This is part one of a very extensive interview done last September by Rebel Youth Magazine.
We are posting it here on the blog to supplement the print edition's publication of RY's interview with a spokesperson for ASSE, a student union federation in the nation of Quebec.
Note that the grammar is not up to par. This is due to trying to keep the transcription as close as possible to the audio recording.
Note that the grammar is not up to par. This is due to trying to keep the transcription as close as possible to the audio recording.
We entered the Lo Pub. It was dimly lit and not too many patrons were in it at that hour. Seemed cozy enough. Some rock and top 40 music played in the background. We ordered a round of draft beer and sat in the corner. “Help yourself to some cheese bread” David Jacks says. All I had brought with me was a red Lloyds tape recorder, masking tape holding the batteries in. I'll point out now that for a man who is smiling and cheerful every time I see him, a columnist at the Winnipeg Sun has labeled him “Mr. Grumpy Pants” last autumn. WTF is up with that !?
REBEL YOUTH MAGAZINE: Tell us who you are and why we find you of interest to interview.
DAVID JACKS: I'm David Jacks, I was president of the University of Winnipeg's Student's Association (2007-2008), and Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students for Manitoba last year, and now I'm doing campaign work for the Federation here in Manitoba.
RY: What made you an activist of the left? What in your life helped form your system of opinion?
JACKS: I think it goes back to my father. Well, both my parents were immigrants. My dad came in the 1970s. And he immediately started getting involved with CUPE, Canadian Union of Public Employees. He was a chef at the convention centre (sous-chef, sorry). He was involved in some strike actions back in, like, 1990, something or other like that. And so always around our house we'd have protest signs or organizers coming in to our house and discussing labour action a lot and the labour movement.
From there, I guess in High School, my brother was part of a group called CHOICES, which was around in the 1990s, a very activist group. They did a lot of work around the privatization of MTS (against the plans of the Progressive-Conservative Filmon government to sell off the publicly owned Manitoba Telephone System - ed.). I was pretty young, a little bit too young to remember all of the details of that but I do recall my mother being highly involved and being in the newspaper quite a bit.
When I was in high school, I went to Gordon Bell high school, which is right here downtown.
RY: Oh! Gordon Bell High! (laughs) That explains a lot. ( Gordon Bell is known for producing many young activists in Winnipeg. -ed. )
JACKS: It explains a lot (laughs). Yeah. So, I went to Gordon Bell high school, and I was the president of the Student Council there, in my last year. We organized a lot of events, in particular around the refugee community in the high school there. There was a lot of people from, most of my friends were from Iran, Iraq, a number of students were from Croatia, the former Yugoslavia, right after the conflict there. So helping those students to adjust and hearing their stories, we organized with War Child Canada at that time, a big event at Gordon Bell high school, just to bring a lot of awareness around what folks went through.
From there I went into university, dropped activism altogether, I went straight into my studies. I pretty much left the activist community and social justice work for probably 3 or 4 years. Traveled Europe for a bit, did that little thing. Then got involved with the student's association there, during one of their elections, I heard one of their campaigners talking about international student differential fees. That's the issue that got me back involved.
RY: Well, that covers my second question. What made you decide to run for the UWSA?
JACKS: Well, actually that is a funny story because one of the things I figured is anybody who wants to run for an elected position because of that elected position, probably shouldn't. But people who don't want to run, but then are doing a lot of ground work in grassroots activism and then find themselves in a situation where peers and the people around them are encouraging them to run. That's the time to actually take that ownership of the organization and go for it in what you're working for.
So I was involved in the international student fees. I went “window washing for tuition fees” and all the campaigns of the UWSA that were going on but I never intended to run for any elected positions.
RY: Was there any way the tuition fees could have been held (frozen)? Or do you think this is due to a bigger problem in politics and society in general? Do you agree that the CFS could not fight this alone, like by lobbying?
JACKS: Oh Man! Like, yeah, the tuition freeze being lifted this past year, uh, was definitely political maneuvering by the, the New Democratic government. It was political maneuvering by a lot of people within the leadership of the labour movement. I do have to say that it was not the grassroots members of the New Democratic Party, not the grassroots members of the labour movement, uh but it was definitely some maneuvering by some higher ups. The tuition freeze costs last year (2008-ed.) $13 million. $ 13 000 000 is like 14% of the surplus of 2007-2008. So there's absolutely no reason why the province cannot afford to keep tuition fees low.
It certainly was pressure, from what I understand, from university administrations, like Dr. Lloyd Axeworthy who is not going to vote NDP anyways, because he's a member of the Liberal Party. And as well, certain members of the business councils and what have you, so there's definitely pressure from the right to remove the tuition freeze and implement things like tax credits which just aren't effective.
PAUSE...JACKS: but we can win it back. If people get together from all different backgrounds and
all denominations and all the different grassroots movements in this province, we certainly can put pressure on the government to bring it back.
RY: Where does CFS Manitoba compare with the rest of the CFS in other parts of the country?
