By Emmanuelle Boisvert, Anne-Sophie Hamel and Valérie Simard.
When the last provincial budget was adopted, the announcement of a measure to compensate the final internships of a bachelor's degree in teaching flew under the radar. Outside of social media, there was a quasi radio silence. However, we would have expected a greater clamour from the member associations of the CRAIES1 who have been working for almost a decade on this sole demand.
Celebration or not, on the part of the interns who went on strike2 and who had to deal with threats of sanctions and reprimands, the announcement was received like a low blow, a split that jeopardizes the continuation of the fight for the remuneration of all internships. While pressure tactics have intensified over the last two years, the prospect of losing momentum and especially the support of students in teaching is a source for concern.
Obviously ending the fight now would be a mistake. Of course, there is the risk that the promise of compensation will evaporate in the aftermath of elections at the same time as the government that drafted it. Above all, the end of the struggle means the reduction of the whole campaign for the payment of internships to a simple corporatist demand.
In any case, UQAM's student associations in teaching (ADEESE) and human sciences (AFESH) as well as the regional coalitions for internship compensation believe that we should not be satisfied with so little, since they all have adopted a mandate, that includes an ultimatum that will drive them towards launching an unlimited general strike in the winter of 2019, if the government refuses to pay all interns.
Escalation is a combat sport
Of course, obviously some will say that it is far too early to start an unlimited general strike, that it is not strategic to launch such an ultimatum at the government right now. However, we must go as far back as November 2nd, 2016 to see the first rally of students who, interns or not, publicly demand the payment of all internships. It was, therefore, two years ago that we witnessed the first twitches of a struggle that would echo in all regions of Quebec as well as internationally and which, vice versa, draws inspiration from the movements initiated in Europe, in Africa and Australia.
Decentralized actions and events then multiplied until the demonstration in front of the Rendez-vous national de la main-d’oeuvre (National Conference on Manpower) in Quebec City in February 2017. On this occasion, some 30,000 students from Gatineau, Sherbrooke, Quebec and Montreal, are on strike. Since the government was preparing a reform of the Act Respecting Labour Standards, the strategy is then to demand that the articles of the law excluding internships be repealed: the exploitation of interns must be made illegal! It is in the context of this event that the Minister of Higher Education offered an unequivocal first answer to the payment of internships: if students are not paid during their training in school, there is no question of paying them during internships.
Hélène David's visits to educational institutions continued to be interrupted by CUTE and CRIS activists, and many days of strikes and actions were organized on several campuses, forcing her to change her speech to her most recent statement at the conclusion of the États généraux de l’engseignement superieur (Summit on Higher Education) in Montreal.
A social debate
On this occasion, the Minister declared that the issue of remuneration for internships is a social debate that will become more important in the coming years and has thus invited everyone to take an interest in it. It must be said that it was difficult to sweep the question aside when a group of activists had just interrupted her speech chanting slogans in favour of the payment for all internships as well as the threat of an unlimited general strike. Despite this we must not believe that the minister is complying with the interns' demands. In fact, she always judges that each program and each internship must be considered separately, thus maintaining the hierarchy between professions, but also between programs and reserving the right to determine which ones would deserve pay.
The day of action for the payment of internships held a few weeks earlier in several regions of Quebec in response to the call for the Global Intern Strike also had a resonance among the staff of the Minister. On February 20th, 2018, some 20,000 students and interns were on strike, with occupations of constituency offices, demonstrations, picket lines and workshops were held in Gatineau, Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke and Montreal, as well as in Rimouski, Chicoutimi and even in Moncton. At UQAM, students took the opportunity to challenge the board of directors and Rector Magda Fusaro, reminding them of the responsibility of institutions to provide favourable conditions for student training. Faced with the intransigencyof the demonstrators demanding that the UQAM board of directors adopts a position in favour of the remuneration of internships that very evening, the Rector had to resign herself to cancelling the meeting. Since then, there have been multiple exchanges between the activists and the administration of the university without, however the issue advancing one iota. Against the will of the Rector, an item on the question was finally added to the agenda of the last meeting before the summer vacation, but was finally tabled. The UQAM experience testifies, once again, to the institutional reluctance to take a position in favour of the students’ demands...
University and college administrations have all shown caution about intervening in the clashes between striking students and the modular and departmental directors. Everywhere, the internship strike movement is intensifying and more and more programs in the fields of education, arts, humanities, political science and law are responding to the call. In social work and teaching, the management in particular feel the pressure mounting and the threats of sanctions skyrocket and take different forms. At UQAM, independently and against the will of the student association executive, ADEESE members adopted a total of four strike days for the winter session; the Faculty of Education Sciences then felt obliged to offer an organized response after those strike days had passed. The wait is unbearable and some of the players (internship managers, supervisors, teachers) allow themselves to make decisions beyond their power, which feeds animosity and disorganized reactions. All of this in a context where students are isolated in their internship environments and have few opportunities to discuss and organize. Thus, from one group of interns to another, the threats will go from the loss of one level at competency 123 up to the threat of the failure of the internship itself. In response to these threats, the striking interns co-sign letters addressed to their management. In the end, no one will have failed even among those who had gone out on the four-day strike.
To justify itself, the Faculty of Education affirmed that it must meet the requirements of uniformity in its programs, otherwise the teaching training offered by UQAM would not be recognized. In social work, interns are told that it is the demands of l’Ordre des travailleuses et travailleurs sociaux (College of Social Workers) which exerts the same kind of pressure. These bureaucratic requirements would thus force management to make a distinction between an internship strike and a school strike. In fact, how can they justify that interns be required to make up for strike days when classes are never repeated? Is it not one and the same training? There would therefore be a special status for the interns, a status that can be justified by the reasons mentioned by the administrations, but that we interpret instead as proof of the value of the work done by the interns within the internships.
