On the afternoon of March 24, the McGill administration threatened student democracy. This was in relation to the passing of the Palestine Solidarity Policy in the most recent Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) referendum. We must fight against this hypocritical attack on student democracy!

Photo: Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill

A blatant attack on student democracy

This threat took the form of an email received from Deputy Provost Fabrice Labeau titled “SSMU referendum outcome”. The email threatened to discard the “Memorandum of Understanding” between the student union and the administration, unless the union leadership takes “prompt and appropriate remedial action” against the policy which had been democratically voted on by McGill students. 

Essentially, this would mean that the university would cease to recognize the student union as the representative of students on campus. The student union would be effectively starved of funding, its apparatus dismantled, and it would be enormously weakened if not completely disappear on campus. This would leave 24,000 students with no democratic representation, and make it more difficult to organize against the deteriorating conditions students are facing on campus such as increased tuition fees, ballooning class sizes, and other concerns.

This is a direct attack on student democracy and the student union must mobilize a fightback against this undemocratic attack from the university. 

A hypocritical attack

The Palestine Solidarity Policy was passed with the support of the majority of students with 71.1 per cent support for the “yes” vote. The policy mandates the SSMU to campaign for McGill University to condemn Canary Mission as well as other surveillance against Palestinian students and supporters of Palestinian human rights. Similar to policies passed at other student unions in Canada, it calls for the union to “completely boycott all corporations and institutions complicit in settler-colonial apartheid against Palestinians.” The policy also mandates the setting up of a Palestine solidarity committee to organize solidarity actions with Palestinians on campus. 

Despite the overwhelming support for this policy by the student body, Labeau characterized it as “an initiative that can only bring more division to our community”, arguing that the policy will “create excessive polarization in our community [and] encourage a culture of ostracization and disrespect due to students’ identity,” and that it is “in contradiction with the university’s values of inclusion, diversity, and respect.”

This attitude stands in stark contrast with the email sent the day before by the administration to the student body expressing opposition to the war in Ukraine. In this email, McGill states that it is “expressing solidarity with Ukraine and that country’s peoples and universities, and the [U7+] Alliance’s commitment ‘to defend the fundamental values of peace, truth, democracy, academic freedom, and international cooperation.’” It goes on to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and states it stands in support of Ukrainian students. Therefore, it is enormously hypocritical that the McGill administration is taking the exact opposite position when it comes to attacks on the Palestinian people by the Israeli state. What is the difference between working class Ukrainians who are under attack by Russian imperialism, and the Palestinian working class which is under attack by Israeli imperialism? The hypocrisy is clear. Expressing solidarity with Ukrainian people suffering in the conflict is acceptable, but students democratically deciding to express that same solidarity with the Palestinian people is “divisive”.

The reason behind this hypocrisy is rather simple. The McGill Board of Governors—a mostly unelected body that has final authority over the academic and financial affairs of the university—is almost entirely made up of CEOs, real estate moguls, and bank executives. They directly benefit from Palestinian oppression through their investment in arms production and military services companies, many of which have ties to the Israeli state. The oppression of Palestinians is a lucrative business for our ruling class.

What the McGill administration wants to do is to pick and choose which war is acceptable and which isn’t. To them, if a war is being waged by Russia, it is perfectly acceptable to oppose such a war, but if it is being waged and funded by the allies of Canadian imperialism, that is apparently a different matter. This is a shameful and reactionary position. Socialist Fightback Students at McGill are in complete opposition to all forms of imperialism. Millions have died at the hands of the Canadian state, and we must stand in solidarity with all workers and youth internationally to combat this. The SSMU must take and maintain a principled position in opposition to all forms of imperialism, not just the politically convenient ones. 

McGill is directly attacking the right of students to organize on campus. If the administration can get away with dictating what the student union can and cannot say by vetoing a policy that supports international solidarity with the Palestinian people, then McGill may as well not have a student union at all. They want to make the SSMU an appendage of their bureaucracy and snuff out the political voice of students on campus.

For democratic, militant, and socialist student unions!

On March 25, more than 100 students and supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Policy gathered in protest in front of the James Administration Building, which houses the principal’s office as well as other administrative units of the school. Speaking at the demonstration, SSMU President Darshan Daryanani denounced McGill’s decision to intervene in the democratic decision of the student union, decrying it as an overstep. “Despite the pressure from the McGill administration, we will not stand down. We will do everything in our power to defend and implement this democratically approved policy,” Daryanani said. These are strong words, but these words must be followed up with action. The SSMU must rely on the mobilization of rank-and-file students to fight back against the administration. The union must call for a general assembly open to all SSMU members to discuss and debate how to fight back against this blatant attack. The power of students is our ability to collectively organize through walkouts, strikes, and demonstrations. That is what is needed.

Socialist Fightback Students at McGill calls on the SSMU to resist the threats from the McGill administration. It is not up to the administration to determine what votes we take, what organizing we do, and what solidarity we put forward. We must fight back against these attacks using militant methods. That means going as far as a student strike if that is what is necessary. This is a direct attack on our democracy, and if our democratic decision is not enough, then we must take to the streets of our campus. It is the SSMU that has the capabilities to mobilize the 24,000 undergraduates, and that is what the student union must do as a next step. Weakness invites aggression, and if the students don’t mobilize then McGill knows they can bully the student union whenever they pass a resolution that is unacceptable to the McGill administration.

Our student union must be committed to rank-and-file democracy to get all students on campus involved in this effort. Only a militant defiant struggle in the face of these attacks can stop this greedy administration. The time to fight is now.