opportunity. At the National Student Power Convergence convergence “International StudentUprising” panel, Emilie Joly, member of prominent Quebec broad-based student coalition:CLASSE, described how other Canadian provinces have responded to their student strike.Shaking a passionate finger, “Why are you striking? You have the lowest tuition inCanada!” she imitated, “...We have the lowest tuition in Canada BECAUSE WE STRIKE!”This sentiment is not unlike what CUNY student activists hear from private school students,administrators, and politicians. We have the lowest tuition in New York state and one of thelowest in the country because of our history of resistance. We cannot allow this historicalmemory to be taken away from us. At the panel at the convergence on “Student Unionism and Building Student Power inthe U.S.”, we asserted that if students in the United States hope to have the kind of impact onour universities that we witnessed in Quebec, we will need to first establish radical, federatedstudent unions here at home. These unions would be organizations capable of replacing our currently weak systems of student participation.Now, everybody is saying: that sounds great, but how do we actualize student unionismon individual campuses let alone across the entire country? To start, establishing departmentalassemblies where students of similar academic interests, who are connected by the universitybureaucracy of ‘majors’ can work together to build bottom-up structures of participation.Building a participatory democratic student union across New York City needs to happenfrom the bottom-up. Many argue that campus wide assemblies, similar to those at OccupyWall Street are enough to sustain student power--we know from experience that this is far fromthe truth. A couple of the “open mics” that we organized in the fall of 2011 were successful inbringing out over three hundred students but could never transition into active decision makingbodies for the entire campus. Questions coming out of the New York City student movement areactively mulling over the concept of student unionism; however, do not see the clear steps to getfrom
Many students from CUNY traveled up north and got advice from Quebecois studentsat the anglophone campus, Concordia University on how to approach departmental levelorganizing. For example, Brooklyn College student organizers are starting our own process of unionizing and hope to begin with a couple departments that we can devote our full attentionto. Having spent the last couple years building a relationship with our faculty union, theProfessional Staff Congress at CUNY, we already have connections with key faculty allies whoare willing and able to support us in our attempts to reach out to our peers. Our first step movingforward is establishing assemblies in few academic departments that can act as a frameworkto unionize the remaining departments. As we see it, the student leadership built in these initialdepartments can be used to leverage the university administration around increasing funding inbasic student services such as printing, library hours and subsidised textbooks.Questions moving forward are essential to keep our eyes on the prize when it comes tobuilding these viable structures of student participation. Our questions are not theoretical, theyare transparent about our insecurities addressing upcoming challenges. How do we engagethe business accounting and chemistry majors? How can we break through the heavy smogof neoliberalism that creates divides between our student body? How do our unionizing effortsrespond to conservative backlash? What the hell do we do with student government? What wemean by this is, does student government serve a purpose once a student union is established?