Quebec's student uprising: An interview with Amir Khadir

| June 6, 2012
Amir Khadir in his Quebec City office. (Photo: Michaël Pineault)

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In Quebec City last night, Amir Khadir of Québec solidaire was arrested by police in the Petit Champlain neighbourhood along with many others joining a nightly casseroles protest in solidarity with the Quebec student strike and against Law 78.

Over the past weeks, the Service de police de la Ville de Québec (SPVQ) have been carrying out mass arrests on the streets of Quebec City, attacking popular protests and detaining people on the streets.

On May 28 police in Quebec City carried out a similar mass arrest that swept people off the streets, including Philippe Lapointe, a student activist and appointed negotiator for La Coalition large de l'Association pour une solidarité syndicale (CLASSE). That mass arrest that took place just days before the Liberal government broke off negotiations with student unions.

Police in Quebec City are unjustly using Highway Safety Code laws to crack down on protests. Khadir was given a $494 ticket for violating highway regulations that relate to street protests in no way. Quebec City police are moving to undercut the ability for people to take the streets in the context of a student uprising and climate of growing political repression in Quebec.

Over the last weeks and months Khadir has consistently joined street demonstrations in Quebec City and in Montreal, to express solidarity with the student struggle against Liberal government moves to hike tuition fees over 80 per cent. Khadir and Quebec Solidaire have been solidly supportive of the student struggle against hikes to tuition fees throughout the current strike and before.

Tonight in Montreal, people took the streets for the 43rd consecutive nightly protest, a tradition that has now come to include casseroles in different neighborhoods across the city. On multiple occasions in Montreal, as police forces were launching serious attacks on popular night time protests, including the use of flash bang grenades and physical violence, I have often seen Khadir remaining on the streets in this context, standing steadfast on the streets with thousands of others.

At a few nightly protests when the rain fell hard on people gathered to demand social justice in the face of police violence, I have often seen Khadir joining the protests, walking with his bicycle along with everyone else taking to the streets.

Khadir's arrest Tuesday night in Quebec City points to a broader crisis in Quebec, as police forces utilize repression and mass arrests to undercut a popular movement. Khadir's consistent solidarity, not only in words but in person on the streets, speaks to the common feeling of unity on the streets at this time of political crisis, a feeling of popular resistance that politicians in Quebec City never join - with the one exception being Khadir. 

Last week I had the opportunity to interview Khadir about his perspective on the Quebec student strike and what it means for broader struggles for social justice in Quebec and beyond. In the aftermath of his unjust arrest, I am pleased to be able to share this with you here at rabble.ca.

*

Stefan Christoff: Can you address how the current Quebec student strike has important roots in Quebec's history of militant student and union movements?

Amir Khadir: The student movement is deeply rooted in the contemporary history of Quebec and has had deep influence [on Quebec's political] evolution.

Back in 1968, the student movement was already struggling against hikes and for justice in Quebec society, winning key demands and facing defeats on others, remember operation McGill francais, for example.

The movement then erupted in the political arena by giving the then arising social democratic Parti Québécois (PQ) one of the most prominent of its first seven MNAs, Claude Charron.

[Also the student movement shaped a] multitude of political actors and ideas among the sovereignists, as well as often more radical political proposals of the 70s at different levels (social, municipal, national politics), including the demand for free education. Several cycles of
struggles and strikes followed in the next years.

The student strike in 2005, although a mixed success, did give energy to the emerging political left in Quebec, including energy toward Quebec solidaire - some of its best organizers and theorists come from the student movement. They are at the heart of all of our recent successes.

SC: Can you reflect on how the current Quebec student strike speaks to larger questions on austerity economics being imposed in Quebec and across Canada?

AK: The student strike is strong as it is because of a wide support from popular groups, unions, environmental groups as well as artists.

These forces are backing the movement because it crystallizes the essence of a wide range of their own demands: Alliance sociale (CSN, FTQ, CSQ, FEUQ, FECQ) and la Coalition opposée à la tarification et la privatisation des services, both regroup hundreds of thousands of members united against the Liberal Bachand austerity budget

These actors are asking the government to make budgetary and political choices that are contrary to the framework of politics of austerity.

So it's no surprise to see how a movement contesting one of the most symbolic measures of the austerity budget, the tuition fee hike, drags such a wide support from all sectors of society.

SC: As someone who has been involved in progressive causes in Quebec for decades can you address why the current student strike is inspiring?

AK: The movement is where it is today because people have suddenly realized how much power they have when they are united.

It is inspiring because of a particularly well prepared strike (in the making since 2010). It is inspiring because of the organizational practices of the CLASSE, which with the help of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) has forced the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) to remain in solidarity up to know, insuring by the same token the objective hegemony of the most radical component of the student movement while maintaining unity at the same time.

The current strike is inspiring because of the particular creativity of different expressions on the street, from the printemps érable slogan, to nightly demonstrations and now the casseroles uprising.

It's inspiring also due to the spectacular ability and charm of its main spokespersons, that contrasts a great deal with the poor image and impotent discourse of the government ministers.

It's inspiring because it widely practices generosity and solidarity across the left political arena, for example the FEUQ's Martine Desjardins's supportive attitude toward the CLASSE. [There has been] coordination between the different student unions to hold massive protests on March 22 first and recently on May 22, despite wide differences in political perspective.

In a way [the solidarity] in the Quebec student movement in 2012 [should inspire] a spirit of wider solidarity in Quebec society, meaning that the health of politics today in Quebec could become one of the most important victories of this movement.


This interview with was conducted by rabble.ca contributor Stefan Christoff, a community activist and musician in Montreal who you can follow at
http://www.twitter.com/spirodon/

 

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