When authoritarianism faces resistance
For the past one hundred days, students in Quebec have been on strike against hikes in tuition fees in the amount of C$1625. This movement has faced harsh repression from the beginning, and things have only gotten worse since the government implemented “Law 78”, which imposes strict limits on the right to demonstrate. Despite this horrendously anti-democratic law (see box at end of article), there were reports of as many as 250,000 demonstrating yesterday in Montreal to protest the rise of tuition fees as well as Law 78 itself. To mark the occasion of the hundredth day of the struggle, we publish an article about the ongoing strike movement by Olivier Lachance from Alternative Socialiste (CWI Quebec).
Despite the pronouncements of journalists and politicians about the marginalization and slowing down of the student movement, in reality the struggle against rising tuition fees is setting new records. About 150,000 students are still on strike after three months of struggle. Demonstrations and protest actions are taking place day after day in every corner of Quebec. Several trade unions, popular movements, and political and citizen organizations are siding with the students.
Moreover, the struggle has evolved a lot since the beginning of the conflict. The point is no longer merely to express disagreement with the government’s decision to increase the tuition fees by C$1625, but also to resist an unprecedented authoritarian crackdown, which is a last-ditch attempt by the government to defeat the student movement.
Indeed, what has been seen in the last several days is quite disturbing. But this will not prevent the fight from continuing. On the contrary, this is one more reason to struggle.
Confronting an opposition that was too big to simply ignore, the Charest government had to offer proposals to students despite Charest saying he does not have to comply with their demands. Of course, these proposals were nothing more than a decoy – distractions from the genuine changes being demanded by students. The first was only a trivial change in the amount of financial aid available for students, and the second was an offer to discuss the management of universities with the students unions, on the conditions that they condemn the protestors’ “hooliganism”. Fortunately, the students have not been fooled, and the attempts to divide them were ineffective.
Heads of universities and colleges are up against the wall. Consequently, some of them tried to end the conflict themselves at the beginning of May. Their solution: seeking court injunctions to forcibly end the student strikes at their respective institutions, ignoring the decisions democratically taken by the students. But whether the injunctions are granted or not, it was a fanciful hope by the government that such a movement would simply concede to this ridiculous measure.
At Valleyfield and Saint Jean-sur-Richelieu colleges, students and professors have continued demonstrating, forcing classes to be cancelled despite the injunctions. The same thing happened at the Université du Québec en Outaouais, where the situation soon degenerated when the rector (a sympathiser of the Liberal Party) called out the security forces. Over the course of three days, several hundred students, professors, and others were arrested. This only spurred the demonstrations to grow stronger, but the demonstrators suffered severe repression, resulting in several people being injured by the brutality of the police.
At the University of Montreal, the injunction was not granted. Nonetheless, the college administration, carried forward by the momentum of its own repressive zealousness, asked its security agents, the police, and a private security company to come put an end the protests anyway. This provocation brought with it a growing atmosphere of intimidation and anger, and it resulted in some property damage.
Though there are not many strikers in Quebec City, the struggle is taking place all the same. On 17 April, there was a march to denounce a piece published in an important local newspaper by a high-ranking official praising the methods used by fascists to suppress protests. Another spontaneous demonstration took place two days later to protest the threats by a head administrator of CEGEP (a secondary school) against a teacher who wanted to lecture outside to symbolically oppose the rise of tuition fees. The police once again abused their authority during this otherwise peaceful demonstration, making approximately 50 totally arbitrary arrests.
It was in this context that the day of action on 20 April took place, when hundreds of determined demonstrators tried to disrupt a speech the prime minister was giving in Montreal. The tension rose quickly. When the police used all they had (including teargas, batons, violent arrests, sound grenades, and rubber bullets) to attempt to once again repress the demonstration arbitrarily, demonstrators started a riot that lasted several hours. Barricades in the streets, projectiles from all sides, smoke clouds from the fires and gas – it was complete mayhem, ending not only with numerous arrests, but with many injured demonstrators, bystanders, and even policemen.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister (compelled to delay starting his “Plan Nord” presentation to the businesspeople gathered at the Congress Palace) could do no more than make jokes about the situation, saying that, thanks to him, students could go find jobs in the north of the province, and that soon enough we would not be hearing from them anymore. This “joke” is not only an insult to all students trying to be heard on an issue that concerns them, but also an insult to the population as a whole, who want a real dialogue and a real solution to this crisis.
The incompetence of the Liberals in managing this conflict – coupled with corruption scandals and their “Plan Nord”, which is selling off Quebec’s natural resources at a discount to the private sector – only exposes the fact that the government does not care at all what the people of Quebec think or want. All that matters for them is their own interests and the interests of their friends in big business. But even using force, their contempt for the population was not able to shut down the students and their allies. The struggle against rising tuition fees must go on – and this ongoing struggle is in fact a type of victory in itself. Of course, this is not a total victory for the moment, but this struggle has already developed a consciousness and an approach of mobilizing large numbers of demonstrators that will help to defend our collective interests in Quebec in the future.
This is why we, Alternative Socialiste (CWI in Quebec), believe that the struggle can and must progress even further. In particular, we have to widen the struggle to fight against austerity as a whole and build a base among ordinary working people, who, with the students, will be able to act as a counterbalance to the scheming of our elites. But this struggle must not only beat back the attacks of the establishment. It also has to be channelled into a political struggle to overthrow the dictatorship of markets generating all these problems.
Hikes in tuition fees: a “baton law” to impose the reactionary views of the government
Everyone in the streets against corruption and fees!
This 17 May the Liberals, led by Jean Charest, adopted a special law (Law Project 78) to try to destroy the student struggle, a measure reminiscent of the “Grande Noirceur” (“Great Darkness”) era during the regime of Maurice Duplessis.
Basically, this baton law will impose special arrests and fines (C$7,000 and more) on anyone (such as students and professors, mainly) who encourages, prepares, or participates in activities forbidden by the court injunctions and compulsory return to lectures in August. Students’ associations can receive fines of more than C$25,000 for taking part in these activities. This law also requires all demonstrations of more than 25 people to inform the police of their march route at least eight hours before they take place. The police are then empowered to change the route. Additionally, some cities as well as Stephen Harper’s government are now about to implement a law forbidding the wearing of masks during demonstrations.
We are already facing police brutality, arbitrary arrests, and unfair court injunctions; these new measures will only speed the transformation of Quebec into a police state designed to forcibly suppress the struggles of social movements. Indeed, the crisis facing Quebec is so deep that our rulers are ready to do anything to get what they want.
- Let’s not be intimidated by this authoritarian government! Today more than ever, we have to intensify the struggle! Everyone should stay in the streets to continue demonstrating and occupying!
- Students and workers, we are all being victimized by the hypocritical policies of the establishment. We have to stand up and unite against the handful of liars in power and their friends in the private sector who are making us foot the bill for their poor management, and who are only interested in their own individual profitability. In our students unions and trade unions, let’s organize a general strike against corruption, fees, and privatisations!
- Let’s stop tolerating and complying with the Liberal Party of Quebec and with the CAQ and PQ, both of which are incapable of defending us and whose main concern is befriending the elites. Only Quebec Solidaire has the potential to become the loudspeaker of this protest movement. Let’s get involved in this party and back it!