Tag Archives: CLASSE

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Anna Kruzynski on Quebec’s Maple Spring (video)

(Via РСД)

DemocracyNow.org (May 25, 2012) – More than 400,000 filled the streets of Montreal this week as a protest over a 75 percent increase in tuition has grown into a full-blown political crisis. After three months of sustained protests and class boycotts that have come to be known around the world as the “Maple Spring,” the dispute exploded when the Quebec government passed an emergency law known as Bill 78, which suspends the current academic term, requires demonstrators to inform police of any protest route involving 50 or more people, and threatens student associations with fines of up to $125,000 if they disobey. The strike has received growing international attention as the standoff grows, striking a chord with young people across the globe amid growing discontent over austerity measures, bleak economies and crushing student debt. We’re joined by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for CLASSE, the main coalition of student unions involved in the student strikes in Quebec; and Anna Kruzynski, assistant professor at the School of Community and Public Affairs at Concordia University in Montreal. She has been involved in the student strike as a member of the group “Professors Against the Hike.”

Leave a comment

Filed under activism, film and video, interviews, political repression, protests, student movements, trade unions

Putinism Comes to Quebec?

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/24/opinion/our-not-so-friendly-northern-neighbor.html

WHEN Vladimir V. Putin first came to power in Russia, Quebecers could not help but laugh. Poutine, as he is called in French, is also the name of a Québécois fast-food dish made of French fries, gravy and cheese. But these days the laughter is over, as Quebec gets a taste of Mr. Putin’s medicine.

For a change, Americans should take note of what is happening across the quiet northern border. Canada used to seem a progressive and just neighbor, but the picture today looks less rosy. One of its provinces has gone rogue, trampling basic democratic rights in an effort to end student protests against the Quebec provincial government’s plan to raise tuition fees by 75 percent.

On May 18, Quebec’s legislative assembly, under the authority of the provincial premier, Jean Charest, passed a draconian law in a move to break the 15-week-long student strike. Bill 78, adopted last week, is an attack on Quebecers’ freedom of speech, association and assembly. Mr. Charest has refused to use the traditional means of mediation in a representative democracy, leading to even more polarization. His administration, one of the most right-wing governments Quebec has had in 40 years, now wants to shut down opposition.

The bill threatens to impose steep fines of 25,000 to 125,000 Canadian dollars against student associations and unions — which derive their financing from tuition fees — in a direct move to break the movement. For example, student associations will be found guilty if they do not stop their members from protesting within university and college grounds.

During a street demonstration, the organization that plans the protest will be penalized if individual protesters stray from the police-approved route or exceed the time limit imposed by authorities. Student associations and unions are also liable for any damage caused by a third party during a demonstration.

These absurd regulations mean that student organizations and unions will be held responsible for behavior they cannot possibly control. They do not bear civil responsibility for their members as parents do for their children.

Freedom of speech is also under attack because of an ambiguous — and Orwellian — article in Bill 78 that says, “Anyone who helps or induces a person to commit an offense under this Act is guilty of the same offense.” Is a student leader, or an ordinary citizen, who sends a Twitter message about civil disobedience therefore guilty? Quebec’s education minister says it depends on the context. The legislation is purposefully vague and leaves the door open to arbitrary decisions.

Since the beginning of the student strike, leaders have told protesters to avoid violence. Protesters even condemned the small minority of troublemakers who had infiltrated the demonstrations. During the past four months of protests, there has never been the kind of rioting the city has seen when the local National Hockey League team, the Canadiens, wins or loses during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The biggest demonstration, which organizers estimate drew 250,000 people on May 22, was remarkably peaceful. Mr. Charest’s objective is not so much to restore security and order as to weaken student and union organizations. This law also creates a climate of fear and insecurity, as ordinary citizens can also face heavy fines.

Bill 78 has been fiercely denounced by three of four opposition parties in Quebec’s Legislature, the Quebec Bar Association, labor unions and Amnesty International. James L. Turk, the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, called Bill 78 “a terrible act of mass repression” and “a weapon to suppress dissent.”

The law will remain in force only until July 1, 2013. The short duration says it all. It amounts to a temporary suspension of certain liberties and allows the government to avoid serious negotiations with student leaders. And it grants the authorities carte blanche for the abuse of power; just hours after it passed, police officers in Montreal began to increase the use of force against protesters.

Some critics have tried to portray the strike as a minority group’s wanting a free lunch. This is offensive to most Quebec students. Not only are they already in debt, despite paying low tuition fees, but 63 percent of them work in order to pay their university fees. The province has a very high rate of youth employment: about 57 percent of Quebecers between the ages of 15 and 24 work, compared with about 49 percent between the ages of 16 and 24 in the United States.

Both Quebec and Canada as a whole are pro-market. They also share a sense of solidarity embodied by their public health care systems and strong unions. Such institutions are a way to maintain cohesion in a vast, sparsely populated land. Now those values are under threat.

Americans traveling to Quebec this summer should know they are entering a province that rides roughshod over its citizens’ fundamental freedoms.

Laurence Bherer and Pascale Dufour are associate professors of political science at the University of Montreal.

_____

http://montreal.openfile.ca/blog/montreal/2012/explainer-first-24-hours-bill-78

Explainer: The first 24 hours of Bill 78

Posted by Justin Giovannetti on Saturday, May 19, 2012

After a rare nighttime debate at the National Assembly, Bill 78 was approved by a vote of 68-48 on Friday afternoon with the nearly full support of the Liberal caucus and the right-wing Coalition Avenir Quebec.

Given the tongue-twisting name of, “An act to enable students to receive instruction from the postsecondary institutions they attend,” the bill imposes severe limitations on a Quebecers’ right to hold a spontaneous assembly:

  • Semesters at campuses impacted by the student strike are immediately suspended, due to start again in August.
  • Demonstrations with more than 50 people must provide the police with a time, location and duration at least eight hours in advance. The police may modify any of these parameters at any time.
  • All gatherings are banned within 50 metres of a campus.
  • Student associations not “employing appropriate means to induce” their members to comply with the law are guilty of violating the law. Individuals also fall under this and can be guilty by omission or for providing advice.
  • Fines range from $1,000 for individuals to $125,000 for student associations. Fines double for repeat offences.

