[Marxism] FW: Massive demonstrations support Quebec students striking against fee hikes

Richard Fidler rfidler_8 at sympatico.ca
Mon Mar 19 14:26:28 MDT 2012

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Tens of thousands of students and their supporters marched in major
Quebec cities yesterday, March 18, in opposition to the Charest
government’s promise to impose a 75% increase in post-secondary
education fees over the next five years. In Montréal some 30,000
“former, present and future university students” responded to the call
of the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale
nerale-illimitee-pour-lhiver-2012/#more-440>  (CLASSE).[1]
quebec.html#_ftn1_3452>  The march stretched for more than 1.5
kilometres, according to Le Devoir
uturs-universitaires-se-mobilisent-une-semaine-decisive-s-amorce> .
Thousands more marched in Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Alma.

This week, more than 200,000 university and college students will be
striking throughout Quebec, and their ranks continue to swell. The
strike began four weeks ago on some campuses. While the main demand is
of course to stop the proposed hike in fees, many of the students
support the demand of the CLASSE, which is spearheading the strike
movement, for free post-secondary education. 

This message — that education is an integral right of Quebec society,
and must be accessible to all — has struck a responsive chord among
broad layers of the population. In recent days, the students’ demands
have inspired strong messages of solidarity from their professors,
more than 1,600 of whom have signed a powerful statement against
neoliberal “commodification” of education and the privatization of
university funding. (The professors’ statement is translated, below.)

Thousands of parents are now organizing through Facebook in support of
the students, and many participated with their children in the marches
yesterday. High school students are joining in, with strikes planned
in several schools this week. The major trade-union centrals have
issued calls for solidarity with the striking students.

The government continues to stonewall the student demands, and Finance
Minister Raymond Bachand is expected to confirm the increase in his
budget speech tomorrow. The increase will boost student fees by $325 a
year for five years. Yesterday’s demonstrations were a prelude to even
bigger student protests planned for March 22. And the organizers are
already planning further actions in weeks ahead.

In recent weeks, student demonstrators have faced violent attacks by
police using tear gas, sound percussion guns and rubber bullets, and
hundreds have been arrested. In one such attack, a Montréal student
was hit in the face and may lose sight in one eye. But this repression
has, if anything, aroused mass indignation and public expressions of
support for the students.

As the business media never cease to remind us, Quebec university fees
are the lowest in Canada. But that is because Quebec students have
mobilized repeatedly against attempts to raise them. As Chantal
Sundaram notes in Socialist Worker
ws-the-way-to-fight-fees/> :

	“From 1968 to 1990, tuition fees in Quebec were frozen at $500
a year. After a hike of about 150 per cent from 1990 to 1993, a PQ
government introduced a new freeze in 1994. But that same government
opened the door to a new increase in the name of deficit cutting in
1996. It faced a Quebec-wide student strike with mass street protests
and gave up that idea. Fees have also increased by $100 a year over
the past five years under the Charest government.

	“Today’s strike comes only seven years after the last one. In
2005, an unlimited student strike shut down nearly every
post-secondary institution in Quebec to protest the cutting of $103
million from bursaries to convert them into loans. The students won,
forcing the government to backtrack on a policy it had already passed.
That strike received massive public support and was the source of the
‘red square’ badge, worn by thousands of students and supporters,
which is also in use today.”

The strike has been organized faculty by faculty through mass
assemblies and democratic votes of the students; it began in
mid-February when the CLASSE threshold of a pro-strike vote of 20,000
students in at least seven student unions was met. At first, Education
Minister Line Beauchamp dismissed it, claiming the movement
represented only 2% of the province’s 495,000 post-secondary students.
But already move than 40% of the total student population are on

And now other student organizations, traditionally less militant than
the CLASSE, are planning their own actions to protest the fee
increase. For example, the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec
(FECQ) has announced it will hold a sit-in at the National Assembly on
March 20 when the finance minister tables his budget. 

The 2005 student strike ended with serious divisions in the movement;
the CLASSE predecessor was sidelined and in the end the government
negotiated only with the FECQ and a rival organization, the Fédération
étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ). At the outset of this year’s
strike movement, the CLASSE had only 40,000 members, while the FEUQ
boasted 125,000 and the FECQ 80,000. However, the relationship of
forces within the student population may be changing rapidly in the
current mobilizations.

“There is something in the air,” 21-year-old CLASSE leader Gabriel
Nadeau-Dubois told Le Devoir
emps-etudiant> . “There is momentum. The Arab Spring, the indignés,
the Occupy movement
. There is an entire discourse being advanced
about the interests the governments serve. They do not work for the
majority. And the question of the increased education fees is a
stunning demonstration of this.”

According to another CLASSE spokesperson, Jeanne Reynolds, “It is a
whole vision of education that is changing. That’s why people are
mobilizing so much.”

And indeed, an important feature of the movement is the attractive
appeal of the CLASSE demand not only for a freeze on fees, but for
free university education as a right of society. Other organizations
have advanced similar demands for treating social services as a public
right, not an opportunity for private profit. In a statement
coinciding with yesterday’s marches, the Coalition opposée à la
tarification et à la privatisation des services publics
<http://www.nonauxhausses.org/> [2]
quebec.html#_ftn2_3452>  called for public participation in the
students’ actions and opposition to the Charest government’s increase
in electricity rates and its tax on medicare services. “Although the
Charest government is so far showing its rigidity, it is our
impression that the relationship of forces is increasingly in the
students’ camp,” Coalition spokesman François Saillant told the media.
Saillant is also a leading member of Québec solidaire, Quebec’s party
of the left.

* * *

‘We are all students.’ Quebec profs issue call

for unlimited general strike of campuses

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