Report Back from the 6th Congress of the MER-RSM

Report Back from the 6th Congress of the MER-RSM

On February 18-19 the MER-RSM has held its 6th Pan-Canadian Congress. Delegates from 14 sections from across the country came to Ottawa to decide on the course of our organization, share organizing experience and reaffirm our commitment to pushing the class struggle forward wherever we organize! Realizing the resolution from the 5th Congress to consolidate and build roots, most of our sections have grown, with some doubling their membership numbers. The MER-RSM remains the largest anti-capitalist student movement in Canada, and we will keep organizing to expand our reach and grow in places where sections are established.

Coming out of this Congress, we have set out clear plans for moving forward. The main short term goal of all MER-RSM sections in English Canada is to work to create general assemblies (GAs) on campuses, in order to make students the highest decision making body in student organizations such as unions, associations and federations. Several sections are already engaged in GA campaigns and plan to intensify their work over the coming weeks. The Congress made explicit another reason to struggle for general assemblies, the ability to build towards an unlimited student strike, in which revolutionary politics will be the leading force. This task is in furthering the commitment of the MER-RSM to build towards a revolution in Canada. To help facilitate section’s struggle for GAs, the Coordinating Committee (CoCo) of the MER-RSM will centralize propaganda and analysis from successful campaigns, and from this develop new materials to aid in the spread of direct democratic student leadership through General Assembly.

The Congress also decided to change the way we view our Transformative Justice Committee (TJC). Initially called for at the 2014 Congress in Quebec City, the committee has been slow to materialize. To rectify this the 6th Congress set out a new plan for an ad-hoc TJC to address complaints against MER-RSM members that may have engaged in patriarchal, transphobic, racist, ableist, etc. behaviour or violence. The mandate of TJC includes a process of investigation, mediation and rectification. All comrades interested in acting for the TJC when the need arises are encouraged to get in touch with the CoCo via their Regional Organizer. In addition, the CoCo will create a list of resources to aid in the work of the TJC and make this list available to the leadership of every section. Any member of the MER-RSM or its periphery who has a complaint that they wish to be investigated by the TJC and CoCo has the right to contact their regional organizer or any Coordinating Committee member and to have that complaint dealt with as soon as possible. We will take all complaints with the attention and seriousness they deserve. Through this mechanism the MER-RSM will realize its commitment to maintaining internally a strong LGBTQ2SIAP+-inclusive, and proletarian feminist culture in both word and action

To advance these same politics externally we will implement the two following resolutions. The Congress directed that wherever possible sections to hold events this upcoming March 8th under the banner of Gender Oppressed Worker’s Day, and to promote a celebration of Proletarian Feminism and revolutionary gender oppressed people. In addition, the MER-RSM will intensify our opposition, in the coming years, to Canadian Association for Equality and other “Men’s Rights Activist” organizing. To guide this the CoCo will centralize and produce guidelines and propaganda for campaigns and actions against these reactionaries.

Other decisions focused on strengthening our organizing locally and further improving our propaganda materials. In the coming year CoCo will produce a plan for organizing at CEGEPs and Colleges, this will expand our organizing in this crucial site of struggle beyond the single section currently at Algonquin College. Also the CoCo will also develop recommended basics and advanced reading lists for the ideological advancement of members and will make these courses accessible on the MER-RSM website.

In fostering a culture of revolution in Canadian schools, the CoCo presented the draft of the first MER-RSM publication – “Classmates”. After discussion and feedback, it was decided that the publication will be released at least once a year, with the first issue being ready for September 2017. This will add a vibrancy to our movement and allow supporters and members to contribute actively to the perspective of the organization be it through art, analysis, or polemic.

Finally, the 6th Congress expressed solidarity with the comrades from RSM Sudbury, who are facing heavy police repression. The MER-RSM unequivocally condemns the outrageous actions of the Sudbury Police and Ontario Provincial Police and offers the support and assistance necessary for our comrades there to continue doing their great work. Further the MER-RSM extends our solidarity to Igor Sadikov, a student at McGill who faces major backlash from McGill’s Student Society and university’s administration for publicly expressing his anti-Zionist views. MER-RSM supports struggles against imperialism and colonialism in Canada and internationally and therefore stand in defence of his critique of Zionism. In this vein, we also affirm our solidarity with the member organizations of the International League of People’s Struggles. Through each of these declarations MER-RSM hopes to build comradery and strength by celebrating others who join us in the fight against imperialism, colonialism and capitalism.

