McGill strike turns nasty

Threats, injunctions and allegations fly. What’s next?

Two members of McGill University’s student government face a disciplinary hearing related to a rally in favour of striking support staff. One of them says he wasn’t even there.

Meanwhile, McGill principal Heather Munroe-Blum has issued a statement accusing strikers of throwing objects at senior administrators and threatening elderly alumni at homecoming.

And those are just two of the recent confrontations between strike supporters and McGill officials.

The two students facing discipline are Micha Stettin and Joël Pedneault, who are both elected to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). They allegedly took part in an Oct. 11 demonstration at which 30 protesters calling themselves the “Mob Squad” (short for mobilization) sat in an intersection at an entrance to the Montreal university’s pedestrian-only campus.

OpenFile reports that the pair is accussed of contravening two sections of the university’s code of conduct, which state: “No student shall, by action, threat, or otherwise, knowingly obstruct University activities,” and, “No student shall, contrary to express instructions or with intent to damage, destroy or steal University property or without just cause knowingly enter or remain in any University building, facility, room, or office.”

Both dispute the charges. Pedneault, vice-president external of SSMU, told McGill Daily that he was not at the protest. McGill admin. told CBC Radio that they will not comment on the details.

The McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) has been on strike since Sept. 1. They want, among other things, a “proper pay scale.” McGill said on Oct. 20 that strikers are asking for too much money: a 28.9 per cent pay increase over three years, they say.

The Mob Squad discipline is only one recent controversy. After the university won an injunction earlier this month limiting picketing near campus, members of MUNACA began picketing outside the homes of senior administrators and the workplaces of board members. Strikers also picketed at events during McGill’s homecoming weekend. At one event, 63-year-old Joan O’Malley was arrested for refusing to leave an alumni dinner at a hotel. She was ticketed and released.

Munroe-Blum released a statement saying striker tactics had “moved from reasonable, civil free speech into threats and vandalism.” On Oct. 21, the university won another injunction limiting the size and noise created by pickets near private homes, workplaces and off-campus events.

The previous day strikers had picketed the construction site of a McGill-affiliated hospital. Construction workers refused to cross the picket line, shutting down work for the day. An injunction was issued ordering strikers to remain more than three metres from site entrances and exits.

The university has been especially critical of the hospital construction site picket. Michael Di Grappa, the university’s vice-principal for administration and finance, told the Montreal Gazette that the move was “a contemptible strategy that will bear no fruit.”

MUNACA president Kevin Whittaker fired back, saying the university is more focused “on getting injunctions from the courts to limit our freedom of expression than… on finding a fair resolution.”

Despite the public rancour, the two sides continue to meet frequently with a conciliator.

So what’s next? Possibly more labour strife. The General Assembly of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill, which represents teaching assistants, voted on Oct. 19 to initiate pressure tactics after five months of negotiations failed to result in a new work contract.