Tag Archives: student movement

The enemy of my enemy is never my ally: A critique of the CFS disaffiliation drives

5 Sep

“16 schools want to leave CFS,” declares Ethan Cox at his rabble.ca and Canada.com blogs. 16 schools — sensationalized even from the press release it references, issued by the students organizing the disaffiliation petition drive.

Like a playbook from a Manning Centre workshop, the release dropped during the first week back to school at most campuses, right in time to feed the student press.

We expect these attacks from the right. We, progressives who work within organizations that are well-resourced and have the potential to seriously disrupt the status quo, face these attacks regularly. They’re easy to understand when they come from the right. They’re harder to square when the come from the so-called left.

I say “so-called” because I don’t think anyone who allies themselves with the right to call for the whole-scale destruction of a progressive entity, especially without building an alternative, can call themselves progressive without being laughed at.

This goes for unions, this goes for the NDP and it goes for the Canadian Federation of Students.

The CFS is impressive for a lot of reasons. After decades of growth, it has the resources to drive higher education policy in many provinces, and can offer students services that do save money. In the 1990s, when the organization was taken over by Liberals, the idea that the CFS would take a position against war, Islamophobia, racism or even call for free education would have been hilarious.

Fast forward a decade and a half and the CFS is on the front lines of each of those struggles. It defends students’ right to choose in the face of extreme backlash. It staunchly opposes war and militarism. It defends free higher education.

I mention these victories to not say that the organization doesn’t deserve criticism, but to try and contextualize the current “attack.” When you get past the petty personal shit (and, I assure you, every single person who isn’t controlled by the Liberal or Conservative party has been burned by or developed beefs with someone at the CFS), there’s simply no current, progressive argument in favour of disaffiliation on which to stand.

Advocating for the mass exodus of membership in the CFS does only two things. Spoiler alert: neither of those things is to build the communist, revolutionary organization that some claim they want.

The first result is that it will open a space for the most resourced campus activists to fill it. While it can be hard for anarchists or socialists to accept, these activists will not be progressive. They will be funded by the Liberal and Conservative parties. They will hide behind the veneer of the left until the left falls apart because it divides itself even further and they will win.

While the dissenters’ press release says that some of the students who are mobilizing to leave the CFS want to create an ASSE-like alternative, they idiotically state: “But even if students have no desire to join a new organizing body, they should still consider terminating their membership in the CFS.”

Real progressive, folks. Damn the CFS and, in its place, we’ll take nothing.

Nothing comes of nothing and nothing isn’t an alternative.

The other natural outcome is what worries me the most. As a former staff person of the organization, I have had more than my share of grievances with the organization. As I know how hard it is to work and make change, build consensus, actually organize and realize a new, progressive project, I also know that writing a blog littered with factual inaccuracies to burn an organization that once burned your friends is way easier.

But these kinds of attacks will actually stop the leadership of the CFS from implementing the reforms, campaigns or new organizing strategies that it desperately needs. Instead, they’ll focus on these disaffiliation campaigns, fight them on the ground and resources for broad-based organizing will vanish.

Well-meaning students who want their national federation to be more militant, will find themselves stuck defending the very existence of the CFS rather than organizing for free education. These attacks stymie the expression of the very politics it claims to promote.

Many of those named on this petition went about “reforming” the CFS through hammering its bureaucracy: its bylaws and policies. It must have been a huge surprise to find out that, by and large, unless you have severe social awkwardness issues, no one cares about bylaw changes.

What students care about is the campaigns, the demands, the militant action and the ability of their national or provincial organization to influence the public debate. Claiming that the CFS cannot be reformed because you un-strategically walked in with a crowbar, swung it at some bylaws and talked about lawsuits in vague enough terms that most delegates tuned out, is living in a fantasy world.

You want to reform the CFS? You have to engage. You have to win the arguments at general meetings and the actually do the work on the ground. You have to lead with campaigns and services and build community — the aspects of the organization that students actually care about, rather than engaging in some spun-out tale about how your former roommate was once called a name by a national office staffer (for example).

You have to work toward progressive change in a good way, with good intentions and with lots of hard work. If you can’t see that the CFS is an organization with the resources to be turned into a dangerously progressive force, your personal rage is clouding your judgment.

I chose to not take on the facts contained within blog posts already written (even though since yesterday, Cox’s blog went from the CFS was suing Concordia Students’ Union to it being the opposite, but what are a few facts when a personal vendetta is on the line?) and I also chose to not focus on another legitimate but issue-obscuring argument (like, why is there not one list of all 15 or 16 schools? Are we talking 16 students at 16 schools? 30 students at 10 schools but different students’ unions? 10,000 students at U of T? etc.) I could do both, and will if there’s enough demand.

