The Minister of Higher Education has taken the lead in the debate on the internships remuneration. To the CRAIES, which petitioned for compensation for the fourth internship in teaching, and to the FECQ  which requests collegial internships to be paid in predominantly feminine programs, she responds with a substantive question: “Why, when sitting in a classroom, you’re not paid, and when you are going to do an initial apprenticeship in the workplace, are you paid?” Although this is irony used by Hélène David to cast the discrediting the CRAIES while mocking the CUTE campaign on student work,  who claim a student salary, her reply, like all witticisms, unintentionally reveals strategic indications that should not be overlooked.
First, there is the issue of organization. It has been more than ten years since the struggle for paid internships is segmented by program or field of study. There are the midwives on one side, the psychology students on their side, future teachers in the corner… Each of their claims is treated as a sophisticated file that does not need any links with the others. Worse, they are often even competing: “situating them in psycho do more work without supervision than the trainees in teaching”; “Teacher trainees are responsible for more hours per week than the stages of social work”; “The shortage of midwives in the health care network and the priority payment”, etc. Or these campaigns are visible on the ground of their abilities. The division of movements and the numberless demands do not allow the mobilization of a critical mass capable of meeting full satisfaction with the objectives set. Even the FIDEP, after three months of internships’ strike, resigned itself to accepting the government’s first offer, knowing that the movement would not continue beyond a term.
That is probably what the minister has in mind when she spontaneously brings it back to a general question. In spite of its intention to put the various campaigns back and forth, to oppose them to one another, in the end it puts them all in the same basket, thus exposing a solution to revive these struggles: to make a general battle By adopting a position that includes all internships, all programs and all levels of study. It is important to organize in such a way as to eliminate the competition and the hierarchy between disciplines, which reinforce the difference between paid and unpaid training rather than abolish it.
Then there is the choice of the means of pressure. By closing the door to the very logic of remuneration for work placements, the minister indicates that the issue will not be settled amicably around a coffee table, in short without a movement forcing it to do so. Forcing the note is one of the most difficult steps to take at the moment. After the submission to the Ministry of Health and Social Services of a brief on the financial conditions of female midwives, the AESFQ did not know how to mobilize its members, who were too busy with their internships and too scattered throughout Quebec . Same thing for the CRAIES, which had nevertheless given new impetus to the struggle for the remuneration of “internship 4”; since the petition was presented to the National Assembly this spring, the horizon of this campaign is uncertain.
Since last year, three months of strike were necessary for the Minister to grant a scholarship to interns in psychology, we can be assured that the threat of stoppage will have to be real before the movement is taken seriously by the State. If such an adventure is already possible in certain programs such as education or social work, it is necessary to rely on these dynamics to embark the students of as many programs as possible, especially those with mandatory unpaid internships. This involves taking the time to discuss with college students, such as special education, childhood education, healthcare, documentation, social work, etc. The strike of the internships as a new means of pressure for the student movement can unleash incredible forces and prove to be very effective. Internationally, there has been an increase in the number of calls to strike courses during the past year, such as trainee teachers in Grenoble and Morocco, and the Global Intern Strike on February 20th.
Finally, there is the target, and that is the most important element of what the minister is telling us. The latter puts forward an argument of logical appearance, of the common sense good comforting for his audience, which nevertheless conceals a significant lack of reasoning: most of the internships in the predominantly male domains are already paid. Thus the supposed separation between work and formation which it opposes to the claim simply does not exist! Hélène David is, of course, aware of the undervaluation of women’s work and its effect on the non-remuneration of internships, her understanding of feminist issues is a well-known fact. But if the facade of his witticism aims to confuse us, the purpose is not to be false
By choosing to be determined not to recognize internships as deserving work as well as all studies, she tries to shovel the file into the neighbor’s yard: the Ministère du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale. Because it is the labor standards to which she refers, standards that are not bound to be respected with respect to a “student who works during the school year in an institution chosen by a Education and under an induction-to-work program approved by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education” . This provision exempts a boss from giving the minimum wage, or the least wage, to a trainee. At the end of its Rendez-vous national sur la main-d’oeuvre last winter, the Government of Quebec announced that it would undertake a review of labor standards “as soon as possible”, the first in 15 years. Here is a target of choice!