Opposition from legal scholars
Many of Quebec’s organizations and professional associations showed some concern about the law. Typically a quiet and conservative organization, the Quebec Bar came out swinging against the bill.

“This bill infringes many of the fundamental rights of our citizens. The basis of a democracy is the rule of law. We must respect the law. We must also respect fundamental freedoms, like the freedom to protest peacefully, the freedom of speech and the freedom of association,” Bar President Louis Masson told The Globe and Mail.

Speaking to CBC’s The House, former judge John Gomery was critical of the law. While some believe that the law would not stand up to a court hearing, a sunset clause of July 1, 2013 will probably keep it out of the Supreme Court.

“My view is that this legislation is part of the extreme reaction that this debate has provoked. Violent demonstrations provoke violent reactions,” Gomery told CBC host Evan Solomon. “I think it is surely going to be contested before the courts.”

Quebec favours the law
According to a CROP poll commissioned by La Presse, 66 per cent of Quebecers are in favour of the law. Some are discounting the poll because of its small sample of 800 responses. The poll also showed a record low level of Quebecers supporting a tuition freeze: 32 per cent.

CLASSE takes down calendar
So that it is not found guilty of aiding protest that might not be properly planned or executed, the student coalition CLASSE removed a calendar from its website where students added planned activities. A central point for organizing protests, CLASSE was facing a fine of $125,000 for the first offence.

Montreal police lines jammed by people filing “protest reports”
In a bid to undermine Bill 78, hundreds of people called their local Montreal police precincts on Friday, attempting to file plans for “protests” composed of 50 friends going out for an evening. Under the law filing these plans of a dubious value is required.

According to the Montreal police, most of the plans filed were bogus.

It’s all Greek to Margaret
In a column for The Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente compared Quebec’s tuition protesters to debt-riddled Greece. While criticizing the province’s “cradle-to-grave” social system, Wente claimed that rioting students are “overwhelmingly middle- to upper-middle class.” Calling herself appalled, Wente concluded by stating that Quebec students would “shut down Alberta” if given the chance. Greek Quebecers were not happy with the comparison.

Following the Russian example?
Russian President Vladimir Putin has revealed that he is looking to bring forward a new law to crush Russia’s protest movement: $32,000 fines for people engaged in unauthorized protests. The Putin-Charest photomontages are imminent.

____

http://montreal.mediacoop.ca/blog/bernans/10947
Charest’s Draconian Law Sets Stage for Québec Pussy Riot!
Posted on May 18, 2012 by David Bernans

Pussy Riot already likes red
Pussy Riot already likes red

Unable to break the will of students who have been on strike for a record 14 weeks protesting an 82% tuition increase, Charest’s Liberal government has taken a page from Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin. Education Minister Michelle Courchesne has tabled Bill 78, the Act to enable students to receive instruction from the postsecondary institutions they attend.

Are you planning on a Barbeque or a soccer game in a public park in the province of Québec? Make sure to invite no more than eight people. Once Bill 78 becomes law, the organizer of a gathering of 10 or more people* in a public place will be required to notify the police in writing eight hours in advance of said gathering with a full itinerary of the group’s movements.

Obviously, police are not going to arrest some kids at a soccer game, but what if the kids on one team all have red squares on their uniforms and the other team has the Liberal Party of Québec (PLQ) logo? And what if the PLQ players can pick up the ball with their hands and have referees remove the red square goal keeper whenever she gets in the way? Has this innocent game now become an illegal political gathering, protesting the draconian Bill 78 without a permit?

These are the kind of tactics being used by protestors in Putin’s Russia to avoid similar government restrictions on freedom of assembly. Such tactics illustrate the problem of enforcing bans on unpermitted demonstrations without looking like authoritarian thugs. By targeting the impromptu concert-demos of the anti-authoritarian feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot, Russian authorities have given the phenomenon international notoriety.

Premier Jean Charest has put forward this legislation ostensibly to calm the fires of revolution that have caught the attention of international media. He wants to rehabilitate Québec as a tranquil tourist destination. But perhaps, instead of legislating an end to a social movement, Charest has just given birth to Québec’s own Pussy Riot!

David Bernans is a Québec-based writer and translator. Follow him on twitter @dbernans.

* Bill 78 was amended after this article was written. The relevant section of the legislation now applies to gatherings of 50 or more people.

_____

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/canada-politics/quebec-bill-78-echoes-russia-anti-protest-idea-202141533.html

Quebec Bill 78 echoes Russia’s anti-protest idea: is it Jean or Vladimir Charest?
By Andy Radia | Canada Politics – Sun, 20 May, 2012

It is a little ironic that the Quebec government’s Bill 78 came down on the same day a Russian anti-protest bill was to be introduced.

Friday was supposed to be the first reading of a draconian draft law in Russia that would raise the maximum fines for organizers of unsanctioned protests to $48,000 from $1,600. Participants’ fines would increase to $32,000 from $160.

Quebec’s legislation, which passed Friday, also sets multiple requirements on public demonstrations and threatens stiff penalties to people who disrupt college and university classes.

The bill has been met with a chorus of criticism.

Louis Masson, the head of the Quebec Bar Association, says the Bill “clearly limits” the right to freedom of assembly. Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey told CBC News that Bill 78 is a “terrible law” that suspends the freedom to association, express and protest, without sufficient reason. Pauline Marois, leader of the opposition Parti Québécois, said it was “one of the darkest days of Quebec democracy” and demanded Premier Jean Charest hold elections because of the unpopularity of the law.

And, according to the Associated Press, the U.S. consulate in Montreal has warned visitors and U.S. expatriates to be careful because of the demonstrations.

Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, Russian President Vladimir  Putin will have to wait for his legislation “to cope with an increasingly assertive opposition.” The anti-protest bill in that country was abruptly delayed until next week because of disagreements within the government.

What’s contained in Quebec’s Bill 78? Openfile.ca has published this list explaining the new rules:
-Semesters at campuses impacted by the student strike are immediately suspended, due to start again in August.
– Demonstrations with more than 50 people must provide the police with a time, location and duration at least eight hours in advance. The police may modify any of these parameters at any time.
– All gatherings are banned within 50 metres of a campus.
– Student associations not “employing appropriate means to induce” their members to comply with the law are guilty of
violating the law. Individuals also fall under this and can be guilty by omission or for providing advice.
– Fines range from $1,000 for individuals to $125,000 for student associations. Fines double for repeat offences.

