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tangerine mgill clubs nightThis article was submitted and printed in edited form in the McGill Daily, which is a student newspaper at McGill University. Here we publish the original article.

At the start of a new school year, a new wave of young, excited students enter university. They are looking to pursue life goals, discover their passions, learn about the world, and get involved with student groups. But for corporations and banks, these new students are seen as a great business opportunity. For example, at McGill’s Activities Night - a 3-day event held every semester for the over 250 student clubs - a giant bank, Tangerine, took up at least one quarter of student club space on the 3rd floor. This left many students scratching their heads. Isn’t Activities Night for student groups? What is a giant bank doing here? But this shouldn’t really be that surprising; in fact, corporatization is par for the course at McGill.

Corporations Everywhere

When new students walked through the front gates of McGill on the second day of classes, their gazes were entirely occupied by the tents and stalls of corporations and banks. Seeking refuge from the constant stream of advertisements and corporate manipulation, many students naturally went to Activities Night, an event organized by the student union to help students discover the wide variety of student organizations that McGill has to offer. However, as students entered the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) ballroom at Activities Night, they were greeted by Tangerine’s huge orange tent, while the student organizations were pushed off to the sides. This bank occupied at least a quarter of all of the space on the floor, which meant that the student clubs assigned to the floor had to squeeze next to each other, were limited to two people per club, and had to endure (every 5-10 minutes) the extremely annoying cries of the bank’s employees yelling and applauding whenever someone opened the bizarre door to the “free stuff” vault.

Corporatization at McGill is not new. The ritual tents of various banks and phone companies targeting first-year students during orientation week and the very strategically placed ads in our very own bathrooms are just a couple of examples. Companies spend a large amount of money in order to be present on campus. McGill is just another market place for big companies, and students are just consumers to profit from. As if big companies weren’t already present enough in every walk of life, do they really need to dominate our campuses as well?

Corporatization, a result of capitalism

But this creeping corporatization shouldn’t come as a surprise. As a public institution, McGill is dependent on government funding. But due to the general austerity program of the Quebec government, McGill’s budget has been slashed year after year. Just last year, the budget faced $10 million in cuts. On top of this, there was an additional $50 million cut from McGill’s budget since 2012. As capitalism sinks deeper into crisis, governments around the world are burdened with huge debts. This results in cuts on spending, the hiking of tuition fees and the corporatization of public institutions. The long-term result will be privatization of our public institutions.

Of course, the McGill Board of Governors has been quite happy to play along with this logic. This is not surprising as nearly every member of the BoG, also serves as a director of one or more major corporations or banks. These people have a direct interest in granting banks and big corporations access to McGill. Actually, they (and the companies they represent) would profit massively off of the privatization of McGill and they continue to profit from student indebtedness.

However, while corporatization of the university in general shouldn’t be that surprising, it is surprising and unacceptable that our student union, which is supposed to defend our interests and exists for McGill students, is bending to corporate pressure.

SSMU is for Students, not Banks!

According to the latest version of SSMU’s budget, the student union estimates it will bring in over $1.746 million in non-allocated student fees for the 2016-2017 year. When considering this, it is mind boggling that SSMU was unable to independently fund the Activities Night without requiring Tangerine’s corporate sponsorship. Students are also now charged a ‘Club Fund’ fee, while a total of $47,000 dollars was cut from the student union allocation towards funding for student clubs. We therefore have increased corporate sponsorship and infiltration into student union activities, while at the same time fewer resources are being made available to student clubs. The neglecting of students has created poor relations between student clubs and the SSMU, and the giant, orange bank tent at Activities Night is only the latest “SSMU fail”.

Repressing student voices on campus

When confronting Socialist Fightback activists at Activities Night, Tangerine employees claimed to simply be a “medium-sized bank trying to help students.” The laughable claim that a bank is trying to “help students” flies in the face of how a bank actually makes money and what the material interest of a bank is - indebting students. On top of this, Tangerine is not a “medium-sized bank,” but has been a subsidiary of Scotiabank since its $3.1 billion acquisition of the ING bank of Canada in 2012.

As is usually the case, money comes with strings attached. Who does SSMU now represent? Students or banks? There is already a long history of McGill trying to silence political activists on campus including repression during the Quebec student general strike. The last thing we need is the SSMU becoming intertwined with corporate interest. Ironically, during Activities Night, political activist groups were placed right next to Tangerine’s corporate tent. Feelings of anger and confusion soon spread among the student groups. These feelings were made vocal by more than one student group. Due to complaints from Tangerine, SSMU then resorted to calling security on a few groups. This was an obvious attempt to silence groups who were openly critical of Tangerine.

When security arrived, they insisted that Socialist Fightback activists were not allowed to ask for voluntary contributions to help fund our activities and help to pay for the printing of our literature. All this despite the fact that the whole event was dominated by a bank trying to get students to open bank accounts and take out credit cards; we all know what that leads to – debt and profits for the bank. It should also be noted that telling student clubs that they cannot independently fundraise at Activities Night directly contradicts the SSMU website which states, “As clubs are not guaranteed any funding from the SSMU, clubs are responsible for their own fundraising in order to support their events and initiatives.”

On top of Tangerine’s obnoxious presence and constant haranguing of students to register for their products, the students at Activities Night also had to put up with their loud and distracting noises as they loudly promoted themselves. However, when student activists exercised their freedom of expression by chanting “SSMU is for students, not for banks!” for about a minute, the bank’s event manager accused students of being disruptive bullies. This was a hypocritical complaint, especially after Tangerine had tried to silence and disrupt activism on campus through bureaucratic means by making complaints and calling security. As members of the student union, we expect that our representative body will give us a voice and won’t try to silence us. We are students and SSMU is for students.

By condoning increasing corporatization, SSMU violates its anti-austerity mandate (voted for by students) and puts into question its accountability to the student body. Instead, SSMU should oppose corporatization and fight against the corporatization of McGill in general which is directly tied to the problem of austerity.

Universities under capitalism emphasize the importance of high grades and multiple degrees and titles as the key to success in life. The reason many students end up associating going to university with student debt is that they have to take out loans from banks to afford all the requirements of a competitive labor market. In this, and many other ways, banks impose themselves in most parts of our lives. As student representative bodies, SSMU and other student unions should firmly stand against the corporate invasion of university campuses and student life.

The fight against predatory banks goes hand in hand with the fight for free post- secondary education, and this is a fight that the SSMU should be leading. We cannot rely on the administrative leadership of our universities to be on our side in this fight as the McGill board of governors is dominated almost entirely by private interests, several of whom are on the boards of banks such as HSBC, Citibank, and the National Bank of Canada. Instead of a system where private and corporate interests dominate the decision-making process, we should demand that students, workers, and faculty have democratic control of the institution so that we can prioritize education and research based on the needs of society. A system where the driving force of the production and reproduction of knowledge is human fulfillment (rather than private profit) will create the material conditions for better quality education and for free and genuinely accessible education for all.