January 31, 2012

Quebec students gear-up for strikes

PV Montreal Bureau

A demonstration by the ASSÉ
Québec students are campaigning against the Charest Liberal government's 75% tuition fee hikes. Successful actions have been building across the province, and a major student strike on the national‑level is expected this March, shutting down campuses in all big cities and regions of Québec.

Strike votes will be take place in early February. Full‑time student tuition in Québec is increasing by over $1600, in addition to extra fees charged on campus.

Since September students have been holding a series of escalating actions, building pressure against the government. Some campuses saw students staging "paper storms" after paying tuition, as thousands of bills were thrown from campus balconies like confetti. Students also built a brick wall overnight in front of the minister of education's office door, highlighting blocked access to education.

The most significant protest was a demonstration of over 30,000 in the streets of Montreal. Even some campuses that have been shy of militant mobilization joined in. McGill students returned to occupy the president's office and were violently forced out by riot police.

The demo was the first united student march since 2005 when Québec students rallied with the labour movement for several weeks, shutting down high schools, colleges and universities, as well as the port of Montreal, in the largest education mobilization in Canadian history. That protest halted large fee increases until now, although it also created controversy, when one block of student unions broke unity to negotiate a compromise deal without consulting the broader movement.

In Québec, student unions hold campus‑wide general assemblies several times a year to decide important strategic and policy questions. Student unions are affiliated into three major groups ‑ the left‑wing Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), and the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ). There is also a much looser organized TASQ and a large number of unaffiliated or independent student unions.

"Students are angry and optimistic," Marianne Breton Fontaine, leader of the Ligue de la jeunesse communiste du Québec, told People's Voice. Breton Fontaine pointed to a November all‑student union meeting which agreed on a basis of unity around accessible education, and also a new coalition uniting ASSÉ with seven other student unions.

"Already some campuses have voted yes, but the FEUQ appears to be working on its own strategy, electing the nationalist Parti Quebecois," Breton Fontaine said.

"In the electoral struggle is it is not the PQ but Quebec solidaire that is closest to the demands of the students, but at any rate this question will mainly be decided on the streets," she said, pointing to the "Red Hand" coalition (labour, housing and other social activists, as well as many students) which is calling for a political strike in defence of public services, free health care and education, and progressive taxation. "Connecting as many people as possible, linking students' demands with broader social-economic issues ‑ like the austerity budget and economic crisis ‑ this is the way forward," she concluded.

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