Leave a comment

Filed under international affairs, political repression, protests, student movements, trade unions

Support the CLASSE Legal Committee! (Quebec Student Strike)

(Via Edufactory mailing list)

Request for solidarity and support for the Legal Committee of the CLASSE

Sisters, brothers,

We write you during a dark time for democratic, human and associative rights in Quebec with the following appeal for your help and solidarity. As you have no doubt heard, the government recently enacted legislation that amounts to the single biggest attack on the right to organize and freedom of expression in North America since the McCarthy period and the biggest attack on civil and democratic rights since the enactment of the War Measures Act in 1970. Arguably, this recent law will unduly criminalize more law-abiding citizens than even McCarthy’s hearings and the War Measures Act ever could.

Among other draconian elements brought forward by this law, any gathering of 50 or more people must submit their plans to the police eight hours ahead of time and must agree to any changes to the gathering’s trajectory, start time, etc. Any failure to comply with this stifling of freedom of assembly and association will be met with a fine of up to $5,000 for every participant, $35,000 for someone representing a ‘leadership’ position, or $125,000 if a union – labour or student – is deemed to be in charge. The participation of any university staff (either support staff or professors) in any student demonstration (even one that follows the police’s trajectory and instructions) is equally punishable by these fines. Promoting the violation of any of these prohibitions is considered, legally, equivalent to having violated them and is equally punishable by these crippling fines.

One cannot view this law in isolation. In the past few months, the Québec student movement – inspired by Occupy, the Indignados of Spain, the students of Chile, and over 50 years of student struggle in Québec; and presently at North America’s forefront of fighting the government’s austerity agenda – has been confronted by precedent-shattering judicial and police repression in an attempt to force the end of the strike and our right to organize collectively. Our strike was voted and is re-voted every week in local general assemblies across Québec. As of May 18th, 2012, our committee has documented and is supporting 472 criminal accusations as well as 1047 ticket and penal offenses. One week in April saw over 600 arrests in three days. And those numbers only reflect those charged with an offense, without mentioning the thousands pepper sprayed and tear gassed, clubbed and beaten, detained and released. It does not mention Francis Grenier, who lost use of most of an eye when a sound grenade was illegally thrown by a police officer into his face in downtown Montreal. It does not mention Maxence Valade who lost a full eye and Alexandre Allard who clung to life in a coma on a hospital bed for days, both having received a police rubber bullet to the head in Victoriaville. And the thousands of others brutalized, terrorized, harassed and assaulted on our streets. Four students are currently being charged under provisions of the anti-terrorist laws enacted following September 11th.

In addition to these criminal and penal cases, of particular concern for those of us involved in the labour movement is that anti-strike forces have filed injunctions systematically from campus to campus to prevent the enactment of strike mandates, duly and democratically voted in general assemblies. Those who have defended their strike mandates and enforced the strike are now facing Contempt of Court charges and their accompanying potential $50,000 fines and potential prison time. One of our spokespeople, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, will appear in Superior Court under such a charge for having dared say, on May 13th of this year, that “I find it legitimate” that students form picket lines to defend their strike.

While we fight, on principle, against this judicialization of a political conflict, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the struggle on the streets has been, for many, transferred to the courtroom and we must act to defend our classmates, our friends and our family. This defense needs your help. Many students have been denied access to Legal Aid to help them to defend themselves. This, while students filing injunctions to end strikes have been systematically granted Legal Aid. While sympathetic lawyers in all fields of law have agreed to reduced rates and a lot of free support,
the inherent nature of the legal system means we are spending large sums of money on this defense by the day.

It is in this context that we appeal to you to help us cover the costs of this, our defense. Not only must we help those being unduly criminalized and facing injunctions undermining their right to associate, but we must act now and make sure that the criminalization and judicialization of a political struggle does not work and set a precedent that endangers the right to free speech and free assembly.

If you, your union, or your organization is able to give any amount of financial help, it would make an undeniable difference in our struggle. In addition to the outpouring of support from labour across Quebec, we have already begun to receive trans-Canadian and international solidarity donations. We thank you for adding your organization’s support to the list.

If you have any questions, please contact us via email legal AT asse-solidarité.qc.ca. Telephone numbers can be given to you in a private message. You can also send you donation directly to the order of “Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante” (2065 rue Parthenais, Bureau 383, Montréal, QC, H2K 3T1) noting “CLASSE Legal Committee” in the memo line.

In solidarity,

Max Silverman
Law student at the Université du Québec à Montréal
Volunteer with the Legal Committee of the CLASSE

Andrée Bourbeau
Law student at the Université du Québec à Montréal
Delegate to the Legal Committee of the CLASSE

Emilie Charette
Law student at the Université du Québec à Montréal
Delegate to the Legal Committee of the CLASSE

Emilie Breton-Côté
Law student at the Université du Québec à Montréal
Volunteer with the Legal Committee of the CLASSE

Leave a comment

Filed under activism, international affairs, open letters, manifestos, appeals, political repression, protests, student movements, trade unions

Quebec Government Tries to Bludgeon Student Strikers (Life on the Left)

(Editor’s note. Our thanks to Richard Fidler for permission to republish his excellent analysis here.)

Quebec government bludgeons student strikers with emergency law — but the struggle continues
by Richard Fidler
Life on the Left
May 17, 2012

Quebec premier Jean Charest announced May 16 that he will introduce emergency legislation to end the militant student strike, now in its 14th week, that has shut down college and university campuses across the province. The students are protesting the Liberal government’s 75% increase in university tuition fees, now slated to take place over the next seven years.

The special law, Charest said, will suspend the current session for the striking students and impose harsh penalties for those who in the future attempt to block physical access to campus premises or “disrupt” classes. It will not include the terms the government offered following a 22-hour marathon negotiating session May 4-5 — although, as we shall see below, we have not heard the last of some of those provisions. That offer was rejected overwhelmingly by the students in mass meetings held during the past week. In all, 115 associations representing 342,000 of Quebec’s 400,000 college and university students voted to reject it. Of these, more than 150,000 students are still on strike.[1]

The law will effectively end the present strike, but without resolving any of the underlying issues. The immediate goal of the strike was to stop the tuition hike, but the strike also revived a major public debate over long-standing proposals in Quebec to expand access to university education through abolition of fees and to roll back the increasing subordination of higher education to market forces and private corporate interests. The government turned a deaf ear to the students on all these questions.