Demonstrating the quality and growth of the organization, our Coordinating Committee now mainly consists of comrades who have not been on it previously. Due to this fact, some responsibilities are going to be shared between several people, in order to ensure a steady transition. Regional organizers will contact their sections shortly to introduce themselves:

Chairperson: Dimka Melnik (returning)
Ontario Organizer: Ken Kollontai
Ontario Organizer: Emma Calico
Quebec and Eastern Provinces Organizer: Dimka Melnik & Juju Rmd
Prairies and British Columbia Organizer: Yan Ni & Ian Desales
English Propaganda Officer: Cameron Mcalpine
French Propaganda Officer: Juju Rmd

Our struggles among the student masses have made us the largest left-wing student organization in Canada!

In Solidarity,
The Coordinating Committee of the Mouvement Étudiant Révolutionnaire – Revolutionary Student Movement (MER-RSM)

RSM-Sudbury Targeted by Police Repression, but Continues to Organize!

Since the string of revolutionary street art began to appear around town on Monday of last week and the March Against School Closures on Tuesday January 24th, the police have intensified their attacks on the Sudbury chapter of the Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM-Sudbury).

A small group of RSM supporters were chased by unidentified men in the downtown core that Monday afternoon. The men pursued the supporters for several blocks, yelling that they believed our supporters were responsible for spray painting a building.

We saw a dramatically increased police presence at our demonstration against public school closures on January 24th. Surveillance was heavy, with cops taking pictures of attendees’ faces and recording conversations. At the end of the demonstration, police approached and then pursued a group of RSM supporters and organizers for a short distance as they were leaving together.

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Pigs invade meeting of RSM-Sudbury on Thurs, Jan 26.

Later on Thursday evening, January 26th, during what was supposed to be our public Winter Semester Orientation at Laurentian University, police occupied the meeting room before we arrived preventing the Orientation from taking place. One RSM supporter who was on the scene was questioned and threatened by police. The cops pressed them for information even after they said they were not willing to share any. They threatened to charge the supporter with obstruction of justice for not giving their name and other information, and implied that ‘liking’ the RSM-Sudbury Facebook page was grounds for laying charges. After asking a number of times if the supporter had been at the demonstration on January 24th and receiving no answer, they attempted and failed to arrest them for trespassing at the Rainbow District School Board office under the assumption they had been at the demo.

And a few days ago, police invaded the home of a supporter and searched their residence without a warrant. They used intimidation and fear tactics to enter the premises, threatening to surround the house on all sides until a warrant to search could be obtained. The cops then searched the house under the pretense they were looking for somebody, but turned over every corner of the place where no person could hide, even inside dresser drawers, under mattresses, and through the contents of their desk. This is despite not laying any charges! They’ve continued to harass this person, showing up at their home three times now, and have shown up at the homes of other supporters as well. No RSM supporters have offered any information despite police intimidation and we continue to urge others to not to talk to the police either.

This heavy-handed police repression may look like a totally unprecedented attack on RSM-Sudbury, but the RSM has faced police surveillance and repression to a lesser degree since its inception. This is in the context of a general strengthening of the repressive state apparatus which targets any radical elements in society that call capitalism and its markers into question. We are facing a blatant attempt to stifle any further political activity of RSM-Sudbury because they see us as a threat.

We won’t allow them to intimidate us! RSM-Sudbury will continue to struggle against this rotten settler-colonial capitalist system, the state which protects it, and its many manifestations including the closures of eight public schools in our city!

We will continue to hold weekly public meetings on the Laurentian University campus. The meeting scheduled for this Thursday February 2nd will be cancelled, but regular weekly meetings will resume on Thursday February 9th at 6pm. All those interested in joining the fight are welcome to attend.


Solidarity with all targets of capitalist political repression!

Resist the campaign of police intimidation and terror!

Dare to struggle, dare to win!

