The Quebecois student movement is currently insane. And amazing! Actions in response to the provincial government’s attempt to increase tuition fees by 85% over 7 years have escalated and increased in frequency over the past few months. Marches have brought out hundreds of thousands of students, and are taking place across the province. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of students have been on strike, often wildcat strikes, for several months. The opposition to the fee hikes (“la hausse”) converges with and builds on other struggles of the past year, such as the strikes and pickets against stagnant wages and bad faith negotiations by the non-academic staff union at McGill, and the violently repressed student occupations of administrative buildings in defense of campus radical groups such as CKUT (an independent radio station) and QPIRG (not like PIRGs here, but a v. cool funding hub for community orgs funded by student levies). As negotiations among student unions and the provincial government prove fruitless, students have started to come out at night, and the spirit of the demonstrations has shifted from a concession to civility to a more defiant and pissed stance, particularly against the expected but still ghastly uptick in police brutality.
Today, there were two demos, a heavily repressed night march that continues at the time of writing (quarter past 1 AM), and earlier, a feminist march “contre cette sale hausse sexiste” (“against this dirty, sexist hike”). Organized by CLASSE, a committee formed to combat the hikes by the syndicalist Quebecois student union ASSE, the march propaganda argued that the structural disadvantages and poverty women face relative to men means a hike in tuition will affect women first and hardest. A relatively small demo to begin with (~150), around 85 protestors were soon kettled and, after 2 hours in the shitty cold, were each taken to police headquarters and issued tickets of nearly 500 dollars.
It is hard to understand why there is so little coverage of the student movement outside of Quebec — I suspect the language barrier has something to do with it, but still. It’s really exciting, particularly because students in PQ are determined to connect their issues to a broader critique of capitalist society and especially a refusal of government attempting to mitigate financial crisis with the imposition of austerity measures. Because there is a strong feminist tendency within the student movement, CLASSE and other organizations have taken care to feature a feminist social policy analysis, adopting a position laid out by the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University’s Women and Gender Studies department.
Apart from their reverence for the wildfire uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East signalled by the slogan “le printemps erable” (“the maple spring”), however, Quebecois students have yet to treat issues of race and migration with the same importance allocated to sexual difference. It’s a funny tension in PQ left-wing circles that anti-imperialism is so strong and determinant of anti-capitalist and student movements, but it is so because quebeckers feel themselves subordinated in the context of Anglo Canada — this means they are often more indiscriminately against imperialism than they are aware of their own specific national and white privilege. More analysis of the effects of austerity on students of colour and migrant students (Montreal in fact has a robust no borders-type migrant justice movement) are necessary to bring the racial dimensions of the neoliberal university into sharper focus.
CUTV, Concordia’s campus community television station, broadcasts livestream coverage of demos on the regular: http://www.livestream.com/cutvmontreal.
Anyway — c’est cool, ca.