JACKS: Oh Man! I think CFS Manitoba, we're super strong. But much of what we do is, is with other Canadian Federation of Students components, in the other provinces. And also on the different student unions themselves, because that's what it's about, right? It's the strength in numbers of all the student unions. So here in Manitoba we couldn't do what we do without the support from students in B.C. or what have you. So it's all about working together. Some of the national campaigns like the Canada students grant campaign that we had going on, uh, was a huge victory for us. And it was also the work of students from across the country, getting together and making their voice that much louder.
RY: Tell us about the recent Tory (Conservative Party) tactics
in subverting the CFS on campuses.
JACKS: So yeah, you've probably heard about both in Ontario and here in Manitoba and I think a case in point is the University of Manitoba where Member of Parliament Steven Fletcher, Conservative member of parliament Steven Fletcher, met with students on that campus to discuss democratic reform, but but ended up discussing how students should essentially take over, Conservative students should take over their student unions, because student unions in Manitoba tend to be more progressive.
Actually, that was leaked to the media, we made a number of comments on it that it's unfortunate that an elected official, a MP would be influencing and trying to get involved in local student union elections. By all means, he can talk to young conservative members on that campus and discuss conservative policies and how how to get involved, that within everybody's right. But to use subversive tactics to undermine elected student union officials I don't think is quite his ball park. He should stick to federal politics.
It's obvious now that the conservatives do have an interest in student unions on campus. I think, because we've had a conservative government for the past, almost decade (1990s) and they've seen the type of work that students, when united can actually have impact on conservative policies and on government policies, so they understand the value of students being involved in student unions and lobbying government. I think it is unfortunate that Members of Parliament are resorting to trying to convince students to run for student union elections rather that students taking that action for themselves, which by all means they have full right to do.
If that's (the conservative party meddling -ed.) going to become a trend then that's something we have to look out for, from all parties, whether it's the Marxist-Leninists, Conservatives, NDP, or Liberals, or the Green Party, what have you.
RY: What do you think about, as far as U of W (University of Winnipeg) goes, the capital projects, like uh, new campus expansions, do you think of them as good or bad or a little of both?
JACKS: Well, definitely the campus expansion at U of W is, little bit good, little bit bad. I don't think the universities should be crying wolf for lack of funding and raising tuition fees while at the same time the university is growing faster than the Napoleonic empire. Uh (chuckle) so, I was on the board of regents back in 2007-2008 when we were voting on the procurement of the Army Surplus property (United Army Surplus and Sales, a prime retail space across from the downtown HBC department store here in Winnipeg -ed.).
The building was still there at the time. And it was supposed to remain there. The university was planning on taking over the building. We did a walk through tour. And you know, “this is where the bookstore is going to be, this is where the student bar's gonna be” and within a month it turned into a big muddy hole in the ground because of some structural issues. Now at the time we were provided the motion to purchase the Army surplus building. As a board of regents member we were provided that three days before the vote. We had very little time to actually discuss the costs involved with taking a prime real estate in downtown, and now obviously, the cost associated with building a new building on top of that real estate. There was very little discussion. The vote was rushed through. Student union representatives as well as one or two faculty members voted against the procurement of the army surplus building, including myself. We thought it was not fiscally responsible of the university to do so.
Things like the science complex is something the students have been calling for, for a long time. Upgraded labs, upgraded science facilities. We don't want things to explode. So it's great to have that type of building. But also as with any purchase of property or asset, much like cars and houses, you don't buy a BMW and a mansion at the same time. You assess what your priorities are for that expansion, and make a responsible decision for that time frame, without putting it on the back of students and their families.
RY: What's your opinion of military recruiters on campus?
JACKS: Military recruiters on campus? I think it's incredibly unfortunate that in a country like Canada, the only way to get a free education is if you're willing to kill people. It's a really unfortunate situation. I think that military recruiters on campus certainly, I mean people, have a right to come on to campus and sell MTS (cell phones), sell tacos or whatever they want to sell, but I don't think selling violence is the answer. And I think that military recruiters on campus have one purpose and that is to convince students that, the solution to their financial woes of high tuition fees and student debt is to join the military to be sent to an illegitimate war overseas. To be killed. But I think what is worse is to kill other people.
Universities are centres for critical thought. And if we're going to advance as a country, we shouldn't be teaching our young people to be shooting automatic weapons at other young people in other countries.
RY: Have you seen the Dominion article about Dalhousie's research funding being provided largely toward military projects?
JACKS: Well, (on that same vain of corporate interests -ed. ) at the University of Manitoba, with Monsanto's national headquarters being on campus. With a university that prides itself on it's agricultural programs, now Monsanto, (pause) I'm sure your totally well aware, conducts incredibly environmentally harmful, whether it's experiments, creating environmentally harmful products for agriculture, for farmers to use in their fields. The terminator seed, was one of the one that was in the media for quite some time. A seed that essentially kills itself after it grows (not capable of sprouting into a new plant -ed.). Without understanding the effects of cross pollination. Monsanto is also a company that produced agent orange, which the U.S. sprayed over Vietnam. (part of operation ranch hand, the toxic effects of dioxin are still felt today – ed.)
END OF PART 1
link to cartoon here