No Nazis on Campus! Fascist Propaganda found at McMaster University

No Nazis on Campus! Fascist Propaganda found at McMaster University

mcmaster-thumbnailOn Monday morning Neo-Nazi propaganda was discovered on McMaster’s Campus and in the Westdale neighbourhood calling for the preservation of ‘white culture’ and organization in support of white ‘self-interest’. This represents an attack on all marginalized students in the McMaster community. Fascists lie, propagandize, and distort the facts to support a twisted narrative of supremacy and racial purity and as such the Revolutionary Student Movement is categorically opposed to all alt-right organizations. The Revolutionary Student Movement is a militant and combative anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, and anti-capitalist student organization. We are definitively anti-fascist, anti-racist, anti-ableist, LGBTQ2S*-inclusive and proletarian feminist. We will fight fascism wherever it shows itself. We will ensure that alt-right, white supremacist, and Nazi propaganda cannot be distributed at McMaster. We will not allow fascists to organize openly, and wherever they decide to come out into the open, they will be met with fierce resistance.

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A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire: RSM Expands Westward!

A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire: RSM Expands Westward!

The Prairies are Rising Red

Within the last year of the work of the MER-RSM, perhaps the most promising development of our organization has been the affiliation of two anti-capitalist organizations in the prairies with our Pan-Canadian organization – the Socialist Student Association (SSA-RSM) at the University of Saskatchewan, and the University of Manitoba Student Action Network (UMSAN-RSM). Through this, the MER-RSM has been capable of uniting revolutionary students across this previously untapped area of central Canada, creating a basis of experienced and already engaged organizers that can spread the militant student movement across Canada.

With the degradation of the economic conditions in the prairies for working class people, as unemployment increases; the intensity of the contradiction of settler-colonialism within this area of the country due to significant high populations of Indigenous peoples posed against resource extractive economies; and the intense attacks upon education across English-Canada, the situation is all too ripe that such a spark as the MER-RSM will undoubtedly start a fire across the Prairies. 

  • A Statement of the Pan-Canadian MER-RSM Coordinating Committee

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After the Day of Action: What Next?

After the Day of Action: What Next?

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The Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM) is excited to see that so many students across the country participated in November 2nd Day of Action, demanding an end to an education system which is unaffordable and inaccessible to most working class people and people from marginalized communities. Seeing this mobilization is truly inspiring, especially since most students who participated did not have an academic amnesty and many had to skip classes in order to demonstrate that they want these changes to be made now. Members of the RSM across the country have joined the actions in their cities with enthusiasm and have been involved in organizing in support of this initiative – we took part in marches and demonstrations, handed out leaflets outlining our position, promoted today’s events, and organized walk-outs.

However, despite today’s Day of Action being a success in mobilizing a large number of students across the country, we maintain our critiques of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). We maintain that it is an ossified, anti-democratic, bureaucratic, and reformist organization that serves as a barrier to the creation of a combative student movement in English Canada. The CFS did not call for a day of action out of a genuine desire to launch a truly mass-based anti-tuition campaign, nor out of a desire to increase the level of militancy in its current activities against the rising cost of tuition. Instead, it will again use the day of action as part of its lobbying efforts, as a means of cynically using the mobilization of students to provide weight to the annual meetings that CFS bureaucrats have with politicians.

The actions of CFS bureaucrats today proved our critique to be correct. At many rallies, organizers made the call to vote for politicians who would supposedly bring us free education, and to vote out the ones who do not support this demand. Organizers who sought to put forward the necessity of a strike were, in some places, barred from speaking. The CFS has used mobilizations like today as part of their lobbying efforts for more than a decade, and meanwhile tuition fees have steadily been on the rise across the country. 

Furthermore, the demands of the CFS do not go far enough. The current campaign and day of action is directed only against tuition fee increases. The RSM stands for the complete abolition of tuition and ancillary fees, the cancellation of all student debt, and for complete open access to all post-secondary institutions in Canada. Only by eliminating fees and entrance requirements can education become truly accessible for the working class in Canada. The RSM stands for access to post-secondary education for all Indigenous people, and an anti-colonial aspect to all education programs. Not just the Indigenization of programs and institutions that aim to continue to dispossess Indigenous people from their land, but independence of all Indigenous departments and students from settler organizational models. The RSM stands for education to be put in the service of people and not profit; we argue that research should be for the benefit of all people and not the benefit of corporations, and that education should serve struggles for justice and liberation.

