Thoughts on the situation in Quebec from a Canadian Comrade
By Richard Thompson, 28.6.2012
The decision, by the Quebec government, to incrementally impose (over the next 5 years) a 75% tuition hike, is not a decision without precedent. In 1996, the government, through Education Minister Pauline Marois, attempted to implement a 30% tuition fee increase. On October 24th 1996, a student strike began numbering roughly 100.000 students; by November 18th 1996 a tuition freeze was reinstated. More recently, in 2005, the government attempted to drastically reduce the financial aid, available to struggling students and families, by slashing $103 million from its budget. By March 15th 2005, over half of Quebec's student population was on strike; on April 1st 2005, Education Minister Jean-Marc Fournier caved into the students demands and the cuts were reversed.
Monstrous tuition increases
While the attempted tuition increase, this time around, is not without precedent, the reaction from the students certainly is; which is a testament not only to the culture of resistance which exists in the province of Quebec, but also to the global heightening of class struggle. The social science students who, on February 13th, marched from their classrooms at Laval University and began the ongoing student strike, did not realize that they were tipping over the first domino in the series of events which would lead to what is now known as "the largest act of public disobedience in Canadian history". What prompted them to leave their classrooms and take to the streets? To fight, once again, for their conviction that education is not a privilege, but a right!
While the proposed increase is 75% over the course of the next 5 years, to fully understand the severity of the tuition hikes, past tuition increases must also be taken into account. If the proposed tuition hike is pushed through, it would result in tuition being raised 127% in the past 10 years. If successful, the tuition increase will be the largest in Quebec history, following the wave of harsh austerity measures being forced upon the working class world wide. States around the world are telling their citizens that proper fiscal management is needed in the wake of the 2008 financial crises; which is, of course, little more than bourgeois allocution for: "We’re going to cut your social services."
Faced with such monstrous tuition increases the students are left with two choices: leave school, or join the average university graduate in Canada who leaves school with $27 000 in student debt. In other words the students of Quebec are being asked to individually bear the repercussions forced upon them by the global capitalist system. It is now clear that Quebec has become the center of the anti-capitalist struggle in Canada and their strike reaffirms the reality that in capitalist society students are consumers and education a commodity.
However, what needs to be stressed and brought to the forefront of the struggle is that the tuition increases are simply unnecessary; far from the picture the Harper government is attempting to paint: the tuition hikes being an economic, rather than political decision. Quebec, as is known to many, has some of the highest university funding in the world; the issue at hand is that corporate research is prioritized over actual teaching, instructing and education.
The antidote to this bourgeois illness? An unlimited general strike, the most recent in a string of student general strikes in Quebec history, including: 1968, 1974, 1978, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1996, and 2005. While the Canadian media has attempted to discredit the protesters by slandering them in the press as lazy and privileged, the truth is that an unlimited general strike was a last resort to the students who wished to avoid delaying their studies and who also deployed a diversity of tactics to halt the tuition hikes prior to the strike.
Such an unlimited general strike must be organized from below to the top: from mass assemblies in all universities which elect delegates to set up a central coordination. Against the attempts of the police forces to suppress the demonstrations the students and the workers movement must organize centralized self-defense to fight back against the police.
In addition the students should appeal to the working class and the trade unions to join the struggle. “Students and Workers united! For your rights and ours!” Such an orientation to the working class would give the present struggle not only the necessary social weight – if the workers strike, the economy stands still. It would also help to build a long-term alliance between the progressive sectors of the university students and the working class and thus help to reduce the strong influence of the middle class and bourgeoisie at the universities. The significance of this influence is not surprising given the fact that many university students will become part of the middle class and bourgeoisie if they finish their studies (or at least hope so) and the strong role of bourgeois ideology at the universities. To play a consistent progressive role university student must break with any middle class outlook and orientate to the working class. Since it is the working class and only the working class which can liberate humanity – in Canada and globally!
The struggle escalates
The struggle in Quebec, however, has transcended the realm of simply being a student strike; as exemplified and succinctly expressed in a slogan from the earliest marches: "It is a student strike and a popular struggle!" For those coming from a Marxist perspective it is clear that the struggle in Quebec is but merely a component of the global class struggle and represents a rise in the international intensification of class antagonisms. While socialist class consciousness is far from present, for the first time in a long time people are angry. Perhaps they are not sure what they are angry about, or how it can be fixed, but the anger at the current system is there; which is why the timely formation of an international revolutionary party should be of absolute necessity to any Canadian anti-capitalists.
Faced with such widespread popular anger, the ruling class is beginning to tremble; as is shown by the crackdown on civil liberties in the province of Quebec. A new law, bill 78, passed just recently is perhaps the best example: 8 hours before any march which has more than 50 people, the police department must be made aware of the route, time and duration. Those caught breaking bill 78, face fines ranging from 7,000 to 35,000 for student leaders and 25,000 to 125,000 for student unions. Nothing but a despicable cash grab by the state which has determined that the "right" to protest and the "right" to freedom of expression are "rights" which can be taken away. But the police also have another "tool" to deal with the protesters as a new law stipulates that severe fines will be handed out to any protesters who is caught wearing a mask or concealing his or her identity.
From what I am being told by a comrade in Quebec, the students have not only been extremely politicized through the strike (as happens when youth are faced with the brutality of the police system for the first time, forcing upon them the reality that the police are not our friends) but also have refused to cease the struggle. In the face of the recent and ridiculous laws passed, attempting to hinder the ability of the protesters, the students stand together, stand stall, and raise one fist in the air while shouting: "Protest every night until victory!"
* No to tuition increases!
* No compliance with bill 78!
* For mass assemblies and election of delegates to set up a national coordination!
* For organized self-defense against the police!
* For an unlimited general strike!
* For joint struggle of university students and workers!
* Victory to the Quebec student struggle!
* Forward in building the RCIT!