As students return to classes this fall, it has become clear that they are being crushed under the weight of the new cuts to post-secondary education and OSAP. In particular, these cuts have hurt working-class students the most, with some students reporting up to $10,000 lost in OSAP funding. The resulting inability to pay tuition has led many students to simply drop out of school in order to work to afford a basic post-secondary education.
Unsurprisingly, this has created a mood of frustration and anger among students. People are looking for solutions to these cuts, and are willing to fight for their right to post-secondary education. By and large, the old methods of lobbying and waiting for the Ford government to simply change their minds are being rejected by students. This new militancy is exemplified at Ryerson, where students have begun a grassroots campaign for a general assembly with the aim of organizing a one-day student strike over the semester.
As soon as students at Ryerson launched the campaign for a general assembly, it very quickly gained traction. Within only a few days, the Ryerson Student Strike Facebook page reached more than 500 likes. Furthermore, after only a week of organizing, the campaign has managed to reach more than 1,000 students and get hundreds of sign-ups. The enormously positive response from rank-and-file students is not surprising considering how fed up they are. Just six months prior, the Ryerson student body displayed their anger in an organized walkout. It was the largest such walkout in the province, encompassing 1,500 students. Considering this impressive mobilization and show of strength, it should shock no one that students are now willing to enthusiastically lend their support to a student strike.
We must remember that it is not only students that have been impacted by these cuts. Millions of dollars have been gutted from post-secondary education funding under the guise of a “tuition cut”. This loss of funding will almost certainly mean additional burdens for teachers and campus workers, who will be asked to do more with less. As a result, many faculty and campus workers have enthusiastically signed on to support the student strike campaign. Other campus groups have also signed on, with 18 campus clubs in total endorsing the strike. In all, it seems that the entire Ryerson community is coming behind this effort.
One part of the Ryerson community that has been unclear as to where they stand on this initiative is the Ryerson Student Union (RSU). It is imperative that the student union supports the struggle against the OSAP cuts being led by grassroots student organizers. After all, one of the demands of the general assembly and the student strike being organized is the repealing of the Student Choice Initiative. If nothing is done, then student union funding will be drastically hit and the RSU may not even exist in the future. This fight is a fight for the very survival of student unions in Ontario.
Students have demanded that the administration grant them academic clemency during the strike. It is essential that the RSU does its duty and assists in negotiating this with the administration. Students need to be protected while they are standing up for access to and funding of higher education. It is vital that the RSU get on board with this movement and support the students by fighting for this demand, as it would strengthen the movement massively.
Lessons from previous struggles
The tradition of holding mass assemblies did not come out of nowhere in Canada. General assemblies have been used many times in the past by students to build up towards a strike, most notably in the national 1996 student strike organized by the Canadian Federation of Students, but also in the more recent 2012 Quebec student strike. In both of these amazing movements, students would organize in mass meetings where possible. These open democratic meetings were characterized by lively debate and discussion on how to move forward, with every student getting a vote and the right to decide how the movement will fight the cuts.
It is the hope of Ryerson students organizing this general assembly that such a tradition can be revived in Ontario. With the amazing mass walkout in March, it is clear that students want to organize to fight the cuts that Ford is burdening students with. However, it is equally clear that a walkout has its limits. There are clear differences between a strike and a walkout. A walkout consists of simply leaving class, having a rally, and going home. A one-day student strike would raise the stakes, shutting down the school for the day with picket lines. The latter would send a clear message to Ford that students will not take these cuts lying down, as well as show the government and even the students themselves that they are powerful when they organize together. Such an escalation is also necessary to spread the movement around the province and give other schools the confidence to join the fight.
A fight we can win
Doug Ford has effectively declared war on post-secondary students and is insistent on making their lives a financial nightmare. However, it is entirely possible to fight these cuts and win. Students have led the way in the past, both in Quebec and English Canada, and the Ryerson students are leading that charge today. The students must organize a student strike to begin the fight against Ford’s cuts in earnest. The time is now.
Beginning with the general assembly on Sept. 25, students at Ryerson are starting to organize against these cuts. Together with the workers, we can lead a fightback against Ford’s austerity. If you want to get involved, join this exciting movement and contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out their Facebook page for more info.