Emma McKay (they/them) is a third-year PhD student in DISE (Department of Integrated Studies in Education) at McGill. They have been AGSEM Chief Delegate Mobilization since April 2022.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in southern Ontario, in Kitchener and Windsor. I'm trying to stay in Montreal forever!
What is the focus of your academic research?
I study student organizing, especially in physics! I analyse it through a lens of anarchist pedagogy.
What do you like doing for fun?
I cycle, Hang Out, Hang Out with babies, yell at the powerful, hike, camp, crochet, look at plants & birds & bugs and more!
Favorite place in Montreal?
Ooo tough. I love bringing my breakfast in the summer to Parc Nature de la Visitation on the north shore and hanging with the birds. Love Parc Jarry & Laurier. The mountain is amazing, of course. Jean-Talon is killer people watching. Cafe Pinocchio is my go-to neighbourhood spot. I love Villeray :)
What's your favorite thing about AGSEM?
Where to start!! Just how incredibly fun and fulfilling it is to build power with people I love.
How long have you been a TA at McGill?
I had a short stint as a TA in fall 2021. I've been union staff now since January 2023.
Why did you first become interested in getting involved with your union? Any past experiences that made you realize the importance of labor organizing?
I've been doing student and community organizing for over a decade now, always focusing on community building, often explicitly feminist, queer, disabled. I sort of tried to unionize grad students one time. It was really hard and I didn't know what I was doing! I have learned so so much about how community building works over the years--about how connecting with people and growing together is at the core of any enjoyable and resilient group. This type of skill building has been cup-filling for me for a long time. Union tactics have been a part of that for many years. Early in the pandemic I really sunk my teeth into that literature and into grad student union twitter. I became hungry for labour organizing, ready to take my relationship-oriented skills into an environment where we could use those powerful relationships to really throw our power around and win!! It took a minute to get involved with AGSEM during the pandemic. Things were rather messy back then and I didn't want to waste my time working in a group that would suck my energy out from me. I was cautious at first when the meetings, to me, were really boring and inaccessible. But we've come a long way since then!!! Every time we get another little win of having more people connect with each other, develop powerful skills together, and experience the joy of fighting for ourselves and each other, I realize my faith in the importance of organizing.
Why do you think having a strong labour union is important for Teaching Assistants, Invigilators, and other groups of employees at McGill?
We can win :) Plus: participating in the struggle changes you. I am not only interested in winning a higher wage for workers at McGill. I am interested in building relationships and skills for everyone involved in the union that can transfer outside of the McGill context. Relationships and skills that can build a strong union culture on and beyond the island; a culture that prioritizes people's lives and well-being even when doing the work, that can be a source of genuine joy and aliveness in any context, union or not, for the rest of our lives.
How were you involved in AGSEM before occupying your current position and what were your tasks?
I became DISE delegate in January 2022 and became the Chief Delegate Mobilization in April 2022. When I was a delegate, my job was to try to make sure that the way-overworked admins in DISE know anything about the Collective Agreement, educating workers in DISE about our rights, and reviewing tentative lists (if they ever get sent)!!
What has been your favorite part of working as a TA?
I love teaching :) Experiencing with someone as they learn is one of the great blessings on this earth!
What has been the biggest challenge in your work as a TA so far?
Reconciling in-person teaching work with the Covid-19 risks posed by McGill's substandard ventilation.
What does your role as Chief Mobilization Delegate entail?
I stick my fingers in all the pies :) Currently, I usually write agendas for and facilitate the Mobilization-Communication Committee (mob-com) meetings, which includes a lot of strategic thinking about how to do mobilization, inviting people into the mob-com fold, facilitating consensus amongst the group for what we will do and how, and more. I also write small group discussions for the DC meetings & help design our large assembly agendas, make posters, MC rallies, have a lot of one-on-ones with newly union-involved folks, write and run trainings, encourage anti-burnout culture, and generally conspire!
What has been the most important / rewarding / satisfying part of that work so far?
Oh my goodness gracious, how to describe it!? When I started out (only a year ago??? wow), very few of our committees were filled, our meetings were (IMO) boring and definitely inaccessible, folks in the union were rarely friends... And now? It feels so different. People hang out with each other. New friendships are being made all the time. Our committees are packed with people and still growing. People are excited about bargaining. Not just excited--ready to throw it down!! Before our TA unit assembly at the end of April, I was nervous, feeling unsure if we would fill the whole Bargaining Committee, unsure if enough folks would show up, unsure how well we would be able to make a bargaining mandate that people felt confident about. And we blew it out of the water. People were so engaged at that meeting and so confident about the mandate that we put together. That's thanks to everyone who showed up, who has been showing up, everyone who puts one ounce of faith in the union (and then one more, and then one more...). And I am also pretty confident that the energy and skills I've brought to the union have helped to facilitate folks showing up and feeling like they are not wasting their time. So, I feel extremely satisfied and so excited to keep at this work.
What will be your top priority as Chief Mobilization Delegate for the 2023-2024 academic year?
I! have! so! many! priorities!! Overall, whatever we do, I want to do it in a way that deeply engages as many workers as possible, in connection with each other, using everyone's individual skills, skilling people up, and generating the kind of power that can only be carried by all of us together :)
Hopes about the upcoming TA negotiations? What should absolutely be improved about the current TA Collective Agreement?
Gosh I hope we win a huge raise!!! And trans healthcare!!! And healthcare generally!!!
Are you involved or interested in other activist or political movements/organizations at
I've done a lot in a lot of places--right now I work for the union in my little queer anarchist community-oriented way! Ah and I'm doing some solidarity work with Indigenous Hawai'ians doing land defense against telescopes on Maunakea!
Would you like to add anything?
I love my union :)
Thank you, Emma!
Follow Emma on Instagram
"Get to Know Your Delegate" is a series of blog posts introducing AGSEM Delegates in a Q&A format. Are you an AGSEM Delegate interested in being featured in the series? Email your External Communications Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org