Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Many Thousands Defy Draconian New Laws As Quebec Struggle Rapidly Intensifies

Enormous numbers of students and allies are now opposing the government
The hugely militant student movement in the Canadian province of Quebec has been galvanised by a massive state clampdown, and the ruling class now fears this new 'contagion' will spread to the wider working class in neighbouring provinces, as well as the United States to the south. But as new negotiations begin between the government and student associations, the threat of another sell-out remains.

A month ago I reported on the student strike against tuition fee increases equivalent to just over a thousand UK pounds. Even then, the dispute had already rumbling for twelve weeks, and the elite was anxious to stop it with force. I described how:
"The Canadian ruling class senses that a student victory could prove a turning point in class struggle generally, and is determined to hold out. Montreal Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Michel Leblanc declared that Quebec's government "shouldn't give in or make any compromises". In the province's major daily La Presse, a former editor argued that students must be defeated so as "break" the "mold" of "attachment to the status quo…of acquired rights". The current editor was more explicit, spelling out elite fears that "If the Charest government were to follow the advice of the left and wets who, while in favour of the tuition fee hikes, tremble at the sight of a ‘crisis,’ there would no longer be the means to carry out any reform whatsoever in Quebec."
This was fascist talk, and it would soon be followed up by a totalitarian assault on democratic rights. This came when students overwhelmingly rejected a sell-out 'deal' negotiated by the students associations, under which the full increase would have been implemented, with only allowed association members to sit on a committee to find further "savings" - i.e. cuts. When students came out against this, the government suspended the academic year until the autumn, and steamrollered the now notorious Bill 78 through Quebec's National Assembly.

Under the terms of this police state law:
  • Students and their supporters are banned from picketing within 50 metres of university and college buildings
  • Teachers must go against their own collective decision, and make no allowances for striking students
  • Student associations and teachers' trade unions "must employ appropriate means to induce" members to obey the law, or face fines
  • Demonstrations of more than fifty people are illegal unless the police have been given at least eight hours' notice of the planned route, and the police reserve the right to make their own alterations to the route
'Casserole' protests are trending on Twitter and the streets
But students and their supporters immediately raised a middle finger to the law - quite literally, in the protest route map they handed in to cops as it came into effect. There have been demonstrations every night since, with hundreds of thousands from an ever wider range of people coming out in solidarity. Many participants bang pots and pans to rally others, in a conscious re-enactment of tactics first popularised by those resisting Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile. In response, the authorities have arrested more than a thousand engaged in "illegal" demonstrations - but even this huge figure is still a tiny fraction of those taking part.

When 'representatives' from the student associations emerge from this latest round of talks with the government, we can be sure they will come back with another sell-out. After all on Monday, the spokesman from (supposedly the most militant organisation) CLASSE praised the province's premier with conciliatory words: "The presence of Mr Charest shows that the government recognizes the scale of the current crisis. It shows the government's sincere attitude towards the negotiation process." 

This is a distortion. No-one at the talks is there out of any 'sincerity'; each participant is seeking to advance their own individual interests. The crucial question now is how the students - plus the Quebecois and Canadian working class as a whole - will react to further repression once any new deal falls short of student requirements.
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