January 2, 2010
Student movement in English-speaking Canada faces pressure from the organized right-wing
Debates around the future of the Canadian Federation of Students, English-speaking Canada's largest student organization, came to a head at its semi-Annual General Meeting last month. Held Nov. 24-28 in Ottawa, the AGM was attended by over 300 delegates from about eighty student union locals.
The meeting took place in the context of thirteen organized defederation campaigns at colleges and universities affiliated with CFS campuses this semester.
"These moves are been vocally supported by the Conservative Party," B.C. delegate Zach Crispin told People's Voice. Crispin pointed to a series of cross-Canada workshops bringing together Conservative youth and attended by sitting Members of Parliament, previously reported in PV last spring.
"We know the Conservatives have been trying to disrupt the work of progressive organizations on campus, like Public Interest Research Groups and Palestine solidarity committees. This semester we've also seen malicious calls for impeachment of anyone on a students' union board who is seen as left-wing," Crispin said.
Of the ninety motions on the floor at the AGM, a large majority were proposed by locals where defederation campaigns were taking place. While a few of these motions publicly intending to "re-shape and reform" the CFS passed, Crispin told PV, "many of these would break collective agreements with the CFS's unionized employees, force elected leaders of the student movement to earn the minimum wage, and institute procedures such as leadership by lottery."
"In my opinion, delegates from a number of student unions attended the meeting in hopes of disrupting the process and stifling regular discussion," Crispin said.
Kwantlen Student Association, the Graduate Students' Association of the University of Calgary, the Concordia undergraduates and graduates, and the Post-Graduate Students' Society of McGill University repeatedly put forward filibusters, were ruled out of order by the chair, and on one day delayed discussion until 5 am. When it appeared clear a vote would not be cast in their favour, a fire alarm was pulled.
According to Andrew Brett, a student activist and writer for Rabble.ca, the McGill Graduates sent three representatives who were not members of their student union. "One of them was Jose Barrios, a University of Victoria defederation activist flown in from British Columbia; another was Dean Tester, a conservative student at Carleton University and owner of http://www.alwaysright.ca a right-wing blog, according to Brett. The third delegate was a student at Concordia who is also leading a defederation campaign.
Last month, Brett and Crispin were among over sixty signers of an "Open letter from progressive students" calling for critical support of the CFS. "Those claiming the CFS can't be reformed and must be destroyed don't address the objective necessity for students to have a cross-Canada organization," the letter stated, adding "After smashing the CFS, what's next? We would wake up with a horrible hangover and have to rebuild."
"At best, the defederation campaigns are an incredible waste of time and distraction; at worst they make all students, well beyond CFS members and including the Quebec's student unions, incredibly vulnerable to the right's agenda," it said.
While the letter was widely reprinted on the web, the editor of the Concordia student newspaper claimed it was evidence of conspiring between Communists and former CFS employees.
"I think that claim is ridiculous," Crispin said. "the fact that they had to single out myself and a few other former Communist Party candidates who signed this letter - together with leaders of the Young New Democrats, anarchists, and host of other progressives, including many who formerly and currently have elected positions within the CFS - that just shows how afraid the Conservative youth are of real debate. They have to go back to the 1950s and the cheap anti-democratic tactics of McCarthy."
The CFS AGM also responded to the defederation campaigns, supporting a motion proposed by the Carleton graduate students to change the rules around local student unions leaving the CFS. Future campaigns now have to collect double the number of signatures (20 per cent of the CFS local's membership) within the first two months of the school year. Referendums can now only be held once every five years, and only two membership referendums can be held a year. The resolution passed with two-thirds majority support.
Despite fractious debate, delegates worked hard to get regular business achieved. Dave Molenhuis, former CFS national treasurer, was elected new National Chairperson. Delegates also heard a presentation by Malalai Joya, outspoken Afghan anti-war parliamentarian.
By closing plenary the AGM had passed a number of resolutions, including solidarity statements with students in California (where students have launched a mass actions aimed at stopping a 30 per cent tuition increase and despite heavy-handed measures by police) and Iran.
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