Last Wednesday, I attended a student protest in response to the injunction filed against MUNACA. Also last Wednesday, I learned that the pro-MUNACA student movement on campus, a movement I personally supported and felt a part of, is not as empathetic as it seems.
The protest started off, as most protests do, with bravado, indignation, and self-righteousness a-plenty, but it took a turn for the ugly when we reached the James Administration Building. Security guards stood in front of the entryway, blocking us from coming in, at which point taunting and disrespectful comments directed at the security guards were heard from the crowd.
Some stood directly in front of the guards, arguing with them to let us through, then turning around and yelling negative remarks about them. Others yelled jokingly from the crowd, asking the security guards to join us. One student said, “I know it’s your job to do this, but don’t do your job,” which was followed by chuckling and cheering. The worst, in my opinion, was someone assuring them that we, the students, would unionize them after finishing supporting MUNACA’s cause.
This is unacceptable, especially coming from a part of the student body that has been fighting so actively for workers’ rights—a group that earlier in the protest cheered enthusiastically when a speaker spoke of empathy as the main reason for supporting MUNACA. Where was our empathy for the security guards? These are non-unionized workers (as one student did point out, which led to the condescending remarks), with families to feed and bills to pay, and who are not endowed with the privileges we McGill students are.
We can protest when we believe wrongs have been committed and we have the right to vocalize a dissenting opinion against the administration, without having to worry about whether we can show up to class the next day. The security guards on campus are there to do a job, and what’s more, a job that directly benefits us. They make our campus safe, and the unfortunate fact that we have recently found ourselves on opposite sides of picket lines does not mean that they automatically become part of the enemy we’re fighting against.
Regarding the immature and condescending remark that we’ll “unionize them next,” I must question that student’s motives in joining the protest. While I am persuaded that the organizers of this protest are one hundred per cent genuine and selfless in their fight for MUNACA’s rights, a comment like that hints that perhaps not all attendees were as honest in their goals. We are not, in fact, the indispensable heroes of all McGill workers, and more importantly, we are not above anyone. We should use our student privilege to fight for those who do not have those privileges, but unless we can do so with humility and respect, we only cause more harm than good.
This criticism does not apply to the majority of the protesters present on Wednesday. Several students spoke out defending the security guards, and many agreed with them. Overall, in my opinion, the protest was a success and it was conducted in a respectful and positive way. It’s important, however, to remember who and what we’re protesting against; when we start mistreating some workers in order to help others, we’ve lost our fight.