Building a statewide student union

Submitted by Joseph Kay on July 11, 2013

In Quebec, statewide student unions like ASSÉ (CLASSE) are federations of local unions. Local unions are said to be affiliated with a statewide union or that they are independent if they didn’t join any. In order to join a statewide union, local unions need to organize an affiliation vote and to accept the basic principles of that union.

If no local student unions exist, then building a statewide union might be premature. This does not exclude, however, statewide coordination through semi-informal meetings of what might become a statewide union. But the foundation of the statewide union will be more solid if it is based on strong local unions.

How is ASSÉ (CLASSE) structured and what role does it play?
The structure of ASSÉ has been built and improved upon over the years to preserve the best balance possible between direct democracy, efficiency, local autonomy and inclusiveness. It can still be improved, but the 2012 strike proved it is quite good.

The supreme decision-making body of ASSÉ is the congress. All political debates should be discussed at the congress, but the decisions should define the main guidelines and refrain from going into unnecessarily specific details. During the congress, only student unions can vote (one vote each), but elected members of the executive and the various committees can speak.

The executive council is composed of eight members, each of which is elected for a specific function. The executive’s role is to make sure the organization is doing fine and that motions voted by the congress are applied. If there is a problem or a lacuna in the organization, the executive is required to fill the gap and do the work. The executive council is not entitled (and not expected) to make important political decisions, but it can propose political motions during congresses. It is one of the only institutions that is not a student union that has this privilege.

There are eight working committees, each of which is assigned a specific and important role. There is generally no limits to the number of persons that can be elected on each committee, so some can be composed of as much as twelve members during important mobilizations. It is important to emphasize that the committee’s members must be elected, and as such are accountable to the congress.

Here is a brief description of the committees:

Mobilization committee
Its role is to make sure the mobilization on every campus is doing fine. If needed, this committee coordinates flying mobilization teams by sending activists from more active unions to unions in need of help.

Information committee
Its role is to create province-wide information material. They are responsible for providing posters, flyers, stickers, websites and general graphic designs for ASSÉ’s campaigns.

Newspaper committee
Its role is to produce the newspaper of the organization. The committee usually requires the help of collaborators to write and correct the articles.

Women committee
The women committee’s role is to assist local student unions in the promotion of feminism, to organize feminist events and to make sure feminist issues do not become secondary inside the organization. In order to efficiently fulfill that last function, the women committee is the only working committee that can propose motions at the congress.

Legal committee
This committee was created just before the strike and has since been made permanent. There can only be 5 elected members on it. Its role is to coordinate judicial defense of arrested students during actions. It makes contact with lawyers and administrates the legal fund.

Academic and research committee
Its role is to produce research, analysis and documentation according to the organization’s needs and campaigns.

Social struggles committee
Its role is to make contacts with community organizations, labor unions and other groups involved in local struggles.

Media committee (during the strike only)
This committee was created for the duration of the strike. It was composed of the secretary of communications (member of the executive council), elected spokespersons and elected press secretaries. Its role is to manage everything related to mainstream medias.

The work of committees is organized by the Coordination Council (CoCo). Committees, the executive council and each regional council send a delegate to the CoCo. The role of this council is to dispatch the workload between the committees according to their respective roles and to the motions adopted in congress.

Regional councils are semi-autonomous structures that allow student unions to organize on a regional basis. They usually take the form of more or less informal meetings that coordinate the action plan at a smaller scale than the province-wide plan of the congress. Regional councils can integrate student unions that are not affiliated with ASSÉ and they have a small budget to organize regional actions.