How do interns go on strike?
The strike days in recent months have shown us that the government's efforts to divide students, especially in teaching with the announcement of compensation for the final internship, reflect a growing fear of losing a free and easily exploited workforce. Whatever some people might think of it, the payment of all internships is one of the solutions that can reduce the precariousness in which an ever-increasing number of students live.
In retrospect, the last few months have been very instructive. Indeed, it is clear from the UQAM experience that new methods of organization need to be found to respond to the challenges imposed by the realities of internships, the isolation of interns being without a doubt one of the most considerable. If the student association is to continue to play an important role in collectivising risks and demanding the same treatment for all students, regardless of whether they have missed classes or days of internship, it’s the interns’ responsibility to organize so as to defend themselves against management, supervisors and employers during the internships. While relying on the links that unite interns with other students and in the same way to the decisions taken in general assembly, it seems that it will be necessary to organize assemblies of striking interns to structure the responses to threats of sanctions. The assemblies could thus form negotiating committees responsible for liaising with the student association and the administration. We would then avoid the internship seminars and the individual supervision meetings becoming spaces that are conducive to threats and shady dealings.
The minister's attitude over the past few months also demonstrates that it is fruitless to stick to a corporatist strategy. On many occasions, she has expressed her desire to negotiate with each program separately. For a long time, both the student movement and workers' organizations have abandoned the perspective of a united struggle. While, in the last year, health and education workers have multiplied initiatives to denounce their working conditions, it seems that the illusory border between these different professions and trades being abolished is still far away. For now, the fear of losing gains and the belief in the scarcity of resources to share, hamper opportunities to stand united against an exploitative system.
For too long also, workers, students included, have been poorly advised by the union and associative bureaucracies. Although there were some threats to strike in various sectors last spring and summer4, they only served to fuel the arguments of the delegates seated at the bargaining tables. These strike mandates "to be triggered when deemed appropriate" contribute to dispossess the most concerned of their main means of struggle. On the contrary, the decentralization of mobilization and organization has proved its effectiveness in the context of the fight for the payment of internships, the most obvious example probably being the February 20th day of action. Given the magnitude of the diversity of regional realities, as well as the internship conditions of each field of training, it seems fair to give each of them the space to organize and express themselves, while sharing a common analysis.
That is how we came to give an ultimatum to the government. The unlimited general strike is upon us and this time there is no recipe. We will have to dare, give way to the imagination and launch ourselves, despite our ignorance, to attempt a strike with strong transformative potential. What we are about to do, what we want to try, will at least have the merit of not being a copy of a previous strike.
1Inter-university action and advocacy campaign of teaching interns
2ADEESE-UQAM, AETS-UQAM, AÉMÉ-UQO, AEMSS-UQO, AÉMADA-UQAM, ASSOPHIA-UQAM, AESSUM, AESFQ-UQTR, REETS-UQO, AGEEFEUS, AGEEP-UdeS, AGEFLESH-UdeS
3 Future teachers are evaluated according to twelve professional competencies established by the Ministry of Education. The 12th competency states - Act in a responsible and ethical manner in the exercise of one’s functions. - One must understand therefore that respecting a strike mandate voted on in general assemblies runs counter to an ethical act according to some faculty administrations at UQAM.
4 The Montreal Teachers Alliance adopted an unlimited general strike mandate within the framework of local contract negotiations in the spring and the union of SAQ office and store employees have given themselves a mandate for 6 strike days, the first of which took place on the 17th of July.
Escalading Pressure Tactics
24 September 2016
Mobilization outside the PLQ’s 4th Forum on Ideas
Banner action for the payment of internships
4 September 2016
2 November 2016
Pan-Canadian day of mobilization against tuition fees
Rally for the recognition of student work
Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity
21 November 2016
Disruption of a conference held by the Minister of Higher Education
21 December 2016
End of the Doctorate in Psychology strike
Winning compensation for internships
16 February 2017
Demonstration outside the National Conference on Manpower in Quebec City
30,000 students on strike
Sherbrooke, Gatineau, Saint-Jerôme, Quebec, Montreal
13 March 2017
“Welcoming” rally for the Minister of Higher Education
3 June 2017
23 September 2017
Strategic rally and study session on paid internships
All regions invited
Université du Québec en Outaouais
4 November 2017
10 November 2017
International Day of Interns
Launch of a North American (Canada, USA, Mexico) appeal to mobilize for paid internships
Large rally in Montreal and demonstration in Moncton
20,000 students on strike
20 February 2018
Global Intern Strike
Actions, occupations, demonstrations, pickets
15,000 students on strike
Gatineau, Trois-Rivières, Laval, Sherbrooke, Montreal, Moncton
8 March 2018
International Women’s Strike
Demonstration in Montreal against sexual violence and exploitation in school and in internships
30,000 students on strike
20 March 2018
Strike against the positions of the UQAM Administrative Council
10,000 students on strike
22 March 2018
Demonstration in Quebec City in front of the National Assembly
10,000 students on strike
Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke, Montreal
28 March 2018
Announcement of compensation for the final internship in education
5 May 2018
Disruption of the Summit on Higher Education
Université du Québec à Montréal
28 May 2018
Founding of the Outaouais Coalition for Paid Internships
7 June 2018
Launch of a worldwide appeal for the mobilization of interns
Mobilization around the G7 in Quebec City
Back to school, Autumn 2018
Launch of an ultimatum to the future government for the payment of all internships
19 to 23 November 2018:
General strike in support of payment for all internships