On the night of Wednesday, 23rd May, the police moved towards a “hard application” of “special law” 78. This is just one day after hundreds of thousands of students, workers, and their families flooded the streets of downtown Montreal in what was the biggest demonstration, and the biggest mass defiance of a law, in Canadian history.
A new phenomenon, which clearly shows the depth of support for the students and the hatred for the heavy handedness of the government, has been the development of the “casserole protests”. Last night, hundreds of parents and children assembled in the streets in different neighbourhoods banging pots, pans, and casserole dishes to show their defiance of law 78. These illegal demonstrations drew visible support from apartment buildings where old ladies banged pots and many people flooded onto the streets to join the protest. This was in combination to the 30th nightly demo, which drew thousands and marched through the streets for hours. The choice of using pots and pans to protest was a significant one; these protests became famous in Chile and Argentina in the 1970s as a means for housewives and children to protest the right-wing dictatorships of the day, and the assassinations and “disappearances” of loved ones.
The mood was electric but tense as news had been leaked earlier in the day that the police were busing in officers from outside of province and were planning on a major crackdown of protests. At a simultaneous demonstration in Quebec City, news rolled in via Twitter that the police there had begun kettling protestors — mass arrests had started. As of the writing of this article, it has been confimred that at least 176 people were arrested in Quebec City alone. Later on in the night, the police commenced to cut the Montreal demonstration in pieces, kettling hundreds of defiant protesters and arresting them en masse. A total of 518 arrests were declared. Each person arrested was stuffed onto public transport buses (a move borrowed from the NYC police), and brought in for processing where they were each charged $630 for participating in an illegal demonstration. This brings the total arrested to over 2,700 since the start of the strike in February.
All of the main student unions have promised legal counsel for those arrested and fined under this new law. It is clear that a legal battle alone will not suffice.
A law is only a piece of paper if it cannot be enforced. So far, even with the mass repressions, we have seen the limitations of this law as the police have been forced to allow “illegal” protests to continue, simply because there were too many people to arrest. At this point the best legal defence for those detained or fined is further mass mobilization to force this law to be repealed and for the charges to be dropped.
With the movement spreading further into the working class, the possibility of a general strike becomes more of a concrete reality. With 40% of the work force unionized in Quebec, these casserole protests are obviously attended by mostly unionized mother, fathers , aunts, and uncles. We need to go to these workers and talk to them about bring this struggle into their unions and workplaces. The movement is about more than just tuition fees now; with news on Thursday morning that Charest's chief of cabinet just resigned, this movement brings into question the entire existence of the Charest government.
The support for the students shown by the main workers’ unions needs to turn from words into concrete action. If the students can bring out upwards of 400,000 people onto the streets while everyone is at work, imagine the numbers, and more importantly the message, we could send if all of the workers went on strike for a day. More importantly, the workers have the ability to show concretely who really holds the power in our society — is it the corrupt politicians at the service of the banks and multinationals hiding behind their repressive police force, or us, the students and workers, the majority of society.
Bring the workers into the struggle! For a 24 hour general strike!