Ever faithful to protecting capitalist interests, the enemies of the people in the government of Ontario have struck another blow against the interests of working class students. This time, it is by increasing the cost of education through a particularly conniving scheme: first, they leaked an announcement about a 10% tuition fee decrease for the 2019-2020 school year. They even promised that tuition fees will be frozen at this level for the following year as well. However, this is a diversion from the real news. The far more significant changes are in the structure of loans through the OSAP program. As always, when we delve deeper we find that behind every such announcement, whatever the rhetoric, the goal is for the government to structure education to train a generation of workers equipped only to take on the jobs they desire to exploit us through, and be pacified both through debt and propaganda.
What are the nuts and bolts of these changes? First, the 6-month post-graduation grace period has been eliminated, making repayment process and loan interest start immediately after graduation. This will result in students being forced into deeper debt, faster than before. It will also push more students into jobs outside of their field of study. This will lead to an increase of the class divide between working class and bourgeois students: working class students bear the brunt of student debt and will not have time to pursue work in the field of their study before they are forced to pay their loans. The second change is the altering of the way available funding is calculated, with the maximum cap put on the portion of funding offered in grants to 50%. This change hits working class students the hardest, since they are predominantly low-income. Previously, the grant-to-loan ratio was scaled to income and the number of dependents an applicant has. Now, while this is still the case, those with minimal income will be saddled with a higher debt load. Ultimately, this will push working class students who have the least ability to pay for the loans to have the greatest amount of debt. These changes should remind us that our education system is constructed to serve the interests of capitalists. These changes will entrench the class divisions amongst students and hurt those of us from the working class especially hard. None of us should be so naïve as to think that any politician today can create an education service that is in our interests. But we can fight to build one both in resisting these changes in the here and now and building a movement that can fundamentally restructure society. We can build a movement that can make revolution.
In addition to these decreases, one of the other changes is the so called “Student Choice Initiative”. The choice, of course, was made for the students by this government, without asking for our permission or opinions. The aim of this initiative is to alter the rules around ancillary fees. When realized, it will direct post-secondary education institutions to let students choose to opt-out of “non-essential” fees. This will be realized in two ways:
1. Student union or association fees will be made optional. We need to remember, that outside Quebec these organizations are not democratic, accountable or connected to serving the interests of most students. Corruption scandals and toothless actions are the order of the day for most student unions across this country. But let us be clear on this: this is an issue that working class students need to solve on our own, by organizing to rebuild our student movement in our interests. Politicians need to keep their filthy hands out of our affairs! And the same goes for school administrations, constantly working to sabotage our future.
2. Other fees and levies that predominantly serve working class students will be undermined. We can think of many examples from food banks to daycare services. These fees, while “non-essential”, primarily help working class students who are in need of assistance. What this change will functionally achieve is to further privatize the provision of services that may not be essential to the school as a whole, but are certainly essential for working class students. These meager handouts are not even enough to adequately help most people in need of assistance, but the attack on it cannot be seen as anything other than an attempt by capitalists to profit further off of the misery they create for us.
Most student groups, including those on the left that oppose this tuition increase have adopted a stance of laying all of the blame on one bad man – Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario. He is certainly a bad man, but the changes we fight against aren’t the result of one man’s actions – they are a result of the governing Conservative party’s policies. But even more so, they are the result of how the Canadian state works, on the federal, provincial and municipal levels. It is the result of it serving the ruling class of the wealthiest capitalists and their interests. We do not have universal, barrier-free and accessible post-secondary education. We do not have an education system that serves the people, we only have a system where we take on a huge debt to be able to qualify as sufficiently-trained workers for the capitalist bosses. Our education system only constantly reproduces society as we know it – a society built on oppressive and outright criminal system of capitalism, colonialism and imperialism. It does not help to bring us towards a better future, towards a different kind of world. And those who cannot afford to take on education get forced into increasingly precarious, low-paying, back-breaking labor that can barely suffice for survival.
Outrage against the actions of this government is justified. However, things will not change through expressions of moral outrage and knee-jerk reactions to every terrible measure that this government announces every few weeks. Students and workers need to organize around longer-term goals instead. We need to unite in a fight for a better world, the way we want to see it. Not just be scattered and on the defensive all the time.
This government has already launched an attack on every working class person in the province, by depriving us of the small, overdue, minimum wage increase. It has attacked us by stealing the much needed guaranteed few paid sick leave days and other basic workplace necessities. In a show of adherence to colonial oppression, it has canceled all work to include the general practices, customs and traditions of Indigenous peoples in geography, history and social studies courses in both elementary and high school curriculum. It has forced our high-schools to revert back to an outdated sex-education curriculum, reversing years of improved understanding of healthier relationships. It has deprived the Francophone communities in Ontario of the funding for their education programs. There is much harm this government has done, and much more it will do.
This is why we call on all the communities, groups and individuals harmed and outraged by all these attacks on the people to join us in taking matters into our own hands. We are calling for a one-day Strike and marches on February 15th at noon. We will organize a walk-out of classes across the province, and we are looking for every bit of solidarity and support!
We aim to increase the resistance further, and we call on all the students in Ontario to join our Red Spring Day of Action on March 20th! Students across the country will mobilize for a one-day strike to shut down the schools and make the following 5 demands:
- Education in the service of the people, not profit!
Education must serve the interests of the people, not corporations and profit. Everyone needs to have access to post-secondary education. Research has to be done for the benefit of all, not the benefit of capitalists and their wars. A democratic and scientific education must replace the imperialist, settler-colonial and patriarchal curriculum. Education needs to prepare us to struggle for justice and liberation, not simply prepare us to be exploited on the job.
- Guaranteed paid internships for all students
Interns are workers and must be paid equally for the same work as other workers in their field. Over 300,000 interns across the country do not get proper pay. The times when employers could exploit intern workers without pay must end now!
- Abolition of tuition fees at all levels of education! Cancellation of all outstanding student debt!
Banks and the government keep using students as cash-cows while tuition fees and debt become unbearable for most of us. We will not be held hostage to the scam of having to give an arm and a leg for a basic necessity such as education!
- Barrier-free access to post-secondary education for all Indigenous people and an anti-colonial aspect to all programs!
Canada, as a settler-colonial state, is built on stolen land and the genocide of Indigenous nations. All Indigenous people must have barrier-free access to post-secondary education. We support the creation of independent faculties, colleges and universities controlled by the Indigenous people. The education system needs to foster the cultures and languages of Indigenous people within it and include mandatory anti-colonial components in all programs.
- Democratic control of post-secondary institutions!
Universities and colleges should be run by the people they serve, not by unelected boards of governors and administrators filled with representatives of the big banks and large corporations. We demand the abolition of boards of governors. Instead, schools must be run by committees elected at a general assembly composed of students, faculty, support staff, and members of the community.
We can fight and we will fight, but in order to win it is not enough to just push back against the harmful changes constantly being hurled at us before we can effectively organize to resist. The only way we can hope to win is by building a movement of students and workers capable of putting up a fight. This movement will grow in each and every struggle until we have realized a world where education serves the people, not profit and where the governing rules of society are not exploitation and oppression, but mutual support and solidarity among the working class. In order to achieve this, we need to end capitalism and the capitalist education system. Today, this means gathering together and striking back.
On February 15th join us across Ontario and on March 20th join us coast to coast to coast. Let us be the spark to start a prairie fire and burn down this old system, clearing the way for a new one to grow!
No fees, no debt, no barriers to education!
Dare to struggle – dare to win!
Coordinating Committee of the MER-RSM
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