It is important to put the organizational bases of the struggle now in mind in the coming months, because it is likely to prove tough! To take advantage of the unintentional good advice of the Minister, CUTE, with the assistance of executives of student associations, student parent committees, women’s committees and student political groups, set up regional coalitions for paid internships. Indeed, to ensure that the different groups can take charge of the coalitions without removing them from their efforts and coming to invisibility, it seems preferable to favor coordination between groups on a regional basis. This offers more structural flexibility according to the associations and committees present in each region, and prevents a Montreal clique from becoming a “national”, as has often been the case in the past decades in the student movement.
Thus, we encourage the creation of coalitions, similar or different, in all the regions of Quebec (and even elsewhere!) as well as the mutual assistance and exchange of information and resources between them. The diversity of structures and the actual and concrete control of the struggle through a mobilized base will allow for a greater efficiency of the movement and a better anchoring on the campuses and the communities.
By putting our efforts together, let’s make sure that next year is the one where we will earn wages for all the internships! In the meantime, let us continue to have the ministers react, that may be helpful.
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This article was published in the Fall 2017 issue of the english edition of CUTE Magazine.
To learn more about the struggle for the full recognition of student work, to discuss or contribute to it, we can contact us via the CUTE Campagne sur le travail étudiant page.
Campaign for inter-university demands and actions for internship students, currently under the umbrella of the Union étudiante du Québec (UEQ). ↩︎
Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (College Students Federation of Quebec) ↩︎
David ferme la porte aux stages rémunérés, Le Soleil, 3 mai 2017. http://www.lapresse.ca/le-soleil/actualites/education/201705/03/01-5094528-david-ferme-la-porte-aux-stages-remuneres.php ↩︎
Comités unitaires sur le travail étudiant (Unitary Student Work Committees), which publish the magazine you hold in your hands. ↩︎
And it is without mentionning the programs where the fight remains at a standstill. In social work, for example, it is difficult to claim a salary, since the internships in community organizations and social services are already underfunded. ↩︎
Fédération interuniversitaire des doctorant.e.s en psychologie (Interuniversity federation of doctoral students in psychology) ↩︎
Association des étudiantes sages-femmes du Québec (Association of Quebec Midwifery Students) ↩︎
The CRAIES-UEQ strategy of betting on the election of the Parti québécois to win the case led the campaign to a cul-de-sac, especially since the PQ has little chance of being elected majority next year. ↩︎
On the movement of Grenoble: http://www.lemonde.fr/education/article/2017/04/13/la-greve-d-enseignants-stagiaires-se-poursuit-a-grenoble_5110682_1473685.html ; about the movement in Morocco: http://fr.le360.ma/societe/les-enseignants-stagiaires-menacent-de-descendre-a-nouveau-dans-la-rue-125491 ↩︎
Ministry of Labor, Employment and Of Social Solidarity ↩︎
Loi sur les normes du travail ↩︎
Loi sur les normes du travail (Act respecting labor standards), chapter II, section 3. http://www.cnt.gouv.qc.ca/guide-interpretation-et-jurisprudence/partie-i/la-loi-sur-les-normes-du-travail/le-champ-dapplication-art-2-a-31/3/index.html ↩︎
National Meeting on Labor ↩︎
«La Loi sur les normes du travail sera revue» (The Act respecting labor standards will be reviewed), La Presse, 17 février 2017 : http://affaires.lapresse.ca/economie/quebec/201702/17/01-5070530-la-loi-sur-les-normes-du-travail-sera-revue.php ↩︎