Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), which represents over 80,000 students and 43 student associations in Quebec's universities and CEGEPs, voted to purge its executive committee over the weekend.Tension began to emerge last week, when the group's executive committee wrote what they called a "reflection letter" suggesting that a general student strike could be more effective if it were delayed to coincide with the unlimited general strike of public sector and trade unions expected by many to take place this fall.
Not surprisingly, this drew the ire of many within the pugnacious student group. The controversial letter was taken not only as an attempt to delay the current "social strike," which appears to be gaining momentum, but it was done so without consulting local student associations, which in the eyes of ASSÉ is a far worse offense.That tension came to a head during a congress held on Saturday in Valleyfield, Quebec where ASSÉ members voted to oust the executive committee who had penned the "strategic withdrawal" letter. But not before its six members preemptively handed in their resignation and apologized.Camille Godbout, ASSÉ's most visible spokesperson over the last few weeks, also got the boot on Saturday. VICE contacted Godbout and she said she did not want to comment on the situation at this time.ASSÉ's interim spokesperson, Hind Fazizi, told VICE that what went down in Valleyfield may sound dramatic or indicative of in-fighting but that couldn't be farther from the truth.Instead, she says, it's about values and accountability."It's not that dramatic. The executive sent out a reflection letter that was badly received. They apologized to the congress and then resigned. But the congress felt that symbolically it was important to take the vote to dismiss them. We acknowledged the great work they have done and we are really happy with what they did but we wanted to show that direct democracy is the core value for us."
Structurally, one of ASSÉ's defining features is its lack of central leadership. Unlike other student unions, it has no president and is instead presided by various committees which vote on matters to be carried out by the executive committee."We wanted to say it loud that accountability is something very important for us. But there is no confusion in our association because we also voted for a detailed action plan for the rest of spring and summer."More than 60,000 students have been on strike for the last two weeks and 110,000 were on strike last Thursday, coinciding with a huge demonstration in downtown Montreal.The group will remain without an executive committee until their annual congress on April 25 and 26, at which point a new one will be elected. For the moment, an ad hoc committee, which is meeting tonight for the first time, will be taking over the executive's functions.In the meantime, Fazizi says, ASSÉ will continue to work on fostering relationships with other labor and public sector unions while keeping its sights set on Liberals' austerity measures, the environment, and protecting First Nations sovereignty."It's not a student strike, it's a social strike. It's totally different than 2012. It was the greatest student strike. It's not comparable. Movements in Quebec have always been led by students, that's why media is focusing on us. But it's not about us it's about everyone."Follow Nick Rose on Twitter.