Pan-american strike against the FTAA:

Hands off my Education!

Wednesday 2 October 2002, by Isabelle OUELLET

By proposing to hold a pan-american strike against the Free Trade Area for Americas (FTAA) on October 31 and November 1, students in Quebec and across Canada are asserting the right to say "No" to the FTAA.

Resistance is mobilizing throughout the Americas. In Brazil and Ecuador, the negotiation process is drawing strong criticism from the heads of state, with accusations of "talking integration while practicing exclusion." Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has even daringly proposed regional integration scenarios that do not include US participation.

And Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel has called on the peoples of the Americas to unite against the "hegemonic colonialist plan". For its part, the Hemispheric Social Alliance (ASC) will speak out again at the Hemispheric Days of Resistance to the FTAA, scheduled to coincide with the Trade Ministers’ meeting to be held in Quito (Ecuador) from October 27th to November 1st.

Supporters of another type of hemispheric integration, "based on democracy, human rights, equality, solidarity, pluralism and respect for the environment," the peoples of the ASC do not want a "charter of investors’ rights and freedoms, [that] sanctions the primacy of capital over labour, transforms life and the world into merchandise, negates human rights, sabotages democracy and undermines state sovereignty."1

Next step: privatizing education?

Because it did not attend the civil society mobilisations in Quebec City or the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) feels that it "missed the boat" on the globalization issue. But today, it says that it is ready to answer social movements’ call to resistance, issued last February at the second World Social Forum in Porto Alegre (Brazil): "On October 31st, Jean Chrétien and other decision-makers will receive a very clear message: we will not sit back and let globalization have such a profound impact on our lives, particularly when it comes to education," states Nicolas Brisson, President of the FEUQ.

In August, a coalition of representatives of over 720 000 students met in Montreal to present a brief describing the impacts on education of the FTAA and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).2 According to the study, freeing up trade would include organizing and distributing services such as education, water or health care.

That is something to which student associations are fiercely opposed: "The right to education is the cornerstone of democracy, and that is why we find it unacceptable for education services to be negotiated in international trade agreements like so much lumber," stated the president of the FEUQ.

Although the Federal government has confirmed that public education is non-negotiable, the FEUQ remains skeptical. In practical terms, all it takes is for a university to be completely private (which is the case in Alberta), for a US university to be able to offer an on-site campus, and take a government to court to obtain its share of public financing.

"That risks dragging us toward privatization of education with all of its implications: deregulation of tuition fees, restricted access, student debt, influence on curriculum, etc.", thinks Nicolas Brisson.


United in adversity, the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU), which had disassociated itself from the FEUQ due to differences of opinion on the Quebec sovereignty referendum issue, re-joined the federation last year. As Nick Vinkender, vice-president of community and government affairs of the SSMU explains, "preserving our achievements in terms of access to education requires widespread grassroots mobilization. That is why we are trying to convince all of McGill’s faculty associations to join our struggle and vote in favour of a strike."

’The FTAA threatens the living conditions of all of the human beings covered by the agreement. We want to inform people and raise their awareness of the consequences that this agreement will have on their life." Valérie Soly is an activist of the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) (Association for Solidarity among Student Unions - ASSU), a new national organization. For them, there is no question of backing down on the FTAA issue. "We are all concerned and we invite other social group from civil society, such as unions, rights defense groups, housing groups, to join our initiatives and say no to the FTAA".

Several awareness-raising activities (committed art days, workshops, campus sit-ins) are scheduled for October 31st.

1. Declaration at the Second People’s Summit, Quebec City, April 19th, 2001.
2. FEUQ study on the impacts of the FTAA and the GATS on education: Vers la privatisation de l’éducation (Moving toward the privatization of education).

À propos de Isabelle OUELLET

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