“The Liberals have spit on an entire generation,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a spokesman for the CLASSE,[2] the largest student association. “It is a repressive and authoritarian law. It restricts the students’ right to strike, which has been recognized for years by the educational institutions.” The CLASSE has called for a massive march of students and their supporters, to be held May 22 in Montréal. It hopes the numbers mobilized in the streets will be comparable with the estimated 200,000 who came out on March 22 and the even greater number who assembled on April 22, Earth Day.

Equally outraged was the president of the national teachers union, the FNEEQ-CSN,[3] Jean Trudelle. “They talk of accessibility as if was simply a question of opening the doors,” he said. The president of the university professors’ union, Max Roy, likewise denounced the government for failing to take the students’ concerns seriously.

Charest’s announcement came less than two days after education minister Line Beauchamp suddenly resigned not only from the cabinet but from her seat in the National Assembly, admitting that she was no longer “part of the solution” to a crisis that has shaken the government. Arrogant and obdurate to the end, Beauchamp said she had “lost confidence in the willingness of the student leaders to search for solutions and… a genuine way out of the crisis.” Premier Jean Charest promptly replaced her with Michèle Courchesne, a former education minister.

“The problem for us has never been Ms. Beauchamp,” said CLASSE spokesman Nadeau-Dubois. “The problem is the hike in tuition fees. And it is not by changing the minister… that the present crisis will be solved. The crisis will be solved when they agree to talk about the reason why the students are on strike, that is, the increase in tuition fees.”

Charest’s self-imposed crisis

The minister’s resignation underscored the depth of the crisis the Charest government has brought upon itself. For months it tried to trivialize the strike, ignoring the students’ demands, refusing to negotiate, evidently hoping the movement would exhaust itself, especially as the current spring session approached its end with no resolution in sight. But even as they faced loss of their session credits if the strike continued, the students for the most part held firm, successfully mounting defiant mass pickets at many campuses and frustrating more than 30 court injunctions to reopen the institutions, often in the face of massive police violence and multiple arrests. Well over one thousand students have been arrested — a total that far exceeds the previous record arrests in the 2010 G20 protests in Toronto — and many face criminal charges for disruptive tactics or defiance of police orders to disperse.

In recent weeks they have marched each night, usually in the thousands, through the streets of Montréal, in colourful impromptu demonstrations that play cat-and-mouse with police attempts to control their route. It is the “Printemps érable” — the “maple spring” that is the Quebec version of the Occupy movement — in this case occupying the streets of the province’s metropolis.

Although the government and the corporate media have worked relentlessly in recent months to turn public opinion against the students, there were signs that the students’ militant resistance was opening breaches in this strategy. A Léger Marketing poll published May 11 reported that 71% of those interviewed think the government has “mismanaged” the conflict. Another Léger poll found that Francophones (more than 80% of the province’s population) and those under 55 years of age tended to hold the government and not the student associations responsible for the failure to settle the crisis.[4]

The portrayal of the students’ struggle as a self-serving attempt to avoid paying “their fair share” of education expenses is falling flat on its face. Le Devoir columnist Michel David was simply stating the obvious when he concluded: “If so many young people are prepared to sacrifice their session, it is manifestly because they feel they are defending a cause that goes beyond their individual interests.”

As David noted, the strike is showing signs of becoming one of those epochal moments in Quebec’s evolution, a “catalyst,” as he put it, for a burgeoning movement of protest challenging the current direction of the society. His take on this is worth quoting at some length:

“Any society periodically experiences a conflict that captures the imagination and then becomes a sort of landmark. In recent decades Quebec has been marked by the asbestos strike, the strike of the Radio-Canada producers, or the strike by the United Aircraft workers.[5]

“The student strike could well become one of these landmarks. What was initially claimed to be a mere budgetary item has had a catalytic effect on the frustrations of those who are fed up with hearing the ‘lucides’ associate the social-democratic values inherited from the Quiet Revolution with opposition to change or the status quo. […][6]

“It is true that the gradual rehabilitation of the ‘solidaire’ discourse in public opinion began before the student conflict. The world financial crisis, which has spectacularly enhanced the role of the state, the movement of the ‘indignés,’ and the right-wing policies imposed by the Harper government have disturbed people, but the red square [the red felt flash worn by striking students] has clearly favoured the link with what was once called the ‘forces vives,’ the living forces of the society.”

Like any mass struggle of such scope, the student strike has also challenged the existing political forces in Quebec society to declare where they stand. The only party strongly supporting the students, the left-wing Québec solidaire, calls for free education from kindergarten to university.[7] Responding to Charest’s announcement May 16, Amir Khadir, the QS member of the National Assembly, declared his party’s solidarity “more than ever, on the side of the students” and promised to fight any attempt to criminalize dissent. And he added:

“Québec solidaire strongly believes that … the student movement in Quebec has won, in that it has changed Quebec. The movement has won through its intelligence, its unity, by putting a freeze on tuition fees and even free university education at the centre of the debate on education, and education at the centre of political debate.

“Whatever the decision of the student movement on its conduct in the face of the special legislation, we are going to respect it. We are going to accompany this movement and defend it as best we can. Whatever happens in the coming months, the students’ struggle is not finished, and will enter new stages, and our party will be in solidarity with it.”

Ranged solidly against the students are not only the Liberals but the new right-wing Coalition Avenir Québec led by former Parti Québécois minister François Legault, who has been calling for increased police repression and other measures to break the strike.

Somewhere in the middle is the official opposition party, the PQ, which appears to be caught between two stools. PQ members of the National Assembly sport the red square badge of support for the students, to the obvious irritation of Premier Charest and his ministers. But PQ leader Pauline Marois calls only for an “indexed freeze” on current tuition fees — somewhat less than what the PQ congress of April 2011 demanded: a restoration of the freeze at 2007 levels until a summit on higher education is held and legislation is adopted governing tuition fees and incidental fees.