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But now that the Day of Action is over, where do we go from here? The RSM proposes the following concrete steps as a program for building a fighting student movement across Canada:

  1. Students should fight for General Assemblies as the highest decision making bodies of their student unions. In turn, where General Assemblies already exist, students should fight for General Assemblies at both the campus and faculty level.
  2. Revolutionary students should campaign and promote the idea of a one-day strike against tuition.
  3. Votes for a one-day strike against tuition should be held in General Assemblies where they exist as a means of building a culture of striking.
  4. These sorts of activities should be continued and escalated, until it is possible to coordinate strikes between campuses.
  5. Strikes should serve as a way of forcing social crises where possible: we will force the state and ruling class to act, rather than simply beg them for table scraps.

The end of tuition, debt, the bourgeois education system, and capitalism are all possible. But in order to win, we need to be organized, and we need revolution.

In just over a week the RSM will be holding its Sixth Pan-Canadian Congress in Montreal. We invite all revolutionary youth and students, who agree with the political perspectives we uphold as well as the concrete steps we propose, to attend either as members of the RSM or observers.

For a truly democratic student movement in English Canada!

Towards a student strike for the elimination of tuition fees!

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Closure for Consolidation: Solidarity with TASS and LDSS!

Closure for Consolidation: Solidarity with TASS and LDSS!

Across Canada, high school students are feeling the brunt of government austerity measures. Their schools are being closed; a process known as ‘closure for consolidation’. In Peterborough, these destructive and anti-student measures were experienced by Lakefield District Secondary School students in September when they were forced to consolidate into Thomas a Stewart Secondary.

 

In May of 2015, Peterborough public school board administrators recommended that Lakefield Secondary close and students be consolidated into Thomas a. Stewart (TASS) in the Long-Term Accommodation Plan report released by the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board (KPRDSB), in this document, several schools were slated to be closed, but in March of this year, the school board succeeded in their efforts, and students left the school for the last time to be later consolidated into TASS.

 

The most disconcerting aspect of this closure was just how aware the school board was of the negative implications this meant for students who attended LDSS. The school board completely ignored the concerns of teachers, indigenous students, and TASS students regarding the closure and consolidation of their schools. During a consultation meeting, a community archivist from the Curve Lake Cultural Center said to applause, “Our students don’t want to go to a new school. They will be lost … when they are here, we know where they are and that they are safe”.

 

TASS has now been through 2 consolidation processes in an attempt to fill its halls with as many students as possible, even more schools are planned for closure within the next few years that will most likely be consolidated into TASS as well. Prior to the consolidation of LDSS we saw the closure of Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School (PCVS). In 2011, the board voted to close the school, and in 2012 they succeeded with PCVS students scheduled to move into TASS the following school year. Since then, complaints of overcrowding, underfunding, understaffing, and an array of other similar issues have been prominent among students.

 

“Over the course of my four years at TASS I’ve been witness to not only the LDSS transfer but also the end of the PCVS one as well, and quite frankly it’s almost the same scenario but on a larger scale. The class sizes are larger, staff have more students to attend to making it almost impossible to get help, […] While there’s no major culture clash like there was when PCVS moved, and continued up until the remaining students graduated, there’s still substantial tension between the TASS students and the Lakefield students.”

 

TASS touts their higher enrollment numbers, but what does this actually mean? ‘Higher enrollment’ simply lines pockets, no matter how higher enrollment numbers as a result of closure/consolidation actually effect the quality of education. Increased enrollment has meant many students were completely unable to access the guidance department for weeks following the start of the new school year. Students, particularly in the arts department, claim that their classes lack funding, and many ex-LDSS teachers are currently filling positions that they aren’t used too, and as a result both the teacher and students suffer. This also puts tremendous strain on teachers already at TASS, who must now accommodate upwards of 35+ students in a single classroom. These are issues TASS has struggled with since the consolidation of PCVS students and the adoption of the integrated arts program, which has since seen a massive decline in enrollment as it further suffers from cutbacks.

 

“I was particularly excited to hear about the integrated arts program at PCVS, there was such a sense of inclusion. I moved to Peterborough with the intent to attend PCVS, and actually had to end up paying for my own bus pass when the program moved to TASS.”

 

Thus, with the move we see costs for transportation being offloaded onto students typically from the working class core neighborhoods of Peterborough and from the reservations and far flung rural communities previously served by PCVS and LDSS. The consolidation of two distinct student communities into a single school has also brought about what has been termed a ‘culture clash’, in reality this is just is the abdication of responsibility to create anti-oppressive spaces that protect racialized, LGBTQIA2S, and indigenous students. This can be seen in the way students describe the relations among students after the PCVS closure. 

