Not the time for a strike

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So, we’ve all heard about the budget, either from a friend, from a relative, or from passing through the halls and happening to overhear someone talking about how their father or mother got laid off because of the cuts. The Newfoundland Liquor Corporation’s “fat” was trimmed, losing nine positions; public library funding was cut by over a million dollars; and the Department of Education was castrated.

Education has always played a pivotal role in advancing both industry and society as a whole in this province. Under the reign of King Da—, sorry, I mean former premier Danny Williams, our education system was injected with money that was used to renovate infrastructure in dilapidated schools, to hire more teachers for rural Newfoundland, to provide free textbooks to high school students, to invest in anti-bullying programs and to give our deserving teachers a 21 per cent compounded salary raise over four years starting in 2008. Yes, education has historically been a high priority for the PC government of Newfoundland and Labrador, so what happened with the budget?

We all knew that the government would tighten its belt, but I don’t think anyone could have even imagined the destructive cuts that were made to education across the province. To start, four English school boards are being amalgamated into one, leaving urban eyes and minds to interpret and create “solutions” for rural issues. It reminds me of when someone from a fish merchant family closed the inshore cod fishery…

The new centralized, gutted school board will not be able to adequately understand the educational needs of this province. Will St. John’s bureaucrats really be able to tell how bad the weather is in Labrador City and know whether schools should be closed? Will they understand the detrimental and frankly dangerous consequences that having children from Bayview Regional Collegiate in St. Lunaire-Griquet bused over an hour and a half away for schooling?

The job cuts to the boards and teaching units speak for themselves — 160 retired positions will be absorbed into the duties of existing teachers, putting even more stress on already overworked and under-paid professionals. What were they thinking? We’ll probably never know until Clyde Jackman comes out with an autobiography, perhaps titled “My Time as a Puppet: She Sure had a Cold Hand.”

Our minister of finance also mentioned that, next year, our government will review its funding of Memorial University. Stop right there. Review of funding to MUN? That could have any number of implications for the almost 15,000 students here at our university. Right now, everyone should be thinking what about the tuition freeze?

Last year, the Charest government in Quebec tried to raise tuition fees just before the election, and students rose up. The Quebec student strike was the most political action I have witnessed in the student movement; however, it certainly didn’t do anything other than get one rebel boy, Léo Bureau-Blouin, elected as a member of the Parti Québécois government — a government that has implemented the tuition hikes formulated by former Premier Charest.

What would we do if a tuition hike happened here? Have a “strike” where students storm the streets, impede traffic and business, destroy property, assault other students and prevent students and professors who don’t want to participate from attending classes? Like in Quebec, would our students’ union sidestep democracy in order to get their way and do this?

I certainly hope Memorial University Students’ Union (MUNSU) would not be as irresponsible as the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, but when it formally endorsed the strike in Quebec while many of its members sported red squares around campus, a response here to a possible tuition hike is uncertain. No contingency plan has been formulated. I certainly hope MUNSU would require more than 10 per cent voter turnout to give the thumbs up to a strike, but we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Let’s have the discussions no one wants to have and say the words no one wants to say. Talk about tuition hikes, talk about budget cuts and let’s talk about what we are going to do to protect the students if it should happen. Being proactive is much better than being reactive and holding a childish strike — the only people that would lose from a strike are the students, who would forfeit their already-paid tuition and the opportunity to learn.

So, MUNSU, inform, engage, and take action. Make sure we are protected pre-emptively, but please, no strikes.

 

Noah Davis-Power is president of MUN NDP.

 

 

Organizations: Newfoundland Liquor, Department of Education, Léo Bureau Parti Québécois Memorial University Students

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec

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Recent comments

  • amanda
    April 11, 2013 - 15:58

    Mr Mount Pearl Guy. I disagree with your comment. Either you have not attended MUN or your parents were fortunate enough to pay for your tuition and you didn't need to worry about buying books or paying off student loans. I am a 28 year old MUN student in my fourth year. I worked a minimum wage job for two years to save for my tuition which got me through my first two years at MUN. Since then I have had to go to school for a semester and work for a semester just to be able to remain in school. I have had to work to to three jobs at a time to be able to pay for tuition, books, rent, food etc. I am not a 19 year teenager who is out there partying each weekend. So I can say that my money is not spent on shopping and parties. If the tuition freeze was to end, I fear that I would not be able to finish my degree that I have worked so hard to complete.

  • Mr. E
    April 10, 2013 - 14:35

    "So, MUNSU, inform, engage, and take action. Make sure we are protected pre-emptively, but please, no strikes" So what happens when MUNSU informs, engages, and "takes action" to pre-empt the cuts, but the current PC government ignores this and ends the freeze anyway? What do we do then, sit on our hands? Striking may not be popular, but it is a very effective tool for when a group is up against the wall. Granted, the Quebec protests got out of hand on times and that's why we have courts to sort out the wrong-doers, but to suggest that students should surrender their basic right to strike to protect what we have just for the sake of keeping those who are against us happy is ridiculous, short-sighted and frankly the wrong approach. We have the right to march in the streets to voice our concerns, no matter how much you think we'll inconvenience those against us.

  • MUN STUDENT
    April 10, 2013 - 14:26

    Noah, What makes you think that the Students' Union would go to a strike vote? Has the executive mentioned that this is something they plan on doing? During the Quebec student strike I was in Quebec, in the streets, protesting a law that took civil rights away from not only students but from citizens who themselves wanted the same access to education for future generations that they had. What do you mean "it certainly didn’t do anything"? What a silly misinformed statement. Also I'm interested in the NDP but would never want to go to a meeting at MUN that is controlled by such a confused group of little immature boys. I've been before and it was extremely uncomfortable.

  • Mount Pearl Guy
    April 10, 2013 - 10:32

    this may not be a popular opinion but I'm of the belief that it does not make sense to continue a tuition freeze when programs are being cut. I'm not advocating for a huge hike however there is a cost to Post Secondary education. Look at it this way, Tuition was frozen in 2003, at that time minimum wage was approx 6 dollars an hour. Now it is 10 and tuition is still at the same level. Yes cost of living has risen but so has the cost to deliver quality programs at MUN and CONA.

  • derrick
    April 10, 2013 - 09:42

    Noah Davis-Power how much is your generation prepared to pay in future debt payments ? One would think that the bill is getting past the point of no return, the last generation entered life with no government debt.