After the Arab Spring, the Quebec Spring. Mass protests by students opposed to a 75% rise in tuition fees have escalated into an inspirational social movement, resisting government attempts to crush the movement through a violent police crackdown.
Now the movement is at a crossroads. While hundreds of thousands continue to mobilise, some student leaders are preparing the ground for a compromise with the government.
This article looks at how students and youth can build on the movement’s success and what kind of resistance is necessary to prevent a sell-out and defeat the government.
Throughout this week mass demonstrations flared across Quebec as students marked 100 days of resistance to government attacks on Higher Education.
More than 200,000 students from three student federations have been engaged in three months of bitter struggle to stop tuition fees rising by more than £1000 a year.
A boycott was organised on 13 February, which rapidly snowballed into 14 continuous days of demonstrations in towns and cities across the province.
Students and workers unite
Students in Quebec have a radical tradition of defending education for themselves and future generations. Student strikes in 1996 and 2005 ensured that fees in Quebec remained significantly lower than elsewhere in Canada.
This knowledge is undoubtedly very important in convincing students that direct action and mass participation is what is necessary to mount a successful resistance.
But students alone cannot win against the government. That’s why the youth resistance of winter 2010 in Britain was ultimately defeated. Canadian students have not made the same mistake.
Trade unions have donated $90,000 to student federations, and opposition parties have been vocal in their support for the protests.
The implications of this social solidarity are already becoming apparent. The protests have succeeded in forcing a national debate on an unpopular government, which is mired in corruption scandals.
The strength of the movement is worrying for the government, but the growing links between students and the working-class movement threatens to move the struggle into a different league.
The two main unions, who both support the protests, organise more than a million workers in many different industries. Together they have the power to apply real economic pressure on Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s liberal government.
The potential power of a united students’ and workers’ movement is terrifying for the government. That’s why Charest has continuously escalated the repression against the movement.
Impotent in the face of a social uprising, the government has resorted to passing emergency laws (Bill 78) which ban unauthorised protest and limit the rights of education workers to strike.
The police have enthusiastically carried out this crackdown, staging mass arrests of protestors at many demonstrations and seriously injuring dozens of people.
In response to the passing of Bill 78, 400,000 people marched through the streets of Montreal.
Far from silencing the resistance, Bill 78 has provoked fury amongst huge numbers of Quebecois who were previously indifferent to the students’ demands.
Unsurprisingly business leaders welcomed the measures, acknowledging that they are not the potential allies of the movement, but committed to the defence of the status quo and a police force which exists to defend the interests of property-owners.
The government has declared its intention to ‘restore calm’ to Quebec society. The ‘calm’ that the capitalist representatives want to impose on us is the calm of rubber bullets, tear-gas and sound grenades.
No time for compromise
The attack on the right to strike and freedom of assembly is an attack on all of us. The measures demonstrate the weakness of the government – it has lost the argument and now resorts to violence to force through its pro-business agenda.
At the moment in which the movement threatens to unite much broader layers and escape the control of the big student federations, is the moment that Leo Bureau-Blouin, president of Quebec’s college student federation, had this to say:
“We are ready for a compromise — and if the Quebec government is ready for it too, I think we can come to something,”
“If the Quebec government agreed to move on the amount of the tuition fee hike, I think it would be a great step in the right direction.”
Bureau-Blouin, whose terms ends on 1 June fears that the movement is starting to escape the control of him and his fellow bureaucrats.
The government is on the defensive, we should press forward with our demands and accept nothing less than total victory.
Students now face enemies within and without the movement. Those who would compromise with the illegitimate government open the door to privatisation. They condemn generations of furture students to an overpriced, sub-standard education. They betray the sacrifices of tens of thousands who are fighting now to ensure social provision for the future.
It is at this critical time where the government will attempt to drive a wedge between ‘moderate’ and ‘hardline’ students. It will offer measly concessions to those who return to class, while intensifying repression against those who dare to remain on the streets.
We refuse all attempts at compromise and say that we must not back down in the face of state violence and divide-and-rule tactics.
If the movement is to succeed against those who now seek to demobilise and restrain the youth, then the question of democratic control of the movement must be considered our most urgent task.
The representatives of student federation CLASSE, which is committed to free education have insisted that any deal would have to be decided by democracy of the students. This means the general assemblies organised within university campuses and faculties.
This is positive and a lesson in democracy for the privileged bureaucrats of our own National Union of Students.
However, the movement has now grown beyond the limits of student unionism. The actions of the government are an attack on the working class of Quebec, and set a dangerous precedent.
If we back down in the face of this intimidation, we will simply send the message that repression works. If the students are beaten, the hospital and education workers will be next on Charest’s chopping block.
Hundreds of thousands of youth and workers have led a heroic resistance for three months. Their only support comes from the collective organisations of the working class and the declarations of solidarity from youth in struggles across the world.
The repression of their movement is not condemned by the world’s great powers – indeed Charest has the full support of the Canadian and US governments, determined to send the message that resistance is futile.
Resistence is necessary, victory is possible.
But this means that the Quebec youth must escalate their struggle – it needs to be turned into a class struggle against the government’s austerity.
If the social movement aims to win it must first win the ability to organise amongst the wider masses. Popular committees will draw in the unemployed, school students, non-union workers and pensioners.
Students should form joint strike committees in every school, university and workplace to enable the democratic control of united action between students and workers.
Regional committees composed of recallable delegates can co-ordinate national action and mobilise for an all-out offensive against the government.
These popular committees will pile the pressure on the official leaders of the students’ and workers’ unions. If these official leaders try to backtrack or sell-out, we’ll have the means to organise action independently.
Against the repression of the police and private mercenaries employed by the state and big business we call for the self-organised defence of our demonstrations, meetings and right to protest.
Together these tactics can provide the basis for a movement capable of combining democracy and unity in a class-wide resistance whose ultimate aim cannot be anything less than the fall of the Charest government.
This means a general strike, where the demands, tactics and aims are controlled through the democratic structures uniting the workers and youth.
Victory in Quebec will send the message that we reject austerity and we are prepared and capable of defeating any government that tries to make working people pay for the capitalists’ crisis.
Students and workers unite and fight – joint strike committees to prevent a sellout!
Down with police violence – for organised self-defence against the state!
For a general strike to bring down the government!
Victory to the Quebec Spring – for international solidarity!
PROTEST: Solidarity with Quebec Protestors
Wednesday 30 May, 6pm, Canada House, Trafalgar Sq