Quebec: students reject "offer" - pressure builds for general strike

Monday, 30 April 2012
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A 20,000 strong demonstration on Friday, April 27, was the response of the Quebec students movement to an "offer" from the government which was really a provocation. It is increasingly clear that only the strength of organised labour can break the stalemate through a 24h general strike.  

Shane MurphyApril 27 demo, Shane Murphy, McGill DailyHere's a report of the latests events from a comrade in Montreal:

"The situation of the student movement in Quebec is moving really fast and there have been many new important developments since our last update.

As we previously reported, the negotiations between the government and the student leaders have ended when the CLASSE was kicked out of the table for supposedly violating the 48 hour truce period. The two other student unions FEUQ and FECQ walk out in solidarity with the CLASSE. This sparked widespread anger among the students, because of the wave of injunctions ordered by the courts during the so-called truce and their attitude towards the CLASSE. Over 10 000 demonstrated against the Charest government Wednesday, that same night.

On Friday April 27th, Charest and the education minister, Line Beauchamp held a press conference claiming that they found a solution to the student crisis and have come up with a generous offer. Their initial planned tuition hike was 1625$ over five years but they announced that they would extend it to a hike over 7 years. However, they have indexed the amount of the hike for the last two years and added it to the initial amount which results in a hike of 1778$. Therefore, instead of a 75% increase in current fees we are now faced with an 82% increase. They also threw in a few crumbs such as increased access to student loans and a committee to ensure the proper governance of universities.

This "offer" (really an insult) was of course rejected unanimously by the student population. There was a massive demonstration of 20 000 students in reaction to this on Friday night. Unlike Wednesday when we all got tear gased, the crowd was determined to kick out the trouble makers and not give in to the provocations of the riot police. About 30 minutes into the march, the cops formed a line to stop it from moving forward, thus preventing thousands of people from advancing down the street without any reports of criminal acts. This was seen as a clear provocation. There was some heated verbal exchanges between demonstrators at the head and riot cops which resulted in people being pepper sprayed and even arrested for just wanting to move forward, but unlike Wednesday, no one panicked and the thousands of student kept advancing despite the smell of pepper spray in the air and surrounded the riot cops. The crowd demanded the cops to move away and they were eventually forced to liberate the street. Everyone wanted this to be a peaceful demonstration and the crowd started policing itself. Groups of people were grabbing the individuals smashing windows and removing them from the demo. The demonstration was thus allowed to continue even after the announcement that it was declared illegal.

There are a couple of videos (here and here) which give a good idea of the size and the mood of the April 27 night time demonstration against the "offer." This video by La Presse also gives a good flavour. La Presse also produced another video showing how the students got rid of the "casseurs" under the slogan of "we make the law in the streets tonight" (ignore  La Presse's  comments about the police being nice to the students). 

"Charest is increasingly being pushed against a wall. The possibility that Quebec might fall into elections sooner than expected is growing. There are reports that divisions caused by the student issue within the Liberal party caucus. The opposition is also increasingly distrustful of how Charest is handling the situation. Even the leader of the CAQ, a more right-wing party than the liberals has called for Charest to resign.

On the side of the unions, there has been a first step by the CSN towards a possible social strike. It called on symbolic pickets at lunch time at all workplaces on Mayday in solidarity with the students on strike. We think that this is just the beginning of a possible mass 24 hour walkout against the Charest government."

The CLASSE, the largest student coalition involved in the strike has now issued an appeal for a "social strike", that is, a general strike, which you can read in French on their website, and in an English translation on rabble.ca. The statement is sharp and strongly worded:

"We not appealing here for some superficial support, with a few union full-timers writing a news release repeating for the umpteenth time their support for the student struggle. On the contrary, we are calling for a convergence of the Quebec people as a whole in opposition to the cutbacks and the commoditization of social services and our collective rights. Only a generalization of the student strike to the workplaces can make this convergence effective. It is therefore a call for a social strike that we are issuing to the population as a whole!"

However, it is not very clear about how the student movement can actually push the trade unions towards calling a general strike. There is a correct emphasis on going to trade union branches, but it lacks a clear appeal to the trade union confederations which would put them under pressure to respond.

As the comrade above reports, the CSN (Confederation of National Trade Unions), Quebec's second largest union confederation, has called for "symbolic picketing of all workplaces at lunch time" on May 1st. This appeal has been backed by a video message from its president (in French). This is a positive step which should be seized by the student movement. Delegations should be sent to as many picket lines as possible with the aim of discussing with the workers the need for a general strike and of getting as many trade union branches as possible to endorse the call and put pressure on the trade union leaders. It is time to go from symbolic gestures to organising a 24h general strike. 

Finally, this is an excellent interview of a member of the IMT on CBC radio, demolishing the focus of the media on "violence" and making a clear case for the basic demands of the students' movement:

And here's a picture gallery of the April 27 demonstration by McGill Diary: