“Solidarity is not a word you say at the end of a one-sided conversation”

The Women’s and Sexual Diversity Studies Student’s Association has been on a weeklong renewable strike against austerity since April 1st. Members of the WSSA voted overwhelmingly in favour of the strike motion brought to our Winter General Assembly — with 78% of those in attendance voting to strike.  Since April 1st we have been actively organizing in a variety of ways against the austerity measures of the Quebec government and in accordance with our strike mandate.

On April 2nd, members of our strike committee, along with other students, attended a meeting with the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies during which we expected to discuss how we could continue to support each other during the coming days of striking. Instead of a dialogue that logically followed from our previous conversations with the IGSF, in which they had expressed general support for our mobilization, we were met with extreme and unexpected condemnations of our organizing, our strategies, our tactics, our politics generally, and our commitment to feminist values. We were told that pickets are violent, that we made the WSSA General Assembly a site of intimidation and bullying, and that our mobilization has no impact because it is poorly thought out.

We were told, repeatedly, that our strike mandate and our strategy of targeting austerity by striking was divisive and thus anti-feminist. It is surprising and disappointing not only that our actions have been deemed ‘anti-feminist’, but that our professors who study the nuances and ambiguities of power would suggest such a binary of ‘feminist’/’anti-feminist.’  It is also disappointing that the IGSF has chosen to withdraw their support in such a pronounced way, since the relationship between the IGSF and the GSDFSSA (Gender, Sexual Diversity and Feminist Studies Students’ Association) Strike Committee in 2012 was characterized by mutual support and respect.

We understand that the IGSF, as a small, underfunded, and undervalued institute at McGill, is under pressure from the McGill Administration and the Quebec government more generally to end our strike. We understand that the IGSF is receiving threats that their professors, precarious workers like those we seek to support through our strike, and like many of us, could lose their jobs or not be paid if they attempt to accommodate or support striking students.

What we do not understand is why they have chosen to accept these conditions wholesale and have proceeded to repress our resistance to these same forces instead of working with us to challenge those above them in the university hierarchy, as we are putting ourselves at risk to do. We do not understand why, if the IGSF is against our strike, they must couch this in accusations of divisiveness, bullying, and anti-feminism instead of honestly engaging with the pressures we are all facing.

Women’s Studies and Sexual Diversity Studies students, as with any other student body, have never been united. We have always held various political views, and we have never held the same levels of power as each other or our professors. We are confident that the strike is a time during which we can continue to have a dialogue about these differences and work through them as we have in the classroom for years. Moreover, we reaffirm that our strike is based on feminist principles, that austerity is rooted in patriarchy, and that as Women’s Studies and Sexual Diversity Studies students we have a particularly unique responsibility and role to play in this strike.

We ask the IGSF to reconsider their claims that our resistance is simply theoretical and that it is so internal to our department that nobody is noticing our actions.

Just hours after leaving the meeting in which our tactics to date had been heavily and unsolicitedly criticized, members of the WSSA marched in the streets of Montreal with 75 000+ other students, workers, faculty, and social groups. Many people approached us throughout to inquire about strikes at McGill and discuss our mobilization. Some of us were met with intense police violence in the forms of direct physical intimidation and tear gas, countless canisters of which were launched into the crowd by the SPVM (Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal; the Montreal police force) with no warning, in an attempt to disperse the demonstration.

We ask that those faculty members who have indicated they will call security on us if we picket, reconsider their commitment to resistance against state violence, and critically self-reflect on the violence they would be inviting us to be subject to should they do this. Despite assurances of solidarity with those striking, the IGSF has utilized methods that hardly demonstrate any sense of care or community.

The WSSA Strike Committee is dedicated – and, just as importantly, mandated by the WSSA membership – to continuing to mobilize against austerity, including by ensuring that the strike is enforced and undergraduates in WMST classes do not attend class. We ask that the IGSF respect our decision-making process, our ongoing learning, and our collective strength as we carry out these tasks.

Solidarity is not a word you say at the end of a one-sided conversation during which you have threatened to fail us and call security on us.  Solidarity is the actions that support the strikers and our strike. We were shown solidarity by the workers at the community centre who welcomed us on April 2nd with words of encouragement, cookies, and water, who helped us escape from approaching police and enabled us to rinse tear gas from our eyes. Solidarity is the relationships we’re building with one another, and the reciprocal enactment of care and support.

With this in mind, we ask that the IGSF consider the following requests in their future interactions with the WSSA and the Strike Committee:

  • That IGSF and WMST professors direct all future communication that pertains specifically to strike matters to the Strike Committee as a body, rather than to individual members of the Strike Committee;

  • That rather than claiming solidarity and allyship while behaving with hostility towards the Strike Committee and individual dissenting students, the IGSF should cease their use of the language of support and solidarity in relation to the strike until they have at the very minimum communicated with the WSSA in good faith about our needs regarding the strike, and have sincerely engaged with those mandated to facilitate the strike to determine a plan of action in which we can support IGSF staff and professors and accept sincere and practical support from them.  Solidarity is defined by those with whom you are acting in solidarity;

  • That any future meetings held with the WSSA and/or the Strike Committee regarding the strike should have clearly communicated goals, transparency regarding who will be attending, and prior notice to allow us to adequately prepare.

Forever in solidarity with striking students, precarious workers, and all those resisting austerity,

McGill WSSA Strike Mobilization Committee 2015

Supporting Signatories:

Comité Femmes de l’ASSÉ
AGSEM (Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill)

Read More | To the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (IGSF) from The Women’s and Sexual Diversity Studies Student’s Association (WSSA) 2015 Strike Committee