 

“There was definitely anger between PCVS and TASS students. One time at an assembly we were all watching a slideshow of door decorations for this annual contest, there was a door dressed up in PCVS logos and shirts, as soon as it came up on the projector a section of the audience began cheering, and another began booing, a couple boys behind me yelled out homophobic slurs, It was scary but also infuriating. Similar things used to happen to people who wore PCVS sweaters and shirts, friends of mine were harassed with slurs, one time TASS students sprayed axe deodorant over a popular lunch location for integrated arts students, at the time the administration did nothing about it, even when we came forward.”

 

This systematic and widespread violence is typical given the rhetoric we see daily. Despite what the school board and administration says about trying to foster harmony, we can see their profit over people priorities in their actions. If we look across Canada it is always working class schools like PCVS and schools serving indigenous communities like LDSS that are on the chopping block with the added funds being used not to support these students but rather support an ever growing board office and pad the personal projects of administrators.

 

The Revolutionary Student Movement – Peterborough would like to invite students of Thomas a Stewart and past students of Lakefield District Secondary School to attend the November 2nd Day of Action against tuition fees at Trent University. Our struggles are connected to the fight against austerity measures that seek to undermine our education. No organization in English Canada is currently taking seriously the task of mobilizing with high school students. The RSM seeks a fundamental transformation of high school education be to be democratic and anti-colonial, making it accessible for all working class and oppressed students. As we begin mobilizing across the province against school closures, we believe the only strategy that can keep our schools open and eliminate tuition fees is to strike, following the Quebec path of militant organization that has resulted in the province having the most accessible and student focused education in the country.

 

Towards a Student Strike in English Canada!

 

Towards, Democratic, Anti-Colonial, and Accessible Education!

 

Solidarity with LDSS and TAS Students Facing Austerity!

 

 

RSM-Peterborough

RSM-UPEI Denounces the UPEI Student Union Council!

RSM-UPEI Denounces the UPEI Student Union Council!

The November 2nd Day of Action against tuition increases was initiated by the Canadian Federation of Students, and while the Revolutionary Student Movement has a different political line and practice with regard to tuition issues, we resolutely support efforts to resist tuition increases. RSM-UPEI would like to delineate our position on the Day of Action from the positions of other groups, to ensure that the general student body of UPEI understands the varying political lines on the matter and acts in an informed way. The first group we will delineate ourselves from is the Student Union Council.

The UPEI Student Union Council is not supporting the Day of Action at all, because they believe that creating a “needs-based grants system” is sufficient to “increase accessibility”. This is an example of how well-intentioned social justice rhetoric (“accessibility”) is easily coopted by opportunist, reformist organizations so they can sound like their interests are the same as the masses’. We do not want tuition to be abolished simply so that people can “access” education; we recognize that capitalist institutions cannot and will not act in the interest of the masses, and we seek to dismantle bourgeois education that only prepares us to sell our labour so it can be replaced by revolutionary proletarian education that prepares us to transform society. The SU Council intends to accomplish their minimal and reformist goal solely through lobbying. The UPEI Student Union used to be part of CFS–in fact, they were among some of the founding members. In 2008 the CFS launched a lawsuit against the UPEI Student Union, and this lawsuit was never brought to court. Since then, our SU has been part of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) instead of the CFS. RSM-UPEI suspects that the SU Council’s negative history with the CFS is likely fueling this ultra-reformist political line.

While RSM criticizes the CFS for taking the approach of lobbying and making minimal demands, like reduced tuition instead of tuition abolition, we also commend them for launching the Day of Action and we intend to push even harder for even bigger demands. We know that one day of mobilizations and lobbying will not stop tuition increases; a strike is the only thing that can accomplish that, and freezing or reducing tuition is insufficient to begin with. Tuition must be abolished. RSM-UPEI also recognizes that a strike cannot be accomplished unless we seize democratic control over our Student Union by replacing the SU Council’s decision-making power with General Assemblies of all students. Nevertheless we will organize to march, demonstrate, and show the university administration and the state that we will not tolerate tuition increases! The SU Council has taken a nearly polar opposite position–they are avoiding the Day of Action and doing even less to achieve nearly nothing. It seems that the only way they could go further to the right on this issue is by demanding that tuition fees be increased!