However, at the opening of the PQ national council in early May, Marois said that in the forthcoming elections Québécois will have to choose between “everyone for himself” and the “culture of mutual assistance.” Could she be looking over her left shoulder at Québec solidaire?

Doing unionism differently?

Also tested in this struggle have been the major social institutions of the 99%, Quebec’s trade unions, which continue to represent almost 40% of the province’s workers and a substantial majority of its public and parapublic sector employees. The union centrals are coming under increasing criticism for their approach to the strike — one of lukewarm and largely symbolic support to the students, but at crucial points of doubtful assistance. Details are now emerging of the role played by the leaders of the major union centrals in the May 4-5 negotiations between the students and government, to which they were invited as “advisors” to the students.

Although all three (FTQ, CSN and CSQ[8]) told the ministers they supported the student demands — the CSN said it had supported free tuition for 40 years — it appears from the CLASSE account[9] that the union leaders

  • accepted the government move to focus a “solution” to the strike on reduction of university expenses, possible reductions in incidental fees, but not tuition fees;
  • counselled the students more than once not to “go too far” in their demands;
  • joined with the government negotiators in rejecting a student request after more than 12 hours of meeting for a break in which to get some rest and consult mutually on details of the proposed agreement;
  • later lauded the government offer — while the government termed it an “agreement,” the unions termed it a “road map” toward a settlement — as “good news” for the people of Quebec.

Writing in the left-wing online journal Presse-toi-à-gauche, a publication not in the habit of criticizing the union leadership, René Charest noted the similarity between this “road map” and the sweetheart public sector union agreement negotiated by the union leadership in 2010. The latter agreement made a possible wage increase — mainly at the end of the contract, five years later — contingent on the union’s ability to demonstrate sufficient growth meanwhile in Quebec’s GNP.

“The negotiated agreement on the tuition fee hike, for its part, said it would have to be demonstrated that there were possible savings in order to decrease the incidental fees. In both cases, these agreements acknowledge that the financial framework is insufficient to meet the requirements of the contending parties. … [T]he Liberal government’s device was to tell the students: Pay up or help us rationalize the university: either way, it’s win-win for the entrepreneurial state. You could say the same thing about the union movement in the public sector: ‘If you want to earn more help us reorganize the public finances.’ […]

“What is the role of the union movement in this social struggle being led by the student movement? We don’t really know what happened in the corridors, although some journalists have begun to publish some interesting facts. One thing is clear, however. There has been no real dialogue between the student movement and the union movement since the beginning of this strike, or else we would not have had this tragicomic episode. Yet a strategic dialogue could have begun two years ago when the Coalition contre la tarification et la privatisation des services publics began the battle against the [first] Bachand budget. […]

“And this strategic dialogue could have taken place after the CSN congress last spring. We recall that a member of the Montreal hospital union came to defend a proposal for a social strike against the neoliberal measures of the Charest government. She hadn’t even finished her speech when the hall erupted. A standing ovation, no less! Two or three delegates from the CSN apparatus (central council and FNEEQ) spoke in favour. Then Pierre Patry, a member of the executive, spoke in support, along the following lines: we will support the students and then debate the mandate for the social strike. The next day the new president Louis Roy called for discussing the need for the social strike in the workplaces. Since then, we have heard no echo of this call for a social strike.

“It is not too late to do the right thing. The student movement has no need for mediators or facilitators. It needs the solid support of the union movement as a whole. Perhaps it is time to think of doing unionism differently. That is, to lead a union struggle that is plugged into the social struggles and vitality of the mobilization, and not to the fossilized bureaucratic structures of the entrepreneurial state.”

Professors join in denouncing May 5 ‘agreement’

It should be noted that, contrary to what I reported previously[10] on the basis of press reports, the university professors’ union was excluded from the May 4-5 negotiations and did not support the government “agreement.” In a news release published on May 9, the FQPPU[11] complained that it was therefore prevented from expressing the views of the professors, “whose work will nevertheless be indispensable when courses resume.” And it concludes: “In view of the absurdity of this situation and the trivializing of the issues that has appeared in recent months, the FQPPU does not support the agreement announced on May 5.”

An op-ed commentary on the terms the government had offered, co-signed by FQPPU president Max Roy, published in Le Devoir May 9, gave a “fail” grade to “this travesty,” and called the proposed provisional council “a bad joke” that would “trade off problems of university mission and orientation as simple problems of management.” Furthermore, it would “completely obliterate the meaning of what we do, the preservation of a university that is a genuine collective good, a genuine public service for our entire community.” The proposal as a whole, the authors noted, “offers an accounting solution to a problem that must be resolved in terms of a ‘societal choice’.”

Given the social polarization that resulted, many have questioned why the Charest government has held so stubbornly to its decision to hike the fees — even while advertising repeatedly that the increase, spread over seven years and minus a tax credit, would add only “50 cents a day” to the student bill. In fact, even free post-secondary education, as demanded by many students and professors, would cost barely 1% of the total government budget, according to most estimates.

It seems that shifting the costs of higher education increasingly to the students is as much a principle for the government’s post-secondary education planners as abolishing those fees is a principle for many students and professors. Why is this? Some indication may be gained from articles by Pierre Dubuc, editor of L’aut’journal, who draws on research by Philippe Lapointe, a leader of the CLASSE.[12] Dubuc summarizes the research in an article in the May 17 on-line issue of L’aut’journal. Here is the article, in my translation.

* * *

Charest wants to transform Quebec into a “Right-to-Study State”

by Pierre Dubuc

Maintaining the increase in tuition fees, suspending courses and disqualifying student organizations. With its special law, the text of which is unknown at time of writing, the Charest government continues its effort to integrate Quebec universities in the world university network in accordance with the neoliberal principles of the Bologna process, and transform Quebec into a “Right-to-study state” on the model of the “Right-to-work states” of the southern United States.

In the agreement of last May 6, now obsolete, the minister Courchene slyly introduced, in article 2, the creation of a Permanent Universities Council with a mandate to examine “in light of the best practices” such topics as “abolition and creation of programs, internationalization, partnerships between the universities and the communities, continuing education, the quality of training, research, support and university bodies.”

Close observers of the universities saw in this clause — which has no obvious link to the issue of tuition fees — a desire by the government to comply with the Bologna process. The latter derives its name from a conference held in Bologna in June 1999 in which 29 European countries signed a document that envisaged the creation of a European common space for higher education.

