December 30, 2013

Cross-Canada Student Unity

The following article appeared in the Winter 2013-2014 edition of Rebel Youth Magazine, together with this article about the student fightback.

While the struggles for accessible secondary and post-secondary education in English-speaking Canada, Quebec, Acadia, and among Aboriginal peoples share a common class interest they have distinct political histories and realities of struggle.  These matters must be addressed to build student unity.

Aboriginal students

For Aboriginal youth, the struggle for quality accessible education was linked to self-determination and sovereignty.

After over 100 years of genocidal residential schools, Aboriginal students’ demands include authority over the curriculum and the education process, including reinforcing traditional languages, culture, and identity.

For many First Nations students education is not only a human right but also a treaty right, denied by the federal government. The attack on First Nations University is one of many struggles.

Although education funding for Aboriginal students is a Federal treaty there has also been a racist-funding cap imposed for many years which continues to erode access to post-secondary education.

Acadien students

A similar story is true of Acadien students, whose history includes being «ethnically cleansed» from what is now Nova Scotia in the Acadian deportation. Those who were allowed to return, or hid in the woods of New Brunswick, have had a hard battle to win French-language colleges and universities.


In Quebec, despite a large and majority French-speaking population, there was also a fight for French-language education.  Throwing off an out-of-date education system mainly geared towards training priests, and where the only scientific, technical and medical training was in English, the interests of working people and the emerging capitalists temporarily coincided in a period known as the «Quiet Revolution» -- a time when the people of Quebec asserted themselves as a nation and confronted the legacy of colonial conquest by the British Empire.

Thus Quebec totally revised its education system into a different model that the rest of Canada, ending high school at year 11 and allowing students to complete two or more years at CEGEP, equivalent to the last year of high school and first years of post-secondary, essentially for free.

The promise was made to the people by the ruling class that university too would soon become free but, not surprisingly, this was not delivered and the brakes were put on further progressive reforms.

Conscious of their national oppression, and with a strong trade union movement, the student movement continued mobilizing, understanding free and democratic education as part of the unfinished project of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec..

The Rest Of Canada

In English-speaking Canada, universities were basically the domain of the elite, and mainly for men, until the end of WWII.

At that time, like in Quebec, technological developments demanded the capitalists better train their workers, while the public also pushed for full access to knowledge and learning for their children.

Today, students complete 12 years of high school and then, if they can afford it, can enter into either college, university, technical or trade school. The uneven economic development of capitalism in Canada has meant that not all provinces were able to fund post secondary, but the Canadian Constitution has consistently proved a barrier to common programmes placing education as a provincial matter.

Loans, not grants, are made available to students. Students in English-speaking Canada have fought hard to build a united movement at the cross-Canada level to fight this situation. Unfortunately, the English-speaking students have never been able to work out an agreement with Quebec students to form a common alliance -- unlike the labour movement.

While the CFS has lead the way with many equity initiatives it has never overcome big national chauvinism and recognized the multi-national character of Canada.


The YCL proposes student unity on an equal and voluntary basis of all nations, with Aboriginal, Acadian and Quebec students having complete control over their policies and structures as decided by themselves, with guaranteed and significant representation in all decision making processes.

This is the precondition for unity of the student movement across Canada.

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