To all members of AGSEM, the McGill University community, and scholarly communities across Canada,
The Executive Committee of AGSEM, the labour union representing graduate Teaching Assistants and Invigilators at McGill University, endorses the Canadian Scholar Strike happening on September 9-10, 2020.
Recently, athletes in the NBA, WNBA, NHL, and other sports leagues in the US initiated a labour action in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Scholar Strike is a call for US academics to join in taking a stand, issued by Dr. Anthea Butler. The Canadian Scholar Strike is inspired by these actions. Organized by Beverly Bain and Min Sook Lee, this action stands in solidarity with those fighting anti-Black violence and police brutality in the US and demands that Canadians take urgent action to address these issues in our own communities.
The action demands:
Defunding the police and redistributing those resources to Black, Indigenous, racialized, queer and trans communities for the creation of sustainable and healthy communities.
The removal of police from our campuses and the elimination of all agreements between policing institutions and universities.
A commitment from Canadian institutions and university administrations to address the historic and current underrepresentation of Black and Indigenous faculty.
Meaningful efforts to recruit, admit, retain and mentor Black, Indigenous and racialized undergraduate and graduate students.
The creation, expansion, and maintenance of mental health and health care resources for students at our universities.
Affordable education, sustainable jobs and housing for students and cultural professionals across all the universities.
Scholar Strike is a program of teach-ins and social justice advocacy. It is also a protest action, encouraging supporters to lay down their “tools” and refuse their teaching or administrative duties for one or both of these days. AGSEM encourages our members to participate in the Scholar Strike in any way that is available to them, which may include attending the virtual teach-ins, signing the statement of support, promoting the Scholar Strike on social media (#scholarstrike, #scholarstrikeCanada), and using the teach-in program or other resources collected by Scholar Strike Canada in your classrooms. Endorsements and statements of support for this action have been issued by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) and many other provincial and local university labour organizations. The organizers’ website provides a template for communicating about your participation in this action.
It is important to note that AGSEM’s members have not authorized a strike under the provisions of Quebec’s labour and collective bargaining laws, and AGSEM’s members have no obligation to refrain from work on these days, nor do they have legal sanction for this action. Scholar Strike is a protest against conditions which are much bigger than our labour. McGill has responded to the growing support of this labour action by issuing a tacit acknowledgement of this “pause” in academic activities, telling teaching staff (on Labour Day, no less!) that they must “ensure that this will not compromise their students’ interests” and “communicate to their students, in advance, arrangements for making up any lost time” (email to teaching staff from Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Christopher Manfredi, September 7, 2020).
This action is relevant to the climate of racial injustice at McGill, and to the relationship between our scholarly community and the university. On 30 June 2020, Principal Fortier gave Provost Manfredi a mandate to develop McGill’s Plan for Addressing Anti-Black Racism, which will be released on 30 September, 2020. This plan will be shaped by the university's Strategic Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Plan, 2020-2025, which is itself an incomplete vision of racial justice but a step in the right direction nonetheless. The success of this plan will not be to the credit of the administration, but to the work of Black scholars and community members. We note in particular the work of the Black Students’ Network, as well as work that Black rank-and-file members do to build power within other organizations, including within AGSEM. We support all of these efforts at self-reflection and we hope the university will produce a plan that is ambitious. We contend, however, that McGill’s administration has their own work to do, and encourage students and faculty to refuse any attempt by our administration to appropriate the work of Black and Indigenous activists in Canada’s scholarly community, including to dictate how community members should participate in this national action.
AGSEM considers full participation in this action, including refusal to work, to be an expression of urgent pedagogical importance, and a matter of academic freedom. Our job as teaching staff is to give our students the intellectual tools to forge meaningful and fulfilling careers. Their world, our world, is built upon foundations of violence, colonialism, white supremacy, destruction of our environment, and gross inequality. McGill itself thrives on a legacy of racism, slavery, and settler colonialism. Solidarity, mutual aid, care for each other, and refusal to subordinate our demands to institutional indifference are the most valuable lessons, which can only be taught through action. However our members choose to participate in Scholar Strike, there will be no “lost time.”
The Executive Committee of AGSEM