Breaking the Student Movement

An always amusing statement used by folks associated primarily with the Canadian Federation of Students. Of course, this is said to imply that there is no movement outside of said organization. This notion is as false as the so-called ‘union-busting’ claims that the UTGSU has debunked in its previous statements on such matters. However, even in such falsehood, there is a truth.

But rather than just repeat past critiques to reach these conclusions, let’s look today at a comparator to the CFS that is only in its very early stages, the Alliance of British Columbia Students (ABCS). Comparing the most recent CFS Annual General Meeting (AGM) with the Inaugural General Meeting (GM)** of the ABCS will give greater insight into the notion of ‘breaking the student movement’ and what is actually occurring in the Canadian Student Movement, outside of the rhetoric of the Federation.

The Federation: Old Tricks

 The 32nd AGM of the Federation was, in many ways, a better meeting than previous. It was not as filled with malice as others and on a personal level I came away a lot less disgusted than in the previous two. However, this was largely due to the fact that the meeting contained the fewest reform motions in some time and the greatest controversies were those tied to events still yet to fully play out.


But, sadly, the meeting was still disappointing and did not change my larger opinion that the Federation continues to eat itself alive with paranoia and anti-democratic behaviour. If anything events proved this belief to be true, even than before. With a denouncement of dissenters and petitioners right off the top, the AGM was met with several further affronts to openness.

Return To Sender: The late news of several petitions being confirmed as returned to petitioners shook a number of dissenting locals to action. Our petition and motion to remove the Chairperson – Jessica McCormick – was met with childish derision from the organization’s establishment. Discounting entirely the notion of holding one’s leadership to account for actions that have precedent within the organization Instead of taking stock of the problems of the organization, such folks entrenched their views and gathered speakers together to talk of how lovely McCormick is personally. This, as you can imagine, misses the point entirely.

Fixing Elections? Not us!: The Laurentian Students’ General Association put forward a notable motion at the CFS AGM that would have dealt with several major concerns of some students and unions. This Bylaw change would have increased member association rights to include notice for CFS Staff appearances on campuses (allowing for increased communication), the right to campaign autonomy, and most notably the right to not have the Federation interfere with local elections. While the first point was discussed the most (via ad hominem attacks on LSGA representative Mark Mancini’s character), it is the defense against the latter extension of association rights’ that was the most galling. In particular, Melissa Palermo, President of the Ryerson Students’ Union, was among the voices that simply denied that election manipulation ever has occurred. One assumes Melissa is unaware, then, of her predecessor’s appearances to campaign at UofT for certain candidates, for example.

Locking the Doors: As I and other noted in the press following the PGSS-led protest of the AGM, the doors of our hotel were literally locked as the protest began. Only after accusing our delegates, sarcastically, of wanting to start a fire did they unlock the doors in response to complaints regarding fire safety. Instead, they posted internal and local staff to stand by the doors and intimidate those who might choose to view or join the protest, according to those who remained inside. Moreover, in rejection of these dissenting voices, the Federation continues to claim that in spite of legal disputes, these folks should have simply came into the AGM and worked as members.

None of Our Business: The Budget of the Federation, that is. Much like in the last AGM, Federation staff denied delegates information regarding critical expenditures, like that of the Federation’s legal budget – which is misleading in its current form, improbably low for the number of known litigations they are involved in. Philip Link, appearing once more, was unable to provide specifics when requests while loyal delegates derided members from the UTGSU.

As you can see from these examples, good faith proposals and actions – along with outright dissent – are continuing to be disregarded and treated as anathema to the Federation. Mind you, this is an organization that encourages dissent and even reform in other spaces, outside itself. Thus, the first real instance of ‘breaking the movement’ can really be said to be occurring from the Federation’s establishment by their very own definition. Their actions continue to limit and distract from true solidarity-building within while ignoring student solidarity occurring simply without them present. The lack of good faith shown by the organizers of the Federation to others is what truly creates division and spurs protest, as with the just ended AGM.


The Alliance: New Beginnings

The 1st GM of the Alliance was, in many ways, a better start than many organizations of its kind have received. It was not as filled with malice as others and on a personal level I am much more enthused than by the previous organization. However, this was largely due to the fact that the meeting was founded on principles of open association and allowed for wider divergences in viewpoint between member associations.

This meeting has inspired me, once again, even while sitting many miles away in Ontario. Why is that? Well, even before this weekend’s meeting, the agreed upon principles of the ABCS from its core Letters Patent-like documents set out a pitch-perfect counter to the problems of over-centralization and quelling of dissent as is found in the Federation at every level.

This is so due to the confirmation of several core principles enshrined in the ABCS Constitution:

-“ABCS shall encourage vigorous and substantive debate that respects human rights, dignity, and diversity, in the pursuit of consensus.”

– “A Member may terminate membership by providing thirty (30) days’ notice in writing to the Board of Directors of ABCS, in accordance with the charter and regulations of the Member’s Association. This provision is unalterable.”

– “ABCS may not officially incorporate under or align itself with any municipal, provincial, or federal political party, pressure group, or partisan or lobbying organization. This provision is unalterable.”

…Along with several more. Normally, I’d splash commentary all over something like this, but it really speaks for itself. Inherent to the organization’s earliest forms is a rejection of creating ties that bind members to structures that could mutate into something dreadful (as the Federation’s have). Moreover, the group is explicitly founded on principles of “human rights, dignity, and diversity, in the pursuit of consensus”. This is not the ‘unity is strength’ argument of the Federation, but an opening to a respectful, mutually-led dialogue between student organizations. So then, I would argue that there is a break here, with past practice. But, such a thing is best expressed in the words of Freddie Mercury…

“…I want to break free from your lies /
You’re so self-satisfied I don’t need you…”

In the end, the truth of all of this reveals that, rather than breaking the student movement, dissenting members stand to break the student movements of its chains – long shackled by the lumbering, often-slumbering Federation. ABCS has put forward the first gambit to do so and by the notable success of their first Annual General Meeting this weekend, it may well be paying off. By establishing an organization with principled values, the ABCS have solidified what many dissenters have known to be true: You can be progressive and exist outside the Canadian Federation of Students, as a student organization in English Canada. We can break free.

While ABCS still has a ways to go and will inevitably fall into controversies, let’s savour this moment in what time we can. And, let’s hope for their success to spread such wonderful ideals throughout the country’s student movement.

All the best,
– Brad.

Corrections were made to the original post, which can be found here.

The image is taken from the Superman Homepage.


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