By Roger Annis, March 25, 2015
Post-secondary students across Quebec have launched a “social strike” and protest movement opposing hikes in tuition fees and other austerity measures of the Quebec provincial government. They are also condemning the destructive environmental policies of the Canadian and Quebec governments.
The strike movement began on March 23 and is led by the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ–Association for Trade Union Student Solidarity). According to Le Devoir French-language daily, some 60,000 post-secondary students went on strike on March 23. The Quebec government will table a financial budget on March 26 which contains proposals to hike post-secondary tuition fees and cut many social programs.
The ‘Springtime 2015′ movement was officially launched by ASSÉ with a march of students and workers on a snowy Saturday, March 21 in Montreal. It drew more than 10,000 people. The lead banners of the march read, “Social strike”. A report on the march is published in Rabble.ca. Photos are on Huffington Post.
The strike is projected to last for several weeks and more student associations will be voting across the province in the coming days to join it. A Quebec-wide day of protest has been called for April 2. According to the Facebook page of , some 80,000 students have voted to go on strike that day. Leaders of public sector trade unions are reportedly resisting the pressure from many members to stage a one-day general strike that day.
The four-page plan of action of ASSÉ which was approved in February is published here (in French). The student group is aiming to spur a broad, unitary movement in Quebec against austerity and against the environmental destruction of the capitalist, fossil-fuel based economy. There have been large protests in Quebec in recent months by trade unions opposed to austerity and by environmental groups opposed to the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels, including the transport to Quebec by pipeline or rail of Alberta tar sands bitumen product and fracked, shale oil from North Dakota.
Student-led protests are taking place across regions of Quebec. Students at Laval University in Quebec City have voted to strike. The duration of strikes at each institution vary and are subject to ongoing review.
ASSÉ has 70,000 members in 35 affiliated student associations.
Yesterday evening, March 24, several thousand students and other anti-austerity protesters marched through downtown Montreal. The march was organized by the Mouvement étudiant révolutionnaire (Revolutionary Student Movement), which is affiliated with a Maoist party called the Revolutionary Communist Party. The protest was declared “illegal” by police because organizers declined to request permission from police to stage it, as stipulated by Montreal city bylaw P-6. The law is a decades-old anachronism that was updated in 2012 to be used to clamp down on the mass student movement that staged an historic, months-long strike that year.
Nearly two hours after the march began yesterday, police issued an order to disperse and then attacked.
Charges from 2012 under P-6 are still winding through the courts and the law is facing a supreme court challenge. A full report on the status of the law and the challenges to it was published last month in the McGill Daily.
Earlier the same day, Montreal police staged “preventive” arrests of three protesters in the city center. On Monday, police dispersed a daytime student protest of hundreds that was headed to the headquarters of the giant engineering company SNC Lavalin. Le Devoir cites police in reporting that 24 people were arrested under the terms of P-6 and two were arrested under Criminal Code charges. Directors of SNC Lavalin are awash in accusations and criminal charges of using bribes to win contracts in foreign countries as well in contracts for construction of a new, $1.3 billion ‘super hospital’ in downtown Montreal.
In Quebec City on the same evening, city police arrested an astounding number of protesters at a similar student protest–274 in total! As in Montreal, protesters in Quebec City gathered at 9 pm, in front of the National Assembly. Thirty minutes later, police attacked, citing infractions of ‘peace and order’ city bylaws.