This process is divided into three major reforms. First, standardize studies into three cycles. Second, establish a single system for calculating university credits that are transferable between institutions. Third, institute quality assurance, under the management of agencies external to the universities.

In Quebec, the first two reforms are already in place, apart from the non-compliance of the CEGEP network, hence the repeated calls for its abolition — most recently from the CAQ of Sirois-Legault — and its restructuring on the model of the “colleges” in English Canada.[13]

In Europe, this reform, which is modelled on the American universities, presents education as a personal investment. It is accompanied by a substantial increase in tuition fees, with repayment proportional to income: exactly the measures put forward by the Charest government.

In this big global market, education is an industry and the universities are enterprises fiercely competing to attract international students. The Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec (CREPUQ) has identified, among its priority objectives, the need to “increase the resources to attract foreign students.”

Unsurprisingly, in the middle of the current conflict, the rectors of our universities did not hesitate to go to Brazil to recruit students. The Brazilian government has just announced that more than 100,000 Brazilian students will attend foreign universities over the next four years, at the expense of their government. Canada plans to attract 12,000 and the Quebec universities want “their fair share” of this windfall.

The international market in foreign students is expanding rapidly. In 2008, 3.3 million students were educated in countries other than their own. This is a 154% increase over a five-year period. And of course there is a strong demand for courses in English, which explains the inauguration of courses in English by the University of Montréal, its business school the HÉC and even UQAM, the Montréal campus of the University of Quebec.

In Quebec, the number of international students has risen from 9,135 in 2003 to 26,191 in 2010. Today, in the Quebec universities, close to one student in ten is an international student.

For the Quebec universities and government, the international students “pay” much more than Quebec students, if we make an exception for students from France or other countries with which Quebec has agreements.

Overall, the university fees demanded of foreign students are about seven times higher than those paid by Quebec students. So why not replace Quebec students, ousted by the hike in tuition fees, with students from other countries?

But the fees paid by the international students, even subsidized, do not cover the actual costs of many courses such as medicine, engineering, etc. So we subsidize, through our taxes, a portion of the costs of these students, most of whom will return to their countries at the end of their studies.

Of course, there are other financial advantages for the host countries in accepting international students. They have to be housed, clothed, fed, entertained, etc. But the question is posed: Do these economic spinoffs and the tuition fees they cover compensate for the amount of the subsidy we pay to them?

The presence of international students is, to be sure, a source of cultural enrichment and Quebec has a duty, as a rich country, to welcome students from poor countries. We already have agreements with these countries that codify the disinterested assistance we give them.

However, the current market in international students is something else. It has all the characteristics of an industry and it illustrates perfectly the commodifying of education in the epoch of globalization.

Evidently, the Charest government gives precedence to positioning our universities in the global hall of fame over the schooling of the Québécois.

Unfortunately for it, and fortunately for us, the students do not see it that way. Through their courageous and determined struggle against the tuition fee hike they are challenging the very foundations of this liberal vision of education.

For the government, the issue goes beyond the amount of the tuition fees. Thus it resorts to a special law in which primacy is given to individual rights over collective rights, in which a student’s “right to study” prevails over the collective decision of a student assembly.

This is exactly the situation experienced by workers and unions in the so-called right to work states, those former slave states in the South, where collective agreements are illegal and the unions are condemned to operate in the underground. Is that the fate that awaits the student organizations?

That the Charest government is attacking the right to association should be no surprise to us. There is a lock-out at the Rio Tinto Alma plant because the government opened the door to contracting out with the amendments to section 45 of the Labour Code in 2003. It let the company violate the spirit of the anti-scab law through the hiring of numerous management personnel prior to the conflict, and it allows Hydro-Québec to purchase the kilowatts of electricity freed up by the stoppage of two thirds of production.

The students’ struggle must be the struggle of all Québécois, of all their organizations. It should be taken to the political level and become part of the struggle for the emancipation of the Quebec people.

We will be unable to establish free tuition and improve our social programs while we continue to pay 20% of the tens of billions awarded by the federal government for the operation of the tar sands, the Ontario automobile industry and the purchase of the F-35 fighter planes.

The fight against neoliberalism has its specific national features. In Quebec, it proceeds through national independence. That alone has the potential to shake the structures of domination, to liberate the creative forces, and to be the leaven of social transformation at the level of North America.


[1] For detailed results of the voting, see Résultats des votes sur la dernière offre du gouvernement.

[2] Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante [Broad coalition of the Association for student union solidarity]. Also participating in the strike were the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec; Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, and the Table de concertation étudiante du Québec.

[3] Fédération nationale des enseignants et enseignantes du Québec, which is part of the Confederation of national trade unions (CSN).

[4] See Michel David, “Le nouvel ennemi public,” Le Devoir, May 12.

[5] The 1949 strike in the asbestos industry fostered many of the social and political forces that initiated and led the Quiet Revolution a decade later, as did the Radio-Canada dispute in 1958. A major issue in the 20-month strike at United Aircraft (now Pratt & Whitney), in 1974-75, was the company refusal to allow deduction of union dues at source and later the use of scabs to break the strike. The violent strike ended without major gains for the workers, but was followed by a plant occupation. The PQ government elected soon afterwards allowed union dues deduction and introduced a still-popular anti-scab law.

[6] The lucides (clear-eyed) was the name adopted by a group of right-wing political and corporate leaders who issued a neoliberal manifesto in 2005, which was answered by a manifesto signed by prominent “progressives,” the solidaires, among them some of the founders of Québec solidaire in 2006.

[7] The QS proposals on post-secondary education are outlined in a leaflet that party members have been distributing during the student strike. Click here to see it.

[8] FTQ – Quebec Federation of Labour; CSN – Confederation of National Trade Unions; CSQ – Central of Quebec Trade Unions.

[9] It was also published, inter alia, in L’aut’journal. See also Gilbert Lavoie, “Qu’est-ce qui n’a pas marché entre le gouvernement et les étudiants?” in Le Soleil, May 12.

[10] “Defiant Quebec students reject shabby government offer,” note 2.

[11] Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d’université. Founded in 1991, the FQPPU includes 15 unions and associations that represent more than 5,000 university professors.

