By Valerie Dittrich
Members of Ryerson Student Strike (RSS) and Socialist Fightback staged a sit-in outside of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) office on Wednesday, demanding the RSU take appropriate action to execute a one-day student strike.
The one-day student strike will be in protest of the provincial government’s cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) that was announced back in January of this year.
A day of action is currently set for Nov. 6.
Around 2:40 p.m., strike supporters marched to the third floor of the Student Campus Centre as they chanted “This is what democracy looks like.” Vice-president education Kwaku Agyemang was the only executive present when the sit-in began. When asked by the audience if he would support the strike, Agyemang said that he couldn’t speak on behalf of the RSU as a whole and couldn’t make a decision without other execs present.
Agyemang said the five other RSU executives were not present at the start of the sit-in due to a meeting.
“As the union, I want to thank you for organizing this,” he said. “But the reality is that I’m here [by] myself and I can’t provide [an answer]. Especially because [the RSU] is partnering with [the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR)] on this and I can’t be the only voice to speak on this.”
“The RSU likes to act like they are the students’ union,” said Olive Pape, member of RSS and Socialist Fightback. “In reality, we are.”
“In this case, they didn’t listen to us. And so we, the student union ourselves, rose up and took back that power.”
Around 2:50 p.m., the other RSU execs showed up as well as CESAR president Nicole Briyannias. Pape then presented members of the RSU and CESAR with an open letter and asked if they would publicly support and help organize the strike, and if they themselves would “refuse to cross the picket lines” on Nov. 6.
“The RSU executives have committed no resources and expended no energy organizing either general assemblies or a strike. Instead, they have chosen to ignore the mandate that’s violating the decisions of their own members,” said Pape.
The Eyeopener previously reported that a motion for a one-day student strike passed during a general assembly in the Sheldon and Tracy Levy Student Learning Centre (SLC). People in the SLC voted overwhelmingly in favour of a one-day strike, with only one person opposing.
According to former Socialist Fightback president and spokesperson for the student strike Hermes Azam, 200 people were in attendance, however it is unclear whether any of them were Ryerson students. Ryerson Student Strike didn’t have any way of identifying attendees as students.
Azam said at the general assembly that the group held several meetings with both unions, and while some progress was made, the unions eventually “backtracked” on their commitments.
Pape posed four questions to the RSU, asking if they would; adhere to the vote taken at the RSU’s Annual General Meeting on April 23; adhere to the vote taken at the general assembly, and; publicly support and help to organize the strike and if they themselves would cross picket lines on Nov. 6.
But the RSU and CESAR have repeatedly cited concerns regarding the accessibility of RSS’ approach to striking. They said that they were hesitant of making decisions based on only physical meetings, given that some students may not have time to be on campus outside of class or may take all of their classes online at the We The Students RU (WTSRU) meeting back in August.
“It’s not a clear black and white answer,” said vice-president marketing Victoria Anderson-Gardener.
In response to RSS members demanding for an answer on whether or not the unions would support the strike, Agyemang and Briyannias, said they would be releasing a survey available to all Ryerson students.
The survey would allow students to indicate whether they prefer to see a strike or a day of action on Nov. 6. The survey details the difference between the two options and asks students if they would participate in whichever activity if they had a midterm or exam. It also stated they are trying to have academic amnesty granted.
“Our goal [with] the survey is to be as democratically accessible as possible and engaging as many students as we can with their voices,” Briyannias told The Eye. “A strike is something that’s huge and going to affect the entire student population.”
“When we’re making a decision on something that is going to affect all 36,000 students at Ryerson, we’re wanting to ensure that a fair proportion of that is representative within the decision process.”
While Agyemang said he supports the idea of a strike and understands where members of RSS are coming from, he’s concerned about launching a movement that will truly represent all students.
“We have to consider that when it comes to a multi-unit perspective, with the RSU, being responsible to our members to just call the strike making it hard for students to go to class, where that might kick back at us, which is why this process is very important to us in terms of accessibility.”
Agyemang said to the students participating in the sit-in that both the RSU and CESAR would release the results from the survey, but that he would not personally cross picket lines on Nov. 6.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, RSS said that the RSU and CESAR chose to “discredit” the general assembly.
“Despite their evasions, the executives made it clear—faced with dozens of students in an open meeting—they do not and, for now, will not recognize the fact that students have voted twice for a student strike,” the post reads. “And that includes the executives who, themselves, voted in favor of strike action at the union’s annual general meeting.”
The survey was sent out to students at around 6 p.m. Wednesday evening and will remain open until Oct. 23.
With files from Khaled Badawi and Madi Wong