SIPTU members at Shanganagh Waste Water Treatment Plant, Co.
Quebec: students strike wave has government on the ropes
Jessica Squires reports from a tuition fees revolt that has already seen Canada’s biggest ever protests
Striking students have been taking to the Quebec streets for three months.
Hundreds of thousands are involved in the movement against a proposed 75 percent increase in tuition fees. Students have voted to continue the strike in general assemblies every week.
La Classe, a radical coalition representing about half of those on strike, has consistently made the student struggle about the future of Quebec itself.
The government is not just attacking students—healthcare, green energy provision and other services are also facing budget cuts.
Some 300,000 people gathered in downtown Montreal for the largest demonstration in Canadian history on Earth Day last month. Student strikers, campaigners and workers stood together—including 100 steelworkers locked out by Rio Tinto bosses.
The sea of people at the rally in the Place des Arts was sprinkled with square, red badges—the symbol of the strike. The size of the crowd outstripped the 200,000-strong demonstration organised by student strikers a month earlier.
Three weeks earlier the Rio Tinto workers called their own day of action and were joined by students and other workers.
The movement has been influenced by global events including the Arab Spring, the global Occupy movement and student uprisings from Colombia to Britain.
From the start they have been met with state repression from riot police wielding tear gas and batons, and carrying out mass arrests. The students have been militant but non-violent—until recently, when some have begun to fight back against the police.
Local administrators and scabbing students have applied for injunctions against the strikes.
This, coupled with a call by the education minister to re-open institutions by any means necessary, has led to police occupations of several campuses.
Students have fought back and won against several of these injunctions, both in the courts and through mobilisations.
Professors and supporters in the Outaouais region successfully occupied the University of Quebec campus, shutting it down and disrupting classes the following day.
These events were entirely non-violent but resulted in mass arrests—161 on the first day and 150 on the second. The campus shut down for the rest of that week.
University professors went to court demanding the injunction be lifted, as the police presence on campus threatened their health and safety. Some professors were assaulted or arrested while inside the university.
In the last week, the Quebec government has tried to diffuse the strike by initiating negotiations with some student leaders—but not those from La Classe.
The students agreed to negotiate but only if La Classe was included. The government abruptly terminated the talks.
Increasing numbers of trade unions have issued statements supporting the strike. And students and workers have united for almost nightly demonstrations in Montreal.
On May Day, thousands took to the streets and over 100 people were arrested.
As the government digs its heels in against the students, there is widespread speculation that they will be forced to call an election.
Radicalisation in Quebec is deepening. In the days and weeks ahead, the need for student and worker solidarity will be critical.
Jessica Squires is a member of the International Socialists in Canada
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