Student strikes 101
The text highlighted is knowledge that was shared by student/former student activists who during our learning circle on this subject.
Why do we strike?
The strike is a means of pressure against the government. This method is often part of an escalation of pressure tactics to make the government give in to demands. This escalation is part of an overall strategy to win. It also sometimes acts as a triggering event for a larger movement.
Experiential knowledge - The strike makes it possible to learn knowledge that is not necessarily taught at school. This knowledge could be used in other mobilizations.
Ex.: mobilization, direct democracy, facilitation and organization of meetings, organization of events, management of communications, ...
Raising awareness on social issues - It also allows popular education and awareness on the issues that are put forward in the context of the strike. It can even make some people want to start getting involved!
Democratic experience - It allows the community to live an experience of direct democracy and significant collective power of action.
|Culture of engagement
"We are trying to strike to create a culture of commitment, but it is important to keep in mind that the strike is not the only way to achieve this, so you have to be open when people make criticism of the strike." - Lylou
Diversity of student communities
Student mobilization makes it possible to reach a very varied population. People politicized during their studies will influence the workplaces they will integrate at the end of their school career.
Protest movements can be greatly strengthened by student mobilization.
Ex.: movements of 2012 against the increase in school fees and of 2015 against austerity.
Many students have freedom of action that many full-time workers do not.
|Time to campaign
||"The strike serves to free up time to militate. The important thing for a strike to go well is to know what we are going to do with this time." -Jeanne|
Organize an effective strike
Know your environment
Before applying the strike tactic in one's school, it is crucial to know the environment in which one is active.
- How does the student association work?
- How might management react to a strike?
- Have students ever been on strike? Are they used to voting strikes?
Develop a strategy and action plan
“In 2019, we voted on demands with CEVES which remained the same for each strike and a strike argument was drafted in committee, then distributed to the associations afterwards." - Jeanne
Don't start with a strike without a vision. It is important to know why we want to go on strike. A strike is part of a strategy often in a pre-existing campaign. The strike is not an end in itself, it has a purpose.
Sit down as a group/committee and establish a theory of change (or strategy). This theory has...
|Steps to take||
Example of steps: Voting of demands, call for support of the large-scale campaign by different sectors, creation of a strike calendar, strikes and popular movement.
Examples of quantified objectives: number of additional activists, number of associations on strike, deadlines, etc.
|Explanatory reasoning||The reasoning explains with the help of arguments how the steps to be taken will lead to the expected result.|
See the following page: What's the right way to develop a campaign strategy?
A few questions that can help you develop your strategy...
- Do we plan to contact other campuses to coordinate our mobilizations and strikes? With campuses outside urban centers?
- For issues that go beyond the student community, do we collaborate with other groups in order to mobilize collectively, in order to have spaces for discussion and possibly collective decision-making?
- Are we in contact with groups that are campaigning on similar issues? Who are they?
- Who has the power to enforce our claims?
- Who has the power to influence these people in power?
- How to reach these people? By what means? What actions? How many people do we think we need?
Having a broad strategy makes it possible to justify the strike and mobilize the student community. |
Within student associations that are not very mobilized, their support for mobilization will depend in particular on the strategy.
|Have specific goals||
This strategy must include one or more specific objectives in order to keep the community motivated.
|Consider root cause||In thinking about strategy, we have to think about how to root the cause on campus, how to get the student community to take ownership of the movement.|
|Obtain external support||Financial and logistical assistance can be obtained from groups outside the student community.|
Traditional media can also support mobilizations through media coverage of the movement.
Communicate with student associations
|“Communication is probably the most important thing ahead of a general strike meeting.” - Jeanne|
It is possible that a group of activists outside the student associations wish to create a student mobilization. In this case, it is possible to collaborate with the executive committee of the student associations on its campus. By being informed in advance, members of student associations and their executive committee can help with mobilization if they wish. They are often the ones who organize the general assemblies.
How to do it?
Meet student associations in advance, in person by communicating transparently and involving members who so wish in the collective mobilization effort.
What to communicate to student associations?
- Timeline and action plan
- Strike pitch
- Mobilization material
- Mobilization demands/goals
Gain community support
You can have positioning mandates voted in favor of your cause at a general student assembly if your student association has not already adopted such mandates. If your student association is in favor of your mobilization, it may happen that it votes for such mandates even before the strike campaign.
If people feel that the decision-making process leading to a student strike has been democratic, they will be more...
- actively support activities related to the strike (breaking classes, class tours) and broader mobilization (tracting on the issue, creation of artistic material, etc.)
- respect the strike mandate (do not go to his classes)
- want to fight by your side in case of repression
See General Assembly.
