[Press release by the Montreal Coalition for Paid Internships. Translation by Jonathan Turcotte-Summers.]
Tiohtià:ke (Montreal, unceded Mohawk territory), April 2, 2019 — On this Global Day for Invisible Labour, the activists of the Montreal Coalition for Paid Internships call for participation in the Demonstration Against the Invisibilization of the Work of Women that will take place from 4PM today. In addition to the interns and students on strike, several organizations that also fight for the recognition of invisible, unpaid, and reproductive labour will take to the street. This is the case especially for Stella, a group that defends the rights of sex workers, and for the Quebec Association of Nurses (Association québécoise des infirmières et infirmiers, or AQII).
“Since the beginning, the campaign for paid internships has been inscribed within a feminist perspective of struggle against the exploitation of reproductive labour which, from the home to the school to the job, is devalued or even expected from women for free,” reiterates Marianne Gagnon, nursing student and activist with the Student Work Unitary Committee at Cégep du Vieux Montréal (CUTE CVM). “While essential to society, this work is still not considered work deserving of a wage. It remains invisible, as do the conditions in which it is performed. We demand a wage for every hour worked in order for the work to finally become visible, and for us to be able to demand the improvement of our working conditions.”
Eleven days after the presentation of the provincial budget, which foresees no amount for paid internships, about 20,000 interns and students are still on strike today to make their demands heard. “It’s not by chance if unpaid internships are found in traditionally and mostly feminine domains like teaching, social work, and nursing. These internships are located in the continuum of unpaid labour demanded of women on the basis of a supposed natural propensity for caregiving, educating, and listening,” emphasizes Charlène Boucher, student teacher and activist with the Feminist Committee in Education at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). “There’s nothing natural about it, but who would do it instead if we quit? No one! The proof is that, when we go on strike from our internships, our internship settings and universities are so disrupted that they’ll even threaten to fail us in order to convince us to quickly get back to work.”
The generalized strike of internships the past few weeks is a first in the history of the student movement. “This strike is offensive, because we demand a wage and protections that don’t exist yet. It is subversive, because it is first and foremost a women’s strike, and it deprives a lot of internship settings of free labour. Not surprising that they want us back to work!” exclaims Mathilde Laforge, intern in social work and activist with the CUTE UQAM. Several student associations on strike today also relay the call by the R des centres de femmes du Québec, a group of 87 women’s centres, for a women’s strike to mark International Workers’ Day on May 1st. “Our struggle takes place on the terrain of the school, but is inscribed in a broader struggle for the recognition of the work of social reproduction traditionally and mostly performed by women, whether they be caregivers, sex workers, housekeepers, or migrant workers. The effect of this first attempt at a strike is not to be underestimated! A women’s strike is coming!”