ASSÉ : Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante
Association for a student syndical solidarity
ASSÉ is a provincial student association regrouping university and CEGEP student associations across Québec for a total of 80 000 student members.
After a strongly supported affiliation campaign during the 2014 Winter semester, FASA members voted through referendum to join ASSÉ in March 2014 and have now been members for a full calendar year. This means that each Fine Arts student pays 1.50$ per semester as a membership fee in return for a large network of resources and solidarity.
FASA delegates attend each ASSÉ congress (approximately twice per semester) and bring forth the mandates voted on by FASA members during General Assemblies. FASA delegates do not act as representatives, but rather, in the spirit of direct democracy, only take positions on issues that have already been discussed and voted upon locally at FASA. Deliberation over important social and political issues occurs between the delegates, and campaigns are steered by the majority of student voices. FASA then has access to mobilization resources, new networks within the student movement, and support with local mobilizing efforts.
For example, during the 2014-2015 academic year, FASA took several positions at General Assemblies to engage in anti-austerity organizing, and to support workers in the public sector affected by severe governmental cuts. FASA then attended ASSÉ congress and brought forward the voice of Fine Arts students at Concordia, ultimately influencing the annual campaign at ASSÉ which was oriented around resisting austerity, most especially in the education sector.
The transition into working closely with ASSÉ was eased by a common functioning of our organisations, and several similar values and positions. The directly democratic structure of FASA—the use of General Assemblies as the highest decision making body–corresponds well with the way of working of our colleagues at the provincial level. As well, many important values expressed by Fine Arts students such as the importance of feminisms in the student movement, and the desire to make post-secondary education more accessible, are keystones of ASSÉ’s vision. However, while getting to know ASSÉ better over the past year, we have also run into a few conflicts and differing opinions, notably our views of inclusion and non-mixed spaces, and our occasional isolation as an English university. Despite occasional frustrations, we continue to believe that our diversity of opinions can constructively complexify debates at ASSÉ Congress and create an ultimately stronger movement.
To learn more about the student movement on a provincial level, FASA’s relationship with ASSÉ, or to become a delegate, please attend FASA’s next General Assembly!
What is Austerity?
Austerity refers to governmental cuts throughout the public sector with the goal of achieving a zero deficit budget. Austerity is a political approach that prioritizes a balanced budget over social welfare, using cuts to social programs to offset the lost revenue caused by years of tax breaks for corporations and wealthy citizens.
Austerity programs are targeted: those in more precarious socio-economic situations are more vulnerable to the cuts that weaken our social services network. Waves of cuts to staffing and materials in the health sector decrease our access to quality public healthcare. Massive cuts to public school boards across the province diminish the resources for the children in each classroom.
The Liberal Couillard government in Quebec has been engaged in an austerity program for the past year. This has included many waves of cuts in the public sector, especially towards healthcare and education.We can recall the former Education Minister Yves Boldcuc’s comment last Fall that public school children ‘will not die from having no new books in their libraries’ and Couillard’s proposition that each must tighten their belt, while continuing to give tax breaks to big oil and development companies who profit from our natural resources.
More specifically at Concordia, with 15.7 million in cuts for the Fall semester of 2014, the University has had to ask around 90 staff people across the university to take Voluntary Departure Packages in December 2014, only replacing about 20 of these key positions since. With limited resources, it is harder for the University to offer frontline services to students in need of support, while the quality of our academic experience also declines with cuts to Teaching Assistant positions and the increase in Limited Term Appointments for faculties, leading to less stability within departments.
From the closing of the NFB Cine-roboteque to compressions at the level of public galleries and museums to a loss of funding for independent cinema and television productions, the constant cuts to the culture industry continue to affect artists across Québec. A majority of us, living and working as artists, will know precarious or unstable employment for much of our careers in arts-culture-related domains. Although we will be university educated, we will rely on social service networks throughout our lives. The weakening of these is an attack on our safety.
Austerity is a political choice that demonstrates who and what the government cares about, it is not an economic necessity. By taking an anti-austerity stance at FASA, we hope to show that our care for the vulnerable, the marginalized and the underfunded is more important than the government’s care for profit. We can demand more of our elected officials, and we can take to the streets to ensure that our social safety nets are preserved. We must continue to resist austerity and work towards accessible education, quality healthcare, and a just society for all.