The UPEI chapter of the Revolutionary Student Movement denounces the UPEI Student Union Council for their reformist, opportunist, do-nothing approach on the issue of tuition! The SU Council has, time and time again, shown us that they are nothing but a clique of liberals who look out for their own interests instead of fighting for the interests of the masses!

Down with Student Union bureaucracy!
Fight for revolutionary student democracy!
Abolish tuition and student debt!
ALL OUT NOVEMBER 2ND!
#AllOutNov2 #AllOutStrike

Solidarity with LDSS and CVDCS Student Walkouts Against School Closures!

Solidarity with LDSS and CVDCS Student Walkouts Against School Closures!

This past Wednesday, in solidarity with last week’s student walkout at Lively District Secondary School (LDSS), members of RSM-Sudbury gathered there to distribute a slightly different version of the statement below among the students, and to write messages of solidarity in chalk around the school. That same day, students at Chelmsford Valley District Composite School (CVDCS) also staged a walkout, inspired by LDSS students. We greet that action with the same enthusiasm and our statement has been amended accordingly.


Students of LDSS and CVDCS!

Down with the school closures!The Revolutionary Student Movement – Sudbury (RSM-Sudbury) congratulates you on the mass walkouts you organized over the past week to protest plans by the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) to close your schools!

As the local chapter of a country-wide organization of anti-capitalist students and youth, with members at a few high schools in Sudbury and at Laurentian University, we wish to extend to you our full solidarity and support in this struggle.

Last month we were dismayed to learn about the RDSB’s announcement of massive and accelerated cuts to school infrastructure and educational programs – but the defiant stand you have taken gives us hope! And we are sure there are many others being inspired by your rebellious spirit.

You know better than anyone about the countless hardships these closures will create for many thousands of students, families, teachers and support staff across Greater Sudbury. The loss of jobs, community resources, educational and extracurricular programmes, hopes and social bonds will be hardest felt among low-income, working-class, rural and Indigenous communities.

And for what? The RDSB is trumping up a relatively small budget shortage to justify a sweeping attack on many communities that are already struggling with effects of past school closures – and with a social, economic and political system that leaves us poor, powerless and without prospects for the future. Meanwhile the School Board has no problems finding $7 million to spend on a new office for their bureaucrats!

That is why the cuts must be fought, that is why you are fighting, and that is why RSM-Sudbury has been gearing up to join the fight by your side. When we first heard about the walkout in Lively, we were in the midst of organizing a series of student speak-outs across Greater Sudbury, including in Lively and Chelmsford, to condemn the school closures. The speak-outs are meant to let students and families express their anger and unite for mass actions, just like what you did last week. They will also provide a fighting alternative to the phoney public meetings that the RDSB will be holding in the coming weeks, the aim of which is to create the illusion of ‘community input’ and stem the tide of grassroots struggle.

And a broad, united fight to the finish is absolutely necessary, because we are going up against powerful forces that will not budge unless we force their hand. The School Board and the Government have already shown they are no friends of us students, like in Spring 2015 when they worked together to crush the high school teachers’ strike that fought for better quality of education, for smaller and more personalized classes. The system that these institutions represent offers us nothing, unless we demonstrate that we have the strength to take it regardless of the wishes of those in power.

Your example deserves to be imitated widely, both at schools directly affected by the cuts and at schools that have been spared for now. Our hope is that the speak-outs will go a small way toward building a combative movement of students and supporters in Greater Sudbury that will toss the RDSB’s plans into the trash.

Solidarity with students of LDSS and CVDCS!

Fight the school closures all across Greater Sudbury!

No compromise, no cuts!

We invite all sympathetic students and supporters who wish to work together with us to push this struggle forward to contact our Facebook page or email rsm.sudbury@gmail.com. You can also come out to our twice-weekly general meetings:

  • Tuesdays, 3:30-6pm on the main floor of the Mackenzie Public Library
  • Thursdays, 7-9pm in room C-318 (Classroom Building) at Laurentian University

Crisis in the SFUO and the way forward

There is a lot more than what appears on the surface concerning the financial crisis at the student federation (SFUO). As a militant anti-capitalist organization active on campus for 6 years now, we have been a part of, observed and struggled with the SFUO for some time and have noted what we have identified as structural weaknesses leading to an inevitable collapse as a center of power for students on campus. This is why the founders of our predecessor organization, the Marxist Student Association, broke with the politics of the core of left-wing militants who were struggling for power over the SFUO in the late 2000s and sought to lead a different way forward for the mass of students[1]. The current crisis is another sign that liberal politics are in decay at the SFUO and unfortunately it is afflicting students as well.

