Photo by Keith Race
MONTREAL (CUP) — A familiar sight presented itself in downtown Montreal on Oct. 31 as tens of thousands showed their displeasure with provincial austerity cuts.
Concordia’s contingent to the morning protest commenced at the Sir George Williams campus before joining the main group at the McGill University Roddick gates. Students weren’t the only marchers at the protest, having been joined by professionals, union members, and public servants.
Colourfully dressed in costumes as befit the occasion—the event was entitled “Austerity: A Horror Story”—all assembled were protesting against the large cuts in spending by the Quebec government.
“It’s not quite the same as tuition,” said Concordia Student Union (CSU) president Benjamin Prunty, referencing the 2012–13 protests when hundreds of thousands of people marched against cuts to the education sector.
“When the university is looking to cut 180 positions and (is) losing $16 million—and that’s only in one year, obviously the year before they lost more—it’s really easy for students to realize this is affecting them in a real way, and not only that, it will be affecting them in the future.”
Sustainable Concordia’s (SC) external coordinator Mike Finck said the event was a success because of “the amount of people who came out on such short notice and looking across who was represented.”
Beside the CSU and SC, representatives from a dozen Concordia student organizations across most faculties attended. Labour unions like Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) and the Concordia Undergraduate Part-Time Faculty Association (CUPFA) were also present.
“The government is not prioritizing the public sector, and so the public sector needs to remind the government … why they exist, which is to provide support for citizens,” said Prunty. Many of the labour contracts at Concordia and Quebec as a whole are up for renegotiation next year, and he said austerity won’t be lost on the negotiators.
“This is all very top-down. We’re told this is the case, we have no choice, and things are compartmentalized,” said Prunty, who disputes the idea of austerity as the only course of action without alternative discourses. “We have cuts to the public sector, and lo and behold, there’s also tax cuts here to certain parts of the private sector or certain parts of the financial sector.”
Prunty would like the university to take a clear stance on the austerity measures coming from the provincial government.
“When you’re making cuts to education instead of to other places, you’re affecting the people who really need it most. It doesn’t make any sense to me when there’s so many opportunities,” said Concordia student and protester Alejandra Melian-Morse. “We’re struggling, and we’re individuals, not huge corporations.”
“The key, really, is to not feel disempowered by this message being constantly pushed down and that we’re always hearing from the figures we see as authorities,” said Prunty. “The only answer is to start the conversation ourselves.”