[12] See Philippe Lapointe, “L’ironie de l’assurance-qualité,” first published in Ultimatum and republished in L’aut’journal.

[13] The CEGEPs — Collèges d’enseignement générale et professionnelle — are public post-secondary institutions with a general arts and science or occupational stream that is preparatory to university. Tuition is free in the CEGEPs, unlike the universities.

_____

UPDATE!

May 18, 2012
Charest declares war on Quebec’s students
lifeonleft.blogspot.ca

“It’s a declaration of war on the student movement,” said Martine Desjardins, leader of the FEUQ. “They’ve just told the young people that everything they have done, everything they have created as a social movement for 14 weeks will now be criminal.”

“It’s a bill designed to kill the student associations, but also to silence an entire population…. This law is far worse for freedom of expression than the 75% increase in tuition fees might be for accessibility to education,” said Léo Bureau-Blouin, leader of the FECQ.

Bill 78, tabled late in the evening last night by Quebec’s Liberal government, is draconian legislation. Here are its main provisions, which as I write are still being debated in the National Assembly after an all-night session.

  • It suspends the academic sessions in all colleges and universities affected by the student strike. They will resume in August, and the scheduled fall sessions will be postponed to begin in October.
  • It forces professors — most of whom have supported the students — to report to work by 7:00 a.m. on August 17 and to resume teaching. All staff must, as of that date, perform all normal duties “without stoppage, slowdown, decrease or alteration in his or her normal activities,” and must not engage in any “concerted action” in violation of these clauses.
  • It prohibits any attempt, by act or omission, to prevent access by anyone to an educational institution which he or she has the right or duty to access.
  • No picketing that might inhibit such access may be held within 50 metres of the institution.
  • It virtually bans demonstrations for the next year. Organizers of demonstrations, it says, must tell police how many demonstrators will be involved (!) and their intended route at least eight hours before the demonstration begins, and must comply with any police order to change the location or route. Student associations will be held collectively liable for any damage caused to a third party as a result of the demonstration.
  • Violations of these provisions will be punished by fines of between $7,000 and $35,000 for each leader, employee or representative of a student association. The associations as such may be fined between $25,000 and $125,000, with double these fines for repeat offenses. Individual offenders may be fined $1,000 to $5,000 per day.
  • Student associations deemed responsible for any disruption of courses within an institution may be deprived of their check-off of dues from student fees, as well as their premises and facilities, during one semester for every day of such disruption.

With this law, Quebec is “sliding toward authoritarianism,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesman for the CLASSE, the major student association that represents about half of the strikers. This is a law that “challenges fundamental liberties” and “recognized constitutional rights,” he added.

Pointing to the bill’s attack on the rights of association, demonstration, and speech, Opposition leader Pauline Marois compared the bill with the federal War Measures Act, used by Trudeau to jail hundreds of Québécois in October 1970. Premier Charest, the PQ leader said, “has no further moral authority or legitimacy to govern.”

Amir Khadir, the Québec solidaire member of the National Assembly, attacked Charest for constructing “a police state around the academic community and threatening all those who work in education with his judicial, police and financial bludgeons.”

“This is a dark day for Quebec,” said QS president Françoise David. “Tonight we solemnly appeal to the student movement, the popular movement, the committed artists, the socially responsible lawyers and jurists, the trade unions, the parents worried about the escalation in violence, to put up a determined and concerted resistance in order to make this law unworkable….”arton10329-fdeb3

Earlier in the day, leaders of the FEUQ and FECQ held a news conference accompanied by Marois, Khadir, and other MNAs in a last-minute appeal to the government to negotiate in good faith with the students. Significantly, they were joined by Laurent Proulx, a leader of the “green squares,” a student group that has initiated many of the anti-strike injunction proceedings in the courts. He said his “movement of socially responsible students” supported the position of the former head of the Quebec Bar, who had publicly called for mediation, not a special law, to resolve the tuition fee protest.

Also attending the news conference was Robert Michaud of the “white squares for social peace” movement, formed by concerned parents in the aftermath of the extreme police violence in repressing a pro-student demonstration in Victoriaville early in May.

However, their efforts to head off Charest’s repressive legislation have failed. It now remains to be seen whether these forces can respond to the law with the “concerted resistance” that Françoise David calls for.

The mass demonstration planned for next Tuesday, May 22, in Montréal will be an early opportunity to initiate this defiance.

1 Comment

Filed under activism, international affairs, political repression, student movements, trade unions

Of Montreal (On the Quebec Student Strike)

Translation of speech by bloquonslahausse.com/ English translation of Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois’s historic March 22nd, 2012 speech to the students. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois is the spokesperson for the Large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE) bloquonslahausse.com/. I made this translation with the help of my friend Francis for the Anglophone students who asked for more English coverage of the student strike. Very proud to have Gabriel as our spokesperson.

In recent weeks, I have been fortunate to do several interviews on television, on the radio and in the newspapers, repeating the claims of the student movement, but today … today is a unique moment for me because we are in the hundreds of thousands in the streets, and the strikes are not happening on television sets. The strike is happening in the streets! In recent weeks, the media, the Minister of Education, Mrs. Beauchamp, Minister of Finance, Mr. Bachand and Prime Minister Jean Charest keep hammering that WE are at war with the workers. I have some news for the Liberal government. Since coming into power, it is THEY who continue to attack our working men and women. During the Journal de Montreal lockout, where were the Liberals? Following the Rio Tinto Alcan lockout, where were the Liberals? Following the AVEOS closing, where were the Liberals? THEY were with the bosses! And WE were, and ARE STILL on the side of the working people of Quebec, and against the corrupt and dirty government. It’s not … it’s not the student movement that is at war with the people of Quebec. Those who are at war against the people, is the Liberal government and their economic and political allies WE. ARE. THE. PEOPLE. Mrs. Beauchamp’s glasses may be broken, but it’s the government that is blind to the largest grassroots mobilization in the history of Quebec. One day, when we have free education, our kids will be in school, and when they’ll open their history books to the date of March 22nd 2012, they will speak of this day as the day when the youth of Quebec stood up for accessible education. And when they will speak of spring 2012, it will be called the Student Spring, and it will be the spring of victory! We will, dear friends…WE WILL WIN. We will win, but we have not yet won. Everywhere in the media, and around the corridors of the National Assembly, they say that today’s event was very beautiful, that it’s the only one that will be as massive, and that starting today, the student movement will falter. NO! We must make them liars, starting tomorrow! We must return to our CEGEPs and our universities, and talk about the general strike even more. We must go beyond the general strike if we want to disprove those who say that our movement will falter. We will have to collectively go beyond our streets. We will have to disrupt. We will have to occupy. We will have to shake Québec. Today, hundreds of people bravely blocked the access to the Port of Montreal, because… Why did they do that? Because this government has only one language: money. And if we want to win, THAT is the language we must speak to them. Mr. Charest, Mrs. Beauchamp, Mr. Bachand, you are wrong when you say that the student movement will collapse. In the coming weeks, we will be more numerous than ever before and we will take to the streets even more. We will disturb Quebec more than ever. Mr. Bachand, Mrs. Beauchamp, Mr. Charest, open your eyes, you are surrounded. You only have one option: BACK OFF ON YOUR DECISION.

