Victory for Quebec students

Students and their supporters throughout the Canadian province of Quebec are celebrating the ousting of Liberal Premier Jean Charest, the promise of the withdrawal of Bill 78 and most importantly the freeze in tuition fees. This victory comes after six months of student strike involving more than 190 000 students.

Quebec students who already paid the lowest tuition fees across North America were faced with a 75% tuition fee increase. Even if the planned increase had gone ahead, Quebec students still would have pay less than in any other Canadian province. Why? Quebec students have a strong tradition of fighting for free education since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. And if you fight you can win!

During the six month –long strike many the demonstrations held on the 22nd of each month reached up to 500 000 protesters. However, it was the roughly180 local unions organised in CLASSE which carried the fight from day to day shutting down the Port of Montreal, ministerial meetings and nearly all classes in post-secondary education across the province.

In the face of state repression, the use of tear gas, shock grenades, the arrest of thousands of protesters, and riot police in college corridors, students didn’t buckle but instead called upon workers and the neighbourhoods to join in nightly pots and pans protests, the casseroles. Charest’s unpopular Bill 78 acted as a catalyist for the student movement to turn into a popular movement.

But student protesters were not only campaigning against tuition fees. Time again, they argued that Finance Minister Raymond Bachand’s provincial budget of 2011-2012 would cut public and accessible healthcare, hydroelectricity and education.

Over the last nine years in power the Liberals have pursued to restructure society in the interest of the rich. Tax cuts for corporations have gone hand in hand with increasing the retirement age to 67. After trade unions suffered a blow in 2005 it was announced that student fees were to increase. As the ‘sacred cows of Quebecoise society’ came under attack students engaged in a ‘general strike’, causing significant economic damage to the provincial government. This meant that the elections were a referendum on the student movement and dominated by two topics: tuition fees and student debt.

With full privatisation looming, students did not want to see a repeat of their 2005 strike, which saw them go back to class empty-handed. Students have learnt some important lessons. They are organising on a departmental/faculty basis, which has strengthened the overall organisation of the strike. This has also helped them to hold their unions and executives to account.

The high point of the ‘Quebec Spring’ has been the 350,000-strong demonstration in Montreal on May 22. Following the biggest student demonstration ever, students called for a week of economic disruptions, bringing inner cities’ traffic to a standstill while also mobilising 30,000 parents in support of the students’ demands. The two largest public sector unions also called their membership on to the streets for the mobilisation.

The looming summer break did not succeed in breaking the strike either. Instead students continued to carry their message into the streets and to the election rallies.

While the mainstream media continuously claimed that the liberal government had “extended a hand” by offering students an “increased bursary and loan programs”, the government was intent on breaking the movement time again. Premier Jean Charest said: “The decision has been made and we will not back down”. This only strengthened the determination of student strikers, and led them to forge new alliances. Students organised solidarity with locked-out Rio Tinto Alcan workers and with hundreds of Aveos employees who recently lost their jobs.

Protests also saw environmentalists and students come out together. They stormed the top floor of a conference centre in which Charest was to unveil further details of his ‘Plan Nord’, a mining plan which will see a 1.2-million-square kilometre stretch of indigenous land be sold off to big business.

At the same time, other students stormed a meeting of the federal Immigration minister Jason Kenney, best known for his anti-gay and anti-immigration stances.

This display of resistance has inspired activists far beyond the provincial borders of Quebec. The question is whether the newly elected nationalist government will stick to its promises and whether students will continue to be part of the fight for a different kind of society. Another Quebec is possible! Another world is possible!

by Mark Bergfeld

Note from EAN: This is written by an education activist in the UK and solely reflects his opinions. If you would like to write a response please e-mail or leave a comment below


About educationactivistnetwork
The education activist network provides national coordination for trade unionists, academics, university workers and student campaigners fighting to defend jobs and education in the UK.

9 Responses to Victory for Quebec students

  1. J.R. Wirshing says:

    While I applaud these students’ democratic success in retaining their nearly-free post-secondary education, I also wonder what other aspect(s) of government services must necessarily be reduced in order to provide the funding needed to make this a reality. Is it truly worth the cost, or should these students be expected to shoulder more of their own expenses?

  2. Ben says:

    Nice paper but it is way exagerated, there was no 400K strong protest it was more like 200-250K, these elections are NOT a referendum as the winning party is in minority and the opposition is NOT progressist, The 78 bill has NOT been canceled and tuition fees have NOT been frozen.

    Jean Charest, the quitting Prime Minister has retreated with all the money he stole and his quitting bonus, he is happy as a motherfuk, Pauline Marois, the new Prime Minister has nearly got assasinated and the students are celebrating a fake victory that feels to me like it was staged from the beginning.

  3. By the way, your first paragraph is not true. Pauline Marois is planning to do those things, but nothing has been done yet. She was elected only 2 days ago (during which an attempt was already made at her life..). The student crisis is not over yet and Bill 78 is still very much active.

  4. raven says:

    as happy as i am about all this, i hope that there is at least a moment of silence for the young people who were injured, including at least one young student who lost an eye.

  5. That ain’t a victory, it may seems for now, but that’s only to calm down things… The new premiere had said that yes, she will withdraw this tution hike, but she will try to impose another tution hike adjusted on inflation/life costs… On the long term, that may be worse, it’s only a scam to shut up the students of Quebec and make them think they’ve won… This whole student conflict is a bless for the people in governement, to avoid talking about Quebec’s natural ressources that are being actually stolen by big international companies for almost nothing… This new governement isn’t that different from the last one, it may seem, but in practice, we’re still fucked…

    -A Quebec’s student who feels betrayed again and again, that’s the story of quebecers…

  6. hooliganpost says:

    Can someone give these guys a hand to pry themselves off of the cross?

    This was not Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, so can we please tone down the hyperbole of victimization and persecution? Students were asked to pay an additional $325 a year into what are already the lowest tuition cost in North America. Whether or not you believe that it was justified, I think we can all agree that it was hardly the Bolivian privatization of drinking water or the Arab Spring. Come guys. Perspective time. You aren’t Benazir Bhutto, you aren’t Gandhi, you just saved some dough on your Sexology Degree so that you can go out and get tanked.

  7. Tim Douglas says:

    Congratulations EAN,
    We in Australia are hopeless at standing up for our rights. I am in the Socialist Alliance and you inspire us to keep going.

  8. Nathalie Pellerin says:

    Yes, tuition fees in Québec are low because the students have fought for it. But tuition fees are lower than in the rest of Canada (ROC) because the whole civil society agreed in the 70s to be taxed more than anywhere else in the ROC, in order to offer affordable education to all Quebecers. Therefore, students do shoulder their share of the bill: once they start to earn money! And for the rest of their lives they help others get a chance to educate themselves.
    Pauline Marois will take down the student fee hike and the hateful Loi 78 by decree. But it will first take two weeks for the transfer of power from the old government to the new to be concluded. Then I believe there will be a massive manifestation of joy all over Québec!

  9. Don Levell says:

    Quebec\’s government had NOTHING to do with changing the age for getting OAS to 67. That was the federal government in Ottawa. Pauline Marois will have a tough time doing anything she wants because of her minority position. This ”Victory” article is full of inaccuracies!

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