Make a strike campaign
|“No matter how big or how long the strike you want to organize, you have to start talking about it as soon as possible! The strike argument must become background noise. You want people to start talking about the strike among themselves and for the mobilization to become, in a way, independent of the initial mobilization team. You want to hit the tipping point where the snowball effect takes over and gives the mob a second wind. In 2019, the strike of September 27 had been announced the previous March 15, which left 6 months (including the summer dead period) to mobilize people." -Lylou|
When as part of your larger strategy, you are at the point of using the strike tactic, you need to do a strike campaign for that to happen.
A strike campaign is a campaign to hold a general strike meeting , i.e. a general meeting in which there will be a strike vote . The group instigating this campaign will both mobilize the community to come to its general assembly and mobilize it in favor of the strike. Usually, depending on the statutes and regulations of student associations, if the majority of the assembly votes for the strike, the assembly gives itself a strike mandate. It is thanks to this mandate that the student association will be able to call the strike at the time determined by the general student assembly.
If you have a mobilization campaign that is already underway...
The strike campaign is part of the existing campaign. Its main difference is the convening of a general strike meeting and the communication of related information as well as the relevance of the strike itself in the context of mobilization.
In case of broad coordination between several student associations
|“[...] it is preferable to have AG [general assemblies] to strike after those of the associations which easily vote for strikes. If we announce that there are already 100,000 [students] on strike, that may convince some of them to join the crowd. - Jeanne|
If you coordinate strike campaigns within several student associations...
|Make a strike schedule||
Register the first general meetings with student associations whose community more easily votes on strikes.
|Create one or more mobile teams||
Each team stays physically for several days on the same campus, learning about local issues and forging authentic ties with people in the field.
Pay attention to the material conditions of the mobile teams. Make sure they have enough resources to preserve their well-being and avoid burnouts.
|Embedding anti-oppression||Colonial practices have been seen in the strikes for climate justice movement, especially when generic climate strikes were promoted by inviting people to vote against the strike in support of an indigenous struggle. Talk about anti-oppression whenever possible.|
|Build relationships based on teamwork||Avoid a mentality based on a rigid political agenda (utilitarian mentality) rather than an openness to adapt to realities on the ground and to support authentically.|
|Create links upstream of strike campaigns||In the regions, avoid “parachuting a strike from Montreal” to regional student associations without explanation or contact in advance (no time or information to mobilize around the issue). Unpleasant to be called by a group from Montreal to organize an GA without direct contact or pre-existing relationships.|
1. Call a general strike meeting
|“The Extraordinary General Assembly may be convened by the PIM, the Executive Council or by written notice signed by a minimum of fifty (50) members. In the latter case, the notice must be filed with the Association's office. The Extraordinary General Meeting, as well as the subject(s) dealt with, must be announced at least two (2) days in advance by posting. - AFESH Charter|
A general strike meeting is an extraordinary general meeting , i.e. it takes place outside the annual general meetings.
To find out how to convene it (for it to take place), you must refer to the Charter of your student association. Often, assemblies can be convened either by the executive committee (the elected persons sitting within the association), or by written notice signed by a minimum number of students represented by the association.
2. Mobilize the community about their general assembly
|“What I learned from the pre-strike mobilization is that the more people there are to mobilize, the more it works and for there to be a lot of people, it has to be fun. We had also worked with other universities to have even more people who mobilized. Banner drop, green circle cutting, art, music videos, die-ins, conferences, etc. All means are good for us to hear about the cause." -Jeanne|
“What I learned after several strike GAs is that you have to know how to convince people of the importance of the strike. The majority of people will agree with the demands and with the strike arguments. However, many do not understand the effect and importance of a strike." -Jeanne
Mobilize so that people vote FOR the strike or mobilize so that people show up at their assembly?
The opinions of activists with experience on the subject are divided on this issue. Some people believe that the student community is more receptive when they do not feel that we are trying to force their vote, something that can happen when we mobilize specifically for the vote FOR rather than for the participation in the general assembly. The common point between the positions heard is the agreement on the importance of mobilizing so that people come to their assembly. There is also agreement on the relevance of general assemblies as a moment of democratic exercise allowing information on an issue.
Faced with this reality, we advise you to go there according to the reality of your campus.
- If you feel that the mobilization on the issue and the consequent strike has made its way , you can concentrate your energy on the invitation to the general assembly.
- If you feel that the justification for the strike is not well enough understood , you can choose to invite people to their general assembly while defending the pro-strike position.
In your mobilization specific to the strike, provide answers to questions...
|Why the strike?||
The justification depends on the strategy. Talk about strategy.
|Why go on strike these days specifically?||Talk about the larger movement you are part of. Of what will happen elsewhere in the city, in the province at the same time.|
|What is planned for these days?||Activities organized during the strike day(s).|
“The typical activities of short strikes are often linked to a demonstration. Manufacture of banners, contingent going to the demo, etc. In 2020, however, we had organized a week that was filled with activities that did not necessarily revolve around protests, so again creativity is welcome." -Jeanne
“If we changed the routine, that might allow us to re-motivate people to strikes." -Jeanne
Here are some tactics used during mobilization campaigns for strikes:
Create a field mobilization team and recruit new people to join it.