We’ll explain in this article how the crisis in the SFUO originated and how it’s negatively impacting us. We’ll also talk about how we can overcome this and organize ourselves to defend our interests not only as working-class students on campus but also to support the wider struggle for liberation from all exploitation and oppression.

The problem unfortunately runs deeper than this year’s budgetary situation. The current politics ruling over the SFUO are largely the result of a takeover by liberal, social-democratic student politicians with the support of radical militants in the late 2000s. The people who would later found the Marxist Student Association were then part of a wide coalition of militants organizing against tuition fees and in support of other progressive causes, such as opposing imperialist wars. One of the highlights of that time was when hundreds of students protested a planned talk by Ann Coulter in Marion Hall and forced her to abandon, in 2010. While never getting close to resisting the increase of tuition fees and other negative measures of the administration, the coalition did succeed in setting up a strong enough base to dominate student politics in campus over a number of years, and to get by referendum the SFUO to re-integrate the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), a liberal student union with locals (including many in dispute) across Canada but mainly centred on Ontario. The radical, combative movement that made this push would then gradually shift to reformist perspectives and bureaucratic tactics, forming a layer of cliquey student politicians. At the same time, through the connection with the CFS, the leading student bureaucrats placed the SFUO into a wide network of liberal organizations, chief of which were labour unions like CUPE, and the New Democrat Party (NDP), turning the SFUO into basically a revolving-door / escalator for aspiring politicians. To put it in other terms, the SFUO was sucked into a bureaucratic machine, and its resources were more and more preyed upon by bigger organizations.

In more details, a certain faction from the initial militant core set out to expand the organization’s bureaucracy rather than focus on building mass support and democracy on campus. From their elected position as executives, they built up a network of bureaucrats throughout the various departments and service centers of the SFUO, which would become their support base to engineer the re-orientation of the SFUO as a stepping stone for the bigger liberal organizations such as the labour unions and the NDP. By adding more and more positions and hiring their supporters, with the promise of further advancement as everyone graduating through the SFUO executive seemed to be moving on to fancy staffing jobs at the CFS, at CUPE locals and with NDP members of parliament, they established an effective support base that was constantly working to uphold the politics in power and direct the SFUO’s resources and the militancy on campus toward those ends.

But to keep things going, the mechanics had to be sheltered from oversight. What little transparency and accountability there existed in student politics at uOttawa at the time, it was thrown by the wayside; one of the ways this was done was to declaw the union of SFUO staffers, CUPE 4943, to render it unable to defend employees from the politics of management. Exec sympathisers were promoted to union leadership and gradually allowed their friends to strip the collective agreement of its power to resist management, paving the way for them to manipulate hiring for their political advantage. A toxic atmosphere of liberalism and opportunism set in the SFUO, causing lasting damage among people there. Another way bureaucratic control was installed was through the creation of the executive coordinator position; this un-elected, permanent, cushy and seemingly unsupervised job was designed to keep the CFS’  liberal politics in command at the SFUO in case some exec positions still ended up being lost to opponents, generally self-assuming conservatives, during elections. This is a common tactic employed by the CFS throughout its locals to ensure its hold over them. Needless to say, this position was consistently staffed with supporters who had carried the torch for the organization and subsequently went on to other bureaucratic positions in the movement. Through this kind of approach, the social-democrats were able to maintain their hold over quite some time in spite of consistent opposition from the anti-CFS right.

Energy was also sucked out of the combative left-wing elements on campus to sustain the machinery. Any legacy of combativeness as well as autonomy was drained away from the service centers for women, for queer people, for disabled people, for international students and others. Those centers came into existence as a result of intense struggle from oppressed people who wanted a center from which they could build resistance, but they were over time co-opted into the liberal SFUO politics. Similarly, the climate justice movement that was burgeoning in the early 2010s was diverted to make bureaucratic gains, and the more recent victories arising from intense mass work, such as the U-Pass and the healthcare insurance, were treated as mere services that only required an “apolitical” management, serving to justify the straight-up bureaucratization. This partly explains why the gap between the dues paid for the health insurance and its costs was allowed to increase since 2011; the health insurance was no longer being sustained as a material interest for the mass of students that needed to be fought for constantly. In this way, the SFUO began losing effectiveness even in its basic delivery of services, especially to students who needed them the most. Each scandal that made it into the news was another sign of cracks in the machine, from the fireworks debacle to Yogagate, from the sudden mass firings of last April to the unprecedented waiting lines for U-Pass this Fall.