I also didn’t investigate the actual ties to the Conservative party (though, it’s worth mentioning that the Laurentian undergraduate CFS rep, presumably included in the disgruntled Laurentian University group, is a former staffer for Tony Clement and Conservative Party activist.) I didn’t do this because it’s well documented. I’ve written about it before and, as more “leaders” emerge from behind the so-called radical left leading this charge, its face will become more obvious.

Just like in 2009, the last time this strategy was attempted, the left may be the face now, but on the ground, the pieces will be set up and knocked down by the right.

Any so-called progressive that’s willing to ally with these forces to settle a score should have their head shaken.

 

Personal disclosure: Until August, I was a member of the Canadian Federation of Students/CFS-Saskatchewan. That’s my only formal interaction with the organization since I left my job there in June 2012. I was previously Communications and Government Relations Coordinator for the CFS-Ontario. I now live in Québec where, contrary to what some Anglophones say in Montreal, I’ve found that no one here cares about the Canadian Federation of Students. I have been asked by several people to respond, not one of which works or holds a position with the CFS currently or ever.

Ontario’s fractured student movement: the wheat from the scabs

30 Jul

The other day I wrote this for the Huffington Post blog I write from time to time: [LINK TO ARTICLE]

I conclude that becoming a candidate for the PQ was probably the best (and most predictable) decision made by Léo Blouin-Bureau, former president of the FECQ.

I’ve watched many people move into politics from the student realm. Zach Churchill out in Nova Scotia is probably my favourite. He was the national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (created in 1995 by the Liberal Party) and ended up getting elected as a *wait for it* Liberal. We’ve lost contact but I assume he’s doing well.

While writing the piece, I was thinking a lot of people who use their position for political gain. To explain this properly, it must be said that the student movement in Québec is really, really different than in Ontario. CFS-Ontario is like FEUQ, FECQ and CLASSE all combined in one, kind of. The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance is like that woman from Montreal who was the lone Liberal voice at the start of the strikes most famous for “debating” Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois on Tout le monde en parle. The College Student Alliance is like…. ….   I don’t know. They just don’t exist here.

All student organizations in Québec grew from students directly. There’s been ebbs and flows. FEUQ and FECQ have leaned toward the PQ for most of the years I was involved. ASSE grew from a rejection to this politic and evolved into the impressive CLASSE. This must be stressed: they grew from within their own members: students. So, no matter what kind of leadership they produce, the tactics they choose and their successes were at least at the hands of autonomous student organizing.

Not the case in Ontario.

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance is a training ground for eventual Liberal staffers. Just this past year, their Executive Director and Communications guys landed jobs in the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (you know, the cerebral cortex of the absolute worst PSE policy Ontario’s had since since they were all private universities). OUSA has been pretty consistent in delivering their cream to the Liberals and pushing the dirty, grey milk into the ether.

The College Student Alliance is the farm team of Colleges Ontario. Their past (or second past?) Director of Advocacy actually works in Communications in the Premier’s office and I’m sure nodded enthusiastically in favour of the ridiculous branding of the 30% off campaign lie.

Both organizations serve the following functions:
Support government policy
Promote government policy to the small network of local representatives
Justify these policies
Lightly criticize when it’s not going to hurt anyone
Advocate for exactly what the government is planning to do.
Claim victory when it comes to pass
Discredit students who disagree with government policy

There’s lots of examples of each of these online, so google away if you’re curious. Or ask me about any of them…I can dedicate a whole post to each one.

Neither of these organizations are autonomous from the masters they serve. An Alumni Council (a good chunk of whom are current Liberal staffers) at OUSA green lights future plans and staff aren’t allowed to stay long enough to have any real influence (2 years is the max someone can serve as Executive Director). As for CSA, I’ve seen the president of Colleges Ontario whisper into the ear of the CSA rep and then him attempt to relay her message. This was in a government consultation. (He didn’t get what she wanted said correct, so she cut him off and explained).

So, when these folks go on to their government positions, I think back to every single time that I witnessed them in government meetings, behind closed doors, sell out their members and my stomach churned.

This brings me back to Blouin-Bureau and my somewhat charitable take on his candidacy. Maybe Ontario has jaded the hell out of me and anything less shitty than we experienced (and experience) doesn’t seem as bad. But really, it isn’t. Even when FECQ’s leadership was ready to accept modest fee hikes, their members rejected them and the strike continued.

Hell, the existence of a no negotiation pact if other groups weren’t around the table is the height of solidarity.

Imagining OUSA or the CSA anywhere near a picket line, without being the folks who try to protect administrators as they cross it, is ludicrous.

This is really important.

These two shell organizations are the key to why Ontario’s student movement is so weak. Administrators know this. The Liberal Party knows this. It’s in their interest to prop them up as high as they can. And unless students at those member schools start demanding to know certain things (like, how the hell can a so-called student organization support tuition fee increases??), students will continue to lose.

Just ask the students’ union at the Thames Campus of St. Clair College. Theirs has been a quiet battleground on which this exact war has been waged…