Alexandra Epp: Could you say your name into the microphone?
Katie Heffring: My name is Katie Heffring. I belong to MUNACA, which is McGill University’s [union for] support staff. Last year we were on strike for three months, which is not very common because McGill is very apathetic, and actually it is very corporate now. A lot of smaller businesses that were on campus are now shut down.… It was quite the experience, but it only made us a stronger union.
AE: Are you still on strike now?
KH: No. We signed the contract right before Christmas, but it led to a lot of interesting things after that, because the students became more mobile on campus. There were a lot of solidarity protests for us, and the professors created organizations to support us as well. Because there were over 1000 workers on strike, and so it affected the students coming into school as well, so there was interesting things that happened. But there were also a lot of injunctions placed on us picketing outside McGill. So we very much understand what the students in Quebec are going through because they have faced injunctions as well, such as Law 78, which has many injunctions that were incredibly repressive and we know exactly what that feels like to have our freedom of speech stamped on basically, and that’s what’s going on right now in Quebec, but on a bigger scale. That’s why I’m involved, that’s why I’m fully supportive.
AE: Are you in town for the Congress?
AE: Okay, have you been going to any of the sessions?
KH: No, because I am here working for a publishing company. So I get to talk to people.
AE: I was wondering about the Congress, and I was thinking that no one has been mentioning the Quebec strike. I’ve been asking people about it, some people are not willing to talk about it, but maybe you’d like to weigh in on this—why don’t you think people are talking about the Quebec strike, and here at the largest gathering of social sciences and humanities researchers in Canada? Do you think we can afford not to address that?
KH: Well, I’m surprised, because I have seen more red squares and as soon as I see somebody with a red square I talk to them…so I really want to carry on the dialogue. I think that’s one of the most important tools we have to keep this movement going: to talk to people. Whether they believe in it or not, it’s talking about it—it’s discourse and that’s how it spreads. So I really wish that there was a session or a panel dedicated to this, because there’s a lot of books that we have even, about collective action. So it really is time to talk about it and discuss that capitalism doesn’t work anymore and we need to fight neoliberalism. But again, people have their own opinions as well, and part of democracy is respecting other people’s opinions… [it is not] having laws that stop you from having your basic rights. We have a charter of rights in Canada and definitely [Law 78] crosses the line at so many levels.
AE: With the solidarity movements in other parts of Canada, do you think that having a general strike, like across Canada, in solidarity would be beneficial? Do you think it’s called for?
KH: Well, I think it’s called for. The students asked for May 22nd [to be] a general social strike… for Quebec. So, obviously [a general solidarity strike] would be the ultimate goal. Because the people have power, and I think we’ve seen that with the Casseroles movement, how it’s spread to the neighbourhoods. Montreal has the police; in Montreal, [the police] have been particularly brutal. And now that the casseroles movement has begun… they aren’t necessarily so brutal out in the neighbourhoods, also because it’s such a range of ages participating. We’ve been able to have more control over what’s going on— they’ve just been a little more lenient. But as soon as we go into the downtown, it’s a whole other story and unfortunately we see very clearly that the economy and police actions are very much related.
But I think, for your question [about a general solidarity strike], that would be the ultimate goal. But it’s not as easy, because again it’s democracy and it’s mobilizing people and you know … with this new injunction and Law 78 trying to repress the people. And we all see that, and this [solidarity] is what happens as a result. I mean it’s quite interesting …So I think it’s happening, slowly and surely, and I think if anything, it will lead to the next generation to be more critical of their goverment and participate more. It’s creating this community that you would never believe, I mean now I know all my neighbours, and I never knew them before. And I personally want to put more of my energy into community, not businesses, but like locally based markets. I don’t want to put any of my money or time into exploitative institutions, so I think, out of that, that’s a big step too. And if we can get the younger generations to start thinking critically of their government as well as putting more into their community and local market, I think that we’re leading to better things this way. We’re creating strength, and that’s important for people and the community.
This interview took place on May 30, 2012, in Kitchener, Ontario, following the CasserolesKW demonstration. Contact Katie Heffring at email@example.com. She participates in 7castors7beavers.wordpress.com – a reflectivist community blog in Montreal.