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Yesterday was another day of massive protest in Quebec in support of the student movement's battle against a proposed 75 percent hike in university tuition fees and government repressive apparatus seeking to impose it.
This was the fourth consecutive monthly march in Montreal of solidarity with students, each one on the 22nd day of the month. Previous marches have drawn several hundreds of thousands of participants, including an estimated 400,000 on May 22. This one was smaller, though still a very impressive 100,000, according to organizers.
Many participants were also marching for an anti-capitalist and pro-social, pro-environment direction for society. This was reflected in signs, banners and speeches.
A decline in the size of the march was anticipated by the movement due to the ending of the school year and arrival of the summer months. A supporter of the movement, Amir Khadir, leader of the Québec solidaire party, told Radio Canada news at the starting point, "It's normal during the summer months that some people will be busy with other matters. But the government of Premier Jean Charest would be making a big mistake to think that the movement is running out of steam."
Lead banners on the march (in French) read, "Together, let's block the tuition hike!" and "Education is a right!" Residents of neighbourhoods along the march route hung banners from their apartment balconies, including one that read, "The strike is the students'. The struggle is everyone's."
This monthly action featured something new - three were simultaneous marches in other parts of the province, including in Quebec City and in towns of Bonaventure (Gaspé region) and Baie Comeau (east of Quebec City).
The march in Quebec City drew many thousands of people. It was by far the largest student support action in that city since the beginning of the strike in February of this year. National leaders of two student associations were on hand - president of the FECQ (junior colleges), Éliane Laberge, and co-leader of CLASSE, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.
At a press conference in Quebec City prior to the beginning of the march, Laberge affirmed that students remain on strike in the CEGEPs and are preparing to relaunch their picketing and other activity once the school year resumes. On May 18, the Liberal Party government in Quebec adopted the draconian Law 78 that aims to break the student strike and the three, large students associations leading it. The law suspended the school year at strike-bound institutions until mid-August.
Striking CEGEP students are facing great pressure from school administrators who have announced that students who fail to show up for class in August will receive a 'fail' grade. Laberge told reporters this will not deter the strike, nor will aggressive police efforts to break up picket lines that were seen at CEGEPs in May. She said general assembly meetings of students will take place in August to meet these challenges and warned the government against a misguided belief that students will bow to pressure and intimidation.
Martine Desjardins, the president of FEUQ (university students), similarly explained in Montreal that general assembly meetings at universities would decide action when classes resume.
'Liberate us from the Liberals!'
Seven days ago, another massive expression of support of students took place in Montreal. This time it was a concert by Loco Locasse, one of the most popular music groups in Quebec. Playing at the Francofolies Festival, the group invited the leaders of all the student associations to join them on stage for the finale of their performance.
Directors of the festival forbade the band from allowing student leaders to give short speeches. So the musicians invited the students to join in the closing song, the wildly popular hit tune, 'Liberate us from the Liberals!' Tens of thousands of spectators cheered wildly and sang along.
Quebec's vibrant cultural scene is lined up solidly with the student cause. Yesterday's march included large numbers of prominent and less-prominent artists.
Union members and contingents also joined in, some with banners.
In addition to the mass protests in Quebec, Friday was also another 'Casseroles Night in Canada' taking place in dozens of locations across Canada. This weekend, solidarity actions with Quebec are taking place worldwide.
On Monday, Part II of this article will look at challenges facing the student movement, solidarity efforts elsewhere in Canada, and also the dynamics shaping up around the next provincial election in Quebec.
Roger Annis is a writer, social justice activist and retired aerospace worker in Vancouver.
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