Tow in busy spaces and from table to table in teams of 2 or 3.
Display in school.
Disseminate a strike argument (the arguments in favor of the strike) widely. Make this argument concise and easy to understand for people who are not activists.
|Take class tours.|
|Hype on social media
||Creating excitement for the strike through social media|
Organize creative engagement activities.
Take the time to sit down and discuss with people (launching your strike campaign several months in advance allows you to do this).
The day of the general strike meeting
Before and during the meeting
|Exclude media||Asking that the media be excluded from the general assembly, in the event of great media coverage of the mobilization, makes it possible to keep the focus on the result of the general assembly rather than on what was said there.|
|Know management's position on the strike||See top of page How should we respond to an administration that does not want to respect a student strike?|
|Present your arguments||
|Respond to counter-arguments||Make sure to "prepare answers to the counter-arguments that will be addressed to you. You can base yourself on the most frequent questions and criticisms you may have faced during the mobilization campaign." -Lylou|
|Answer the questions||Have resource people during the general meeting who can answer questions related to procedures and arguments. These can be identified by visible signs.|
Ex: two people from the executive committee of the student association available to answer questions with yellow bibs and people from the instigator committee of the campaign with bibs of another color.
At the start of the meeting
|Vote a course waiver||As soon as the meeting begins, vote for a waiver of classes in the event of the general meeting encroaching on class hours.|
The vote to lift classes allows a team to lift classes (announce their cancellation for the day in the face of the vote at the general meeting). Thus, the people present at the meeting can remain there without consequence and new people can join.
|Make the strike proposal||Have a person who is part of the committee / group behind the mobilization or a person from the student association who undertakes to say the proposal on the microphone. This proposal is pre-written so that a person can simply read it.|
If the strike vote passes in assembly
Next, see: Our student association has voted for a strike. Now what?
Repression of strikes
During strikes, administrations will sometimes resort to repression techniques.
- The administration of Laval University recently called the police to repress the student community mobilizing for the respect of the strike mandate voted by the Association of students in the human sciences (AÉSS).
If your administration is hostile to class waivers or strike action , see: How should we respond to an administration that does not want to respect a student strike?
Strikes are often accompanied by protests and disruptive actions. From this perspective, the repression of these activities affects the strike movement.
Here are some tips for your group in the face of repression of your movement (inside or outside of student strikes)...
|Training||Provide event safety training. Prepare people psychologically for the possibility of repression. Inform about the relevance of protecting one's identity in certain situations in order to avoid profiling.|
|Legal support||Be in contact with at least one lawyer available to support you if needed. Make available to people participating in your mobilization his number.
|Documentation||Have observers on site who will be able to take note and film the acts of repression. Possibility of contacting the
League of Rights and Freedoms |
Repression can be romanticized in order to obtain popular support (with the agreement of those involved).
Example: Instagram page
|Identities||Keep in mind racist biases, systemic racism, leading to greater vulnerability of some people based on their identity or presumed identity. Faced with this reality, invite the most privileged people to come forward (demonstrations, picket lines).Plan measures so as not to endanger more vulnerable people (e.g. people with precarious status, people with disabilities).|
Example of measurements...
|Defense Fund||There is a legal self-defense fund for people “who are victims of police or legal repression for alleged acts committed in the context of individual or collective actions with an anti-capitalist, feminist, anti-colonial or anti-racist scope”.|
To people involved in student strikes
Advice, experience sharing and specific warnings from activists in connection with student strikes.
|Collective care||Take care of yourself and the other people around you. Become aware of our biases and make sure to create the safest and caring environments possible for all people.
“To have a base of activists who stay, you need social activities, kindness and care." -Jeanne
"The weeks preceding the strike are very intense weeks where the objective is to speak to as many people as possible in as many schools as possible. This is extremely demanding, so be sure to organize some care and relaxation time for the mobilization team, where people can decant and work together on their responses to new questions or arguments they have received." -Lylou
||In 2012, it was difficult for the movement to get its message across to the mass media. They are biased. Do not be afraid to contact increasingly popular cultural media, such as Urbania. It is important to think about how a ''movement (strike or not) will control its message.
“The best tool is direct communication with people, deep mobilization." -Lylou
|Strike Strategy||The strike frees up time...but is very tiring! The threat of a strike can carry a lot of weight. It is possible to use the threat before going on strike.|
How should we respond to an administration that does not want to respect a student strike?
How should we respond to an administration that does not want to respect a student strike?
Our student association has voted for a strike. Now what?
Student organizing best practices
A huge thank you to those who participated in the learning circle on the student strikes.
Also thanks to:
- Lylou Sehili, activist in the climate justice movement since 2019
- Jeanne Vermette, activist in the climate justice movement since 2019
- Vincent Boisclair, activist in the movement for social and climate justice since 2015
If you have any suggested revisions or additional resources to share related to the above content, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.