The democratic pathways that students have open to them at the college are very narrow, in no way do students have a way for our voices to be heard, in no way can we make the Students’ Association (SA) reflect our interests as working class students. The representative system that we have now is anti-democratic and only serves the interests of the Algonquin College administration. We have to organize to create peoples power on our campus by waging a democratic struggle.
Students already understand just how limited the current representative system is and how the SA does not reflect working-class student interests. We can look at the student participation in the SA elections that took place to show how this true. In the last SA elections (close to the end of the winter semester 2015) less than 10% of the student population voted, about 1,495 students voted for the SA president. In contrast to this, during the U-Pass referendum that took place in November 2014, a time when students could participate in campus politics and could create campaigns, 40% of the students voted, about 6,177 ballots were cast. This shows that it is not that students don’t care or that they are apathetic, it shows the opposite – students want to and are eager to engage with politics.
It is in the interest of every working class student to join the fight for a democratic campus, the abolition of tuition fees, the abolition of all student debt, and free and open access to post-secondary education. The SA is not currently a body capable of enacting these changes and does not share these interests. When the college administration imposed a 500 dollar non-refundable deposit for tuition fees in the spring of 2015 the SA didn’t ask what students thought about it, nor did they take a stance against this unfair measure.
Students have little independence when we try to push for change on campus, and the SA places many bureaucratic constraints on student organizing. Nowhere in the SA bylaws does it say that student’s voices and interests must be considered by the SA; in essence they are not accountable to the very people they claim to represent. There is currently no way for students to directly influence the workings of the SA, since campaigns and petitions have no binding power.
All Power to the People! The Revolutionary Student Movement’s Solution
Our solution is to campaign on campus for the ability of students to call for referendums to take places, right now the SA is the only one with the power to do so. Our idea is that if students have an issue that they want to vote on then campaigns can be made and petitions can go out. There will be a minimum number of signatures that need to be collected to run a referendum, but once this is submitted to the SA they will have a constitutional responsibility to allow the referendum to go forward and be mandated to carry out the resulting tasks. This will create greater student democracy on campus and open up roads we can take to fight tuition, gain access to better services and even create direct democracy on campus making the students become the highest decision making body on our campus.
Successful struggles for democratization of campuses have already taken place at other schools in Ontario. At the University of Ottawa the Revolutionary Student Movement was able to win a democratic campaign on their campus. They successfully campaigned to establish general assemblies at the university, making the students the highest decision making body of their student union.
If we want our voices to matter, we must organize to promote the change we want to see. We must mobilize on our campus for the ability to call for referendums, to host political campaigns and to make this legally binding to the SA. To abolish tuition and student debt we have to be the ones organizing for it, we have to be the ones struggling for direct democracy, who else will have our interests as working class students but us? We have a world to win!
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Visit our website: mer-rsm.ca