Ontario students: it’s time to step up

10 Sep

In 2005 during the last college professor strike, CSA organized students to protest their professors by wearing pawn hats and making signs like these.

I’m writing this listening to April 26 1992 by Sublime. If you’ve never heard it, you must. It was in Québec City where I first heard this song many years ago and, having had the FTAA protests, it’s a pretty appropriate place to be introduced to such a song.

So, while writing this, I’m inspired by songs of rioting. I just thought it was useful for you to know that.

This week, Statistics Canada should release its tuition fee data. If it’s like the past two years it will come out late next week. Or, if it’s like the 2 years before that, late October.

Québec students just had a massive victory. After the longest student strike in Canadian history, a high profile campaign that embarrassed the hell out of the establishment and sticking to principles of direct democracy, they managed to block the hike like they said they would. They also embarrassed the hell out of Jean Charest who’s next political step will have to be behind the veil of patronage that is given to all failed politicians who, despite having received a veritable shit kicking, still slide their selves into high paying consultant positions or new, high profile law firms.

Actually, if Charest receives anything less than a Senate appointment, my guess is that we can assume he was snubbed. Or maybe he’ll take over for Dalton McGuinty.

Now, for activists who believe that higher education should be free, this isn’t a total victory. The PQ will continue to increase tuition fees by the rate of inflation, but it’s much better than what Charest was promising.

Indeed, the students have won enough hearts and minds of Québecers to truly influence government.

Québec’s fees will remain relatively stable next week in StatsCan’s data. So will Newfoundland and Labrador’s, where students, united, have been successful at rolling back tuition fees at a rate unseen in any other Canadian province.

For Ontario, the data will demonstrate, again, that students will be paying more. With the seventh consecutive tuition fee increase of up to 8%, Ontario’s tuition fee gap as the most expensive province in which to study will continue to widen. On average, undergrad tuition fees will likely rise from $6,640 per year to $6,972. That’s nearly $7K *on average*.  For graduate students, their average fees will likely be around $8,184 (this number is misleading: StatsCan has admitted to excluding MBA tuition fees from this calculation because, as they told us at the CFS at the start of this practice, it skews the average…. wtf).

None of what I’ve written here, though, will be a surprise to any student who has just received their tuition fee bill.

This is the fault of neo-liberal wolves wearing some sheepskin trying to pretend that they’re of the enlightened humanist class (just read the Glen Murray, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities says online…) Ontario students cannot afford to keep accepting these tuition fee hikes.

And yet, “student” organizations like the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and the College Student Alliance strangle any hope of activism on their campus through their confusing use of doublespeak, faulty logic and outright lies. OUSA’s last major submission boasted that they had the plan to increase quality without any additional cost. This, coming from an organization that supports higher tuition fees, is outrageous and certainly not reflecting the opinions of anyone on their campuses who aren’t members of the Young Liberals or babysitting the houses of their university administrators. The College Student Alliance was too busy playing a public relations game to support college management during OPSEU’s recent round of negotiations to even discuss quality or tuition fees any time recently on their website, though their last coherent position on tuition fees was that they should rise by (wait for it………) five per cent.

Ontario students have to take back the student organizing on their campuses. They have to approach their students’ unions, use their resources and organize through the structures that they can access. If, like at McMaster University, their General Assemblies have been taken over by Liberal/Conservative students who are only interested in raising student fees to give the administration more money for student activities, the students have to rise up and take back their students’ union.

It’s absurd that Ontario students, studying right beside Québec, pay three times more for the same education. The only difference is that students in Ontario have been betrayed by all three political parties and the popular movements that support lower fees are more organized in Québec.  So, some lessons:

College students: take back your students’ unions. College students in Québec have *free* education and you can too. You need to get organized, take control back from student union staff who have built fiefdoms around them and kick them out. It’s your money, it’s your campus and it’s your right.

University students: everything I said for college students goes for you too, other than the free education part. Get organized. Reject the rhetoric of “pragmatic lobbying” that so many Liberal-controlled students’ unions hide behind and democratize your students’ unions.

If you go to a school where your students’ union is a member of the Canadian Federation of Students, your task will be easier. Show up one day and volunteer, call a general assembly or organize an action. If you find it isn’t that simple, leave a message below and I’ll hook you up.

Québec (and Newfoundland and Labrador) show Ontario students that it is possible. It’s totally possible. All it takes is strategy, solidarity, some risk-taking, creativity and a relentless drive for fairness and justice for you and your classmates.

Welcome back to school. I too have three classes this semester and will be feeling your pain..though as a student through the University of Saskatchewan, my tuition fees this year were lower than they were at Ryerson when I started in 2003.

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