The International League of Peoples’ Struggle condemns the repressive Bill 78 imposed by the government of Jean Charest in Québec and salutes the militant response of the people who have defied this law by marching through the streets every evening banging pots and pans in a raucous “cacerolazo-tintamarre” (pot banging – sound barrage) movement.
The emergency law, known as Bill 78, was the Québec government’s attempt to break the back of a student strike, now in its 105th day, by imposing massive fines of up to $125,000 for organizing protests and strike actions. And in a clause drawn straight from the books of South American dictators like Augusto Pinochet in Chile, anyone planning to gather just 50 people must give police 8 hours notice including their itinerary. In imposing the law, the government said it was defending the “right to education”, the same kind of logic governments use when they try to break workers’ strikes in the name of the “right to work”.
However, far from putting an end to the strike, the unenforceable law has galvanized a growing section of the population into a massive “social strike” against neoliberal policies and a government mired in corruption and kowtowing to the monopolies. On Tuesday, May 22, 250,000 students and supporters marched in Montréal to mark the 100th day of the strike, all of them breaking the emergency law, because they turned left instead of right at the first corner, refusing to follow the route police had demanded the rally organizers provide in advance.
The next day over 500 people were arrested during the 30th consecutive night of demonstrations in Montréal, among some 3000 arrests since the student strike began. The people’s response to this repression has been a joyous and militant casseroles (pots in French) movement, where every night, as the clock strikes 8 pm, men, women, children and elderly start banging their pots and pans and flowing into the streets, a practise inspired by similar movements in Chile and Argentina.
The Montreal police, overwhelmed by the public reaction as dozens of marches, often involving thousands of people, occur at any one time, have limited themselves to directing traffic and momentarily at least, put away their truncheons, plastic bullets, tear gas and handcuffs.
The student strike began in February when the Québec Liberal government decided to go back on past promises and to hike post-secondary tuition fees by CAD $1,625 over the next five years, doubling present rates. Soon, red squares, the symbol of the student strike, could be seen everywhere, attached to people’s jackets, hats, bags and backpacks, and even decorating public monuments. Several weeks into the strike the government finally sat down with the student associations and offered tuition hikes of $254 per year over seven years instead of $325 a year over five years, small changes to bursaries and a committee to oversee university administrations in which students would play a minor role. The insulting deal was overwhelming rejected by striking students. The government has since refused to reopen discussions on tuition fee hikes.
Education in Canada is under provincial jurisdiction and tuition fees have historically been lower in Quebec (approximately CAN$2100/yr) than in other provinces because of strong student and popular mobilization. Keeping tuition fees low in university to enable more French-speaking Quebecers to have access to higher education became a key social policy issue in Quebec starting in the 1960s. At the time, the Catholic Church controlled education and French-speaking Québecers’ post-secondary education rate was way below that of the rest of the population in Canada – with only 7% attending university in Québec. Over the years, Québec student associations won the right to organize strikes, a right which does not similarly exist elsewhere in Canada and is now under attack with Bill 78. (For more on strike see ILPS statement: ILPS salutes striking students in Quebec and supports fight for right to education)
The student associations, led by the most progressive, Assé, or l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (Association for Student-Union Solidarity), have reached out to community groups, parents, unions and teachers, viewing the present struggle for the right to quality education that is free, accessible, public and non-discriminatory, as part of the wider social struggle against public service cutbacks and the capitalist offensive against working people.
Since the strike began, one education minister has already resigned and the Liberal government is in severe crisis, having seriously underestimated the response of the Quebec people. Its decision to try to wait out the strikers, use police violence including massive arrests, threatening students with the loss of their school year and now Law 78, has clearly backfired. What is inspiring other sectors is that students protesting today are not doing it out of immediate self-interest, but out of commitment to future generations, as the hikes are slated to come into effect gradually, mostly after the majority of the current batch will have graduated. Students are also resisting the capitalist commodification of education which treats them as future individual entrepreneurs in competition with each other, rather than education as a form of social solidarity and a means of advancing society overall.
With Québec elections in the wind, various political forces are now positioning themselves to try to profit from this popular revolt. The main provincial opposition party, the pro-independence Parti Québécois, has now taken to wearing the red square in a belated attempt to cash in on the resistance. The left social democratic party, Québec Solidaire, with one very articulate and involved member of the National Assembly, Amir Khadir, looks set to gain the most from the “social strike”. On the other side of the political spectrum, the recently formed right wing party, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), has of course come down against the students and on the side of “law and order”, hoping to use people’s disgust with the present system to push the revolt to the right.
Meanwhile, the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP), that surprisingly swept most seats in Québec in the last Federal elections, has been shamefully silent on the strike, using the excuse that it is a “provincial issue”. This is doubly lame since several of its newly-elected members of Parliament are themselves students. But it is part of new NDP leader Thomas Mulcair’s strategy of assuring that his party occupies the “centre” of the political spectrum. Mulcair wants to please the Canadian imperialist elite as his party attempts to replace the ailing federal Liberal party and eventually take over from the ruling far-right Conservatives of Stephen Harper in Ottawa.
It is important that people’s anger not be diverted into dead-end elections and a mere change of personalities at the helm of the capitalist state. True revolutionary forces must step up to the plate to offer a genuine anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist alternative to the people of Québec. The next few months and years will be decisive.
The struggle of the people of Québec against Law 78 and for the students and their demands deserves the continuing support of all ILPS member-organizations. Solidarity messages and statements can be sent to the student associations and letters of protest to Quebec government officials with copies to the ILPS. All are invited to engage in solidarity actions such as banging pots and pans at 8pm each night in support of the casseroles movement. (It’s a good way to start organizing in your neighbourhoods, as many have learned).
Québec has joined the front lines of the struggle against the imperialist and neo-liberal agenda along with the people of Greece, Spain, India, Philippines, Ecuador, Chile and beyond. A growing section of the world’s population is fed up with imperialist and capitalist greed and wars, and the ILPS member-organizations must be on the front lines with them providing support and assistance.
Montréal, Sunday, May 27, 2012
For more information in English (the majority language in Québec is of course French) on the student strike and resistance against Law 78 please visit the following links (this is not an endorsement of all content on the sites):
Translating the printemps érable (Maple Syrup Spring): a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor and biased coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English:
Bill 78, Québec government’s repressive legislation (in English):
Fact file: Quebec’s Bill 78 in summary: www.globalmontreal.com/fact+file+bill+78/6442648356/story.html
Tuition fee hikes 101 (Stop the Hike! site by Assé in French and English) – many other links on same site:
BASICS Community News Service coverage, including video, articles, and a new blog from an embedded journalist in the movement: www.BASICSnews.ca
10 things you should know about the Quebec student movement:
Rabble.ca (on-line progressive news) – also see other articles on Québec student strike and anti-Bill 78 actions on same site (notably articles by Stefan Christoff and Roger Rashi):
Coop media de Montréal – media coverage by the mainstream English media, along with other articles on the struggle:
Global Research – Red Square, Everywhere: With Quebec Student Strikers, Against Repression:
Unrest in Quebec, blog by William M. Burton (list of resources on student strike):