Clearly, class and internship strikes are generating fear, not only among institutional and faculty boards, but also among students. After the organization of several days of striking over the past couple of years, and even that of an entire week for several student associations across the province, reactions to this pressure tactic came quickly. Be it the school boards that invented justifications for retaking internship hours missed because of the strike, or the administration of the Cégep du Vieux Montréal that forced the retaking of a part of the class hours missed, the strike is rattling the upper echelons of the administration. With so much tumult, it becomes difficult to question the effectiveness of the means taken up by interns. That being said, the backlash against strike days past and the uncharted territory of a futùure strike, much less an unlimited general strike, may keep several interns and students from organizing towards a walkout of their classes and internships. It is therefore necessary to come back to the topic of the real consequences of a strike, which have largely varied from one campus to another, and of the implications of an unlimited general strike in the winter of 2019.
Student movements have long claimed that striking against courses paralyzes the educational system in a way that puts pressure on the government so as to make it give in to students’ demands. It basically comes down to reproducing, in an academic context, the strike weapon used by waged workers as leverage against their employers. And now, choosing to go on strike is even more relevant to the demand for recognition of work done during internships. The economic pressure coming from an interns’ strike lies therein; by putting a stop to our work, we bring to light the utility, if not the essential importance of the work that we do during our internships and that is made invisible under the guise of “learning”. Therefore, to improve our internship working conditions, we affirm that we will put an end to our free labour until we obtain full remuneration and legal recognition for it. It is important to remember that the work stoppages by psychology interns during the autumn of 2016 as well as the strike days of education students in 2018 led to compensation for psychology internships and the final teaching internship. We can also bring up the effect of the autumn 2018 mobilization. Despite the fact that the movement has been at work for over two years, the new Minister of Education made a public announcement on the remuneration of internships as early as the first day of striking. Also, officials within the ministry invited student spokespersons to a meeting on the subject. Imagine now if the interns’ strike grew bigger than what it was during the autumn. This is the wager we are making and are sure to win. An unlimited general strike of courses and internships would put such pressure on the internship workplace environments and on the graduation of students that the government would have no choice but to lend an ear to our demands for the granting of a wage and the coverage of our working conditions under the Act Respecting Labour Norms.
Meanwhile, there are consequences of the strike that are discussed at length within student spaces. If these do not always materialise, they remain tangible threats that we should not take lightly. For this reason, we must be prepared and act in solidarity. There have been many “catastrophic” scenarios brought up in order to spread fear and division among interns. They speak of cancelling the semester, of the impossibility of being recognized by a professional order if the internship hours required by a program are not completed, of failed courses for striking interns, of making student associations pay for overtime hours worked by teachers and supervisors during lesson retakes, etc. Paradoxically, the threats the administrations make with regards to strike days are not uniform, since they vary from one place to another in terms of formulation and application. Most of the time, these threats are unfounded, and rather emanate from a panicked reaction from administrations ready to make anything up in order to dissuade or divide the current strike movement. We can add to this the absence of legal or regulatory proof for these threats, the impact of different power relationships between students and even, in some cases, the impossibility of applying the announced consequences. If we take the hypothetical case of a failed semester for all students, for example, picture for a second the bureaucratic weight that executing such a threat represents for these schools. To allow for failed lesson retakes, it would become necessary to allow for twin registrations during the following semester, which is difficult to imagine. Remember that no entire semester has been cancelled after a student strike, even that of 2012, when students had walked out of their institutions for several months.
Outside of academia, failing the entirety of the striking interns would have important impacts on workplaces. The first to be affected would undoubtedly be the employers of interns who would have to go on without their labour. These employers, who take in interns in large numbers, are already dealing with labour shortages and impatiently await their graduations so they can hire them. These workplace environments, and their beneficiaries, would be deeply affected if even a single cohort did not graduate. This would result in generalized discontent among hospital patients, those who depend on community organizations, parents unhappy to see their children in packed classes because of a lack of teachers, etc. We can add to this the employers who are waiting for students to go on break during the summer. Indeed, the end of courses and internships represents, for the vast majority of students, an increase in their working hours for one or more employers. There are therefore a lot of employers who rely on this labour force, which is often willing to accept lesser working conditions because of its precarity; these employers who also want to see their semesters end on time. In this way, not only are the threats made by administrations and faculties impossible to execute, but the negotiating leverage is important given the usefulness of the labour that interns and students provide as well as the impossibility of failing everyone at once.
In light of this, why continue to make threats if they are impossible to apply? To scare us! Because administrations as well as cegep, university and faculty boards are afraid, and more than anyone. They threaten us in response to our own threat, the greatest of all: an unlimited general strike. Although, in the end, the “threat” of a strike weighs more heavily on institutions rather than students and interns. Divided, we are simply disciplinary cases to be treated in an isolated and individual manner. Interns, let’s unite towards an unlimited general strike; we have nothing to lose but countless hours of unpaid work!