Open Letter to the People – by Anna Kruzynski and Eric Shragge

Top 10 Reasons to Support the Student Strike

by Anna Kruzynski and Eric Shragge,
professors at the School of Community and Public Affairs,
Concordia University

Tuesday March 13th, 2012. Two weeks ago, the undergraduate students in our School voted to go on strike; last week, our graduate students joined the ranks. This week, all students, graduate and undergraduate alike, will be boycotting classes. As Concordia faculty, we fully support the strike. Here are the top ten reasons why.

1. Tuition is an obstacle to post-secondary education. Studies show that as tuition rises, significant segments of the population will make the rational choice to not pursue post-secondary education. More debt is simply untenable for families who are already struggling to make ends meet. Like high school was 50 years ago, university education has today become a prerequisite for most jobs. It is also during university studies that students become self-reflexive and critical thinkers. University education must be accessible to all, irrespective of income.

2. This strike is for all of us. Tuition is a user fee. Just like the health tax. User fees are part and parcel of the neoliberal trend towards privatisation of public services. Each person, rich or poor, is expected to pay a fixed rate in exchange for services, rather than paying according to their revenue through taxation on income. User fees are an attack on the universality of public programs and on the common good. Unlike the comments of Concordia’s Provost, we do not believe that free services are of lesser value. Should we go back to having tuition in high schools? Students are currently the proxy, but the underlying issue impacts everyone.

3. The government is ignoring mounting criticism. For over two years now, workers, organisations, students, ordinary folks, have been denouncing the Liberal government’s plans to institute austerity measures to stimulate the economy. All kinds of tactics have been used – letter-writing, petitions, memoirs, and symbolic street protests. This government has responded by ignoring, marginalising or repressing all those who dare question its priorities. The time has come to use stronger tactics.

4. All reforms are the result of conflict over interests. History shows that all the good that the State has to offer is the result of long and oftentimes confrontational struggle. Universal pensions, primary/secondary education and health care, employment insurance and social security benefits, 7$ a day daycare, to name a few, are all gains that were won, through sweat and tears, by thousands of workers and ordinary people. The same rationale applies to the current battle. We mustn’t forget that the relatively accessible post-secondary education system that we are so proud of is the result of student strikes in 1968, 1974, 1978, 1986, 1996 and 2005. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out what to do in the heat of the moment… but the students needs our support now… not our “thank yous” after the fact!

5. The money is there. It is a question of priorities. According to the Institut de recherche et d’information socio-économique (IRIS), in the last few years, the Liberal Government has voluntarily cut its own revenues by reducing taxes on capital ($890 million) and income taxes ($950 million). The tuition hike represents a mere $332 million for the State’s coffers. The argument that the government needs this tuition hike to make ends meet is a blatant lie. The tuition hike is nothing more than a policy choice that is informed by a neoliberal ideological frame.

6. Those directly affected are getting organized. It is the students who have decided to strike. This is never an easy decision to make. A strike is no laughing matter. It has serious consequences, on all actors, students alike. Nevertheless, the strike mandates are spreading like wildfire. Their mobilization is impressive. By the end of the week they will be 175,000 on strike. Contrary to mainstream media portrayals, the vast majority are not vacationing in the South or hanging out at the mall. They are on campus, in the streets, organizing teach-ins, participating in assemblies, sharing information – doing what needs to be done to keep tuition fees from going up.

7. The strike is location par excellence for experiential learning of political processes. Collective actions and strikes in particular, are unique moments for students to develop critical consciousness, to learn to deliberate and to feel empowered. Many commentators who, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, had been lamenting youth’s apparent lack of interest in politics had a field day explaining how the Occupy Movement was all about doing politics outside of official channels. Where are these commentators now? What is going on in the student movement today is Occupy on steroids! With a clear demand!

8. Together we are stronger. Divided we lose. United we (might) win. Government officials, right wing think tanks and most mainstream media are doing their best to implement a divide and conquer strategy. These are deliberate attempts to confuse and alienate segments of the population from the students. We must refuse this logic and stand by the students. Unless we use the power of numbers to compel decision-makers to respond to our interests, the State will do what it was born to do, protect and defend the interests of the elite.

9. The little red square is a fashion statement. Given capitalism’s ability to co-opt the creativity of rebellious youth, in a few years you will be able to sell your vintage little red square for a 100$ on ebay.

10. And… spring is just around the corner