested austerity measures imposed by the Quebec government by marching to Square Victoria. The FAE represents eight teachers’ unions, and encompasses teachers from elementary and high schools in Montreal and its surrounding region.
The 2015-2016 provincial budget saw a reduction in education spending of $76 million. Of that, $45 million has been taken from school boards across the province and $21 million from the CEGEP system.
A McGill contingent to the FAE joined the protest in a show of solidarity with the striking teachers. The McGill contingent was organized by students from different on-campus groups, including the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and Anti-Austerity McGill. The latter is a recently-formed student group, explained member Adam McKenzie.
“[Anti-Austerity McGill] is a relatively new group, formed at Anti-Austerity Week at McGill,” McKenzie said. “[The group aims] to promote the anti-austerity movement at McGill and […] raise awareness.”
SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Affairs Emily Boytnick explained that increasing awareness about asuterity on campus is important given the effect it has had on the McGill community.
“Certainly austerity affected McGill students,” Boytinck said. “More jobs [on campus] are becoming very precarious. We’ve also seen loss of TA hours [and] loss of classes in the Arts faculty.”
Additionally Boytinck highlighted the effect of budget cuts on communities outside of McGill.
“McGill is just really getting the tip of the iceberg, and it is honestly the children in the school system who are suffering,” Boytinck said. “Which is why the FAE is going on strike today, and [why] we want to stand in solidarity.”
Last spring, the FAE voted to hold three days of strike, beginning on September 30, 2015. Danielle Pelletier, a kindergarten teacher at Ecole Beau-Séjour Edifice Nord who attended the protest, said there will be more strikes in the future.
“There are no other dates that have been determined for the other strike days; however, they should take place before the end of October,” Pelletier said. “The services offered to students have decreased [a] lot […] and now the government wants to increase class ratios and to remove quotas on [students].”
Schoolchildren are assigned a quota of one, two, or three. A child with a quota of two needs the attention and help equivalent to that of two students, and the same proportions apply for children assigned a quota of three.
“If there are students with special needs […] we try to make up for everything but, at some point it gets very difficult,” said Pelletier.
François Charron is a music teacher at École Des Roseraies and École Albatros and member of the teachers’ union from the school board Commission scolaire de la Pointe de l’Île who attended the protest. Charron expressed his disappointment regarding the bidget cuts imposed by the government.
“There is a collective labour agreement that is being renewed at the moment,” Charron explained. “[For a year now] there have been at least 50 meetings between the FAE and the government, and there has been absolutely no progress.”
The protesters hope that the march will help to bring the negotiations to a more positive conclusion.
“We hope to reach an agreement, and that the government will offer to the children of the next generation the conditions that we have had the privilege to experience,” Charron said.
Anti-Austerity McGill is planning to participate in upcoming protests and events.
“There [was] another one on Oct. 3 with the public sector workers,” Mackenzie said. “We are basically trying to go to every one we can.”