Perhaps most sadly, the liberal direction over the SFUO failed to provide the leadership to tackle emerging problems arising on campus. The ills of rape culture, sexual harassment and the attempts by a tenured professor to organize students in an anti-feminist, misogynist and trans-phobic group for example require more mass action. There has been a lot of good work by many individuals from within student associations on campus, which has led to the issue of rape culture and specific acts of sexual harassment and violence to attain wide public attention, but it has so far been left to the initiative of the university administration. The mass of students, and especially gender-oppressed people, need be empowered to defend themselves against these threats. That is why we advocate organizing to fight the aforementioned anti-feminist group known as CAFE which actively denies the existence of rape culture and labels feminists as threats, while harbouring militant islamophobes and white supremacists. As well, the shameful loss by the administration of the personal information of hundreds of students who used accessibility services is another matter that should be met with more militant response. Under the democratic control of the mass of students, the SFUO could be brought more effectively to use in such campaigns.

Similarly, when it came to fighting tuition, which is most often used to justify the existence of the CFS, any expectations there were also fell flat. The CFS strategy on this issue amounts to nothing more than plain lobbying of politicians, cloaked in progressive discourse and assorted with stunt actions every 2 or 3 years. At the most crucial times in recent years, the CFS and the SFUO execs made little to no effort to express solidarity with and draw lessons from the student movement in Québec, the only movement that has had any success in Canada when it comes to fighting tuition fees. In 2015, when another attempt was made to launch a student strike in Québec and was facing heavy repression, and while the RSM was organizing a day of action of solidarity, the CFS and its local hacks were too busy networking on Parliament Hill to even pay attention. At best, the CFS will organize a “day of action” every 5 years or so to prove its combativeness, but these efforts do nothing to undermine the power of the bourgeois government and university administrations. The fact that for an 11th consecutive year now, the university has increased its fees, including an exponential growth over the year for international students, should lead everyone to reconsider the approach that has been taken.

From the beginning, as the Marxist Student Association and then as the RSM, we called for a different path to be taken, for attacking the roots of the system. We realized that fighting against tuition fees was part of a wider struggle against our exploitation and oppression as a class; the terms set out by the oppressing state and its academic institutions are only meant to disempower and manipulate us. As working-class students, we have to connect with the wider struggle for our liberation, and within our context, we have to build up a counter-power to defend our interests and win victories.

This is why in 2013 and 2014 we campaigned for GAs to be established, which was successful, in spite of opposition from such mainstream groups as the campus associations of both the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. It has been a struggle since then however to make effective use of the GAs, but we will continue to encourage students to use them and this year, more than ever, working-class students have a chance to turn things around in their favour.

The liberal politicians who ruled over the SFUO for all those years and who fooled so many militants into their trap are at their core a clique of petty-bourgeois students, attempting to draw power from their bureaucratic positions to go up while building themselves a nice base of loyal supporters. What is also interesting to note is that the first wave of these student politicians were overwhelmingly from white, settler backgrounds, while the next wave that succeeded them are in majority from racialized, colonized-nations backgrounds, who are left to pick up the pieces while a good number among the former are safely installed in their staffer positions further up the chain. Those petty-bourgeois politicians have caused enough damage, and they must never be allowed again to have leadership over left-wing organizing. More than ever, it is time for working-class students to chart their own path and organize their own power.

The MER-RSM will continue its efforts to organize students in this direction. If you want to participate in our initiatives, come to our general meeting on October 20, where we will discuss openly our plans for the coming year. This will include motions to bring to the GA to improve the situation and empower students with regards to the SFUO, as well as the continuation of our campaign to root out MRAs on campus, and participation in the planned day of action against tuition fees. There will also be other meetings and activities over the course of the semester. Nothing is lost! With mass work and organization, we can not only turn things around, but turn our student union into a powerful weapon at the service of the people!

[1] On this topic, you can read an in-depth analysis written by one of those militants in 2010, titled “Whither the student movement in Ottawa”