_____

The Chronicle of Higher Education, “The Biggest Student Strike You’ve Never Heard of”:

On an unseasonably warm day in late March, a quarter of a million postsecondary students and their supporters gathered in the streets of Montreal to protest against the Liberal government’s plan to raise tuition fees by 75% over five years.  As the crowd marched in seemingly endless waves from Place du Canada, dotted with the carrés rouges, or red squares, that have become the symbol of the Quebec student movement, it was plainly obvious that this demonstration was the largest in Quebec’s, and perhaps Canadian, history.

The strike has been supported by near-daily protest actions ranging from family-oriented rallies to building occupations and bridge blockades, and, more recently, by a campaign of political and economic disruption directed against government ministries, crown corporations, and private industry.  Although generally peaceful, these actions have met with increasingly brutal acts of police violence: Student protesters are routinely beaten, pepper-sprayed, and tear-gassed by riot police, and one, Francis Grenier, lost an eye after being hit by a flashbang grenade at close range.  Meanwhile, college and university administrators have deployed a spate of court injunctions and other legal measures in an unsuccessful attempt to break the strike, and Quebec’s premier, Jean Charest, remains intransigent in spite of growing calls for his government to negotiate with student leaders.

So, why haven’t you heard about this yet?

Read the rest of the article here.

_____

Antonia Maioni, “Charest’s Marie Antoinette moment,” The Globe and Mail, April 24, 2012″:

Last Friday, the contrast between Quebec students and their provincial government could not have been sharper: Outside, tear gas filled the streets as riot police scuffled with young protesters; inside, at a business lunch on his plan to develop Quebec’s north, Premier Jean Charest joked that “we could offer them a job … in the North, as far as possible.”

As Mr. Charest reaches his Marie Antoinette moment, there still seems to be some skepticism in the rest of Canada about what’s taking place in this “Quebec Spring,” some of it incredulity, much of it incomprehension. But like a lot of others things, the politics of higher education is different in Quebec.

Access to universities and colleges is an important legacy of the Quiet Revolution. The mid-sixties’ Parent Report, which laid the basis for sweeping education reform in Quebec, recommended the abolition of university fees. While it didn’t happen for universities, it did for the two-year colleges (CEGEP) that serve as prep courses for some, and as professional or vocational training for others.

The ensuing protests of 1968 reflected a radicalization of the student movement, with an emphasis on the role of higher education in breaking down barriers to socio-economic disparities and language status. The spirit behind the notion of free tuition – that higher education needed to be democratized and that money should not impede equal access – remained a powerful force for decades…

Read the rest of the article here.

_____

Violence breaks out during student protest
ctvmontreal.ca
April 25, 2012

MONTREAL — Starting out peacefully, another chaotic student protest overtook Montreal’s downtown on Wednesday night after Quebec’s three student federations broke off negotiations with Education Minister Line Beauchamp.

Angry at the exclusion of CLASSE from the minister’s negotiations only hours earlier, over 5,000 took in the streets to show support for the province’s more militant student federation.

With a “truce” declared between the student federations and the Quebec government, Beauchamp expelled CLASSE after an uproarious protest on Tuesday saw five arrests, an injured police officer and the window of a bank smashed.

There were more disruptions Wednesday morning, with a pair of smoke bombs tossed in the Montreal subway system, while there were several protests in the city. According to Beauchamp, CLASSE’s announcement of the protests on its website broke the truce.

Wednesday’s protest

While the students gathering at Place Emilie-Gamelin, near Berri-UQAM metro, were mostly peaceful at the start of Wednesday night, the protest slowly began to unravel as the crowd marched west, heading toward Premier Jean Charest’s office.

Organized by the association representing UQAM’s political science and law students, the march began 45 minutes late, at 9:15 p.m. The students did not provide a route to the Montreal police before the protest—something not unusual over the past 11 weeks of protests.

The first hour of the protest was relatively peaceful, with students chanting against Beauchamp and Charest.

Bank windows began to shatter an hour into the protest as some protesters began to throw rocks. With cars being hit by paint and store windows breaking, the protest was declared illegal at around 10 p.m.

A showdown soon developed near the corner of Stanley St. and Ste. Catherine St. as pepper spray and rocks were exchanged. A window of the nearby Chapter’s bookstore was broken as a car was set on fire at the intersection.

Encircling the crowd, Montreal police ordered the protesters to disperse. While some rocks and bricks continued to be thrown, the majority of the protesters began to disperse before 11 p.m.

Several journalists were hit by pepper spray during the protest, including one of CTV Montreal’s cameramen. Earlier in the evening, protesters targeted photojournalists with paint balls.

The Montreal police have yet to report on any arrests or injuries from the clash on one of the city’s main commercial arteries.

A smaller protest was organized on the steps of the National Assembly earlier on Wednesday afternoon.

The situation is still developing.

_____

@CUTVnews – Montreal says “NO!”, protestors confront police in the streets

Tonight, an estimated 10,000 Montreal residents took to the streets to protest against Minister of Education Line Beauchamp following her rejection of CLASSE in the ongoing negotions. FECQ and FEUQ dropped out of negotiations with the Minister as a show of solidarity with CLASSE.

Watch live video of last night’s protests here.

_____


Leave a comment

Filed under activism, film and video, political repression, protests, student movements, trade unions