Workers Vanguard No. 999
30 March 2012
Victory to Quebec Student Strike!
(Young Spartacus pages)
TORONTO, March 23—Some 200,000 young protesters took to the streets of Montreal on March 22 in a massive show of support for an ongoing strike by Quebec college and university students. The demonstration, which stretched across some 50 city blocks, drew students from all over the province and was supported by all three Quebec union federations as well as the main nationalist parties. Supporters of the Spartacus Youth Clubs and the Trotskyist League/Ligue Trotskyste of Canada, sister organization of the Spartacist League/U.S., intervened at the protest, selling an array of Trotskyist literature in French, English and Spanish.
The student strike, which began at a handful of colleges and universities in mid-February, now includes more than 300,000 students throughout Quebec. The provincial Liberal Party government of Jean Charest has refused to budge on its plans for huge tuition hikes and continues to unleash police repression against the protesters. Earlier this month, riot police hit 22-year-old Francis Grenier in the face with a stun grenade during an attack on students who were seeking to occupy the office of Quebec university rectors. Now the young student risks the loss of sight in one eye. “To occupy a building, to scare people—that obviously has consequences,” warned Charest, channeling the sadism of the Catholic school wardens who meted out corporal punishment in Quebec’s not-so-distant past.
We reprint below an article on the student strike first published in the Young Spartacus pages of Spartacist Canada (No. 172, Spring 2012), newspaper of the TL/LT.
* * *
Since mid-February, tens of thousands of Quebec college and university students have been on strike against the provincial Liberal government’s plans for a 75 percent increase in tuition. As of March 1, the strike had spread to nearly 100,000 students with many more set to join in the coming days.
Montreal and other cities have seen a series of mass protests, starting last November when 35,000 students took to the streets. On March 1, several thousand student protesters marching toward the National Assembly [parliament] in Quebec City were attacked by police riot squads and tear gas. On February 23, police using pepper spray attacked student protesters who had shut down Montreal’s Jacques Cartier bridge during afternoon rush hour. Six days earlier, the administration of CÉGEP [junior colleges] du Vieux-Montréal called the cops on a student occupation, leading to 37 arrests. Drop all charges now!
Typically, the English Canadian bourgeois media outside Quebec has been almost totally silent on these very large student protests. University tuition in Quebec is much lower than in most other provinces, in part due to repeated waves of student protests over the last decade and a half. In 1996, a widely supported student strike forced the then Parti Québécois government to abandon a proposed tuition hike. Similarly in 2005, the Liberal regime had to drop plans for big cuts to student grants in the face of militant protest. The government did manage to end the tuition freeze two years later, but faced with yet another round of protests it was only able to implement a small increase.
A statement by the CLASSÉ student federation, which has been leading many of the current strikes, noted that the government’s proposed hikes “would deny 30,000 students from low-income families and other socioeconomic groups their right to education.” The capitalist rulers maintain elite schools to ensure quality education for their children and to train the managers and technicians needed to administer the capitalist system. When it comes to the working class and the poor, the capitalists seek to spend on education only what they calculate they can get back in profit. In order for education to be truly accessible to all, we fight for the abolition of all fees and for open admissions plus a government-paid living stipend for students.
Today, the bourgeois-nationalist PQ claims it would freeze tuition if it wins the next provincial election. This is a cynical maneuver by a party that only recently was criticizing the Liberal government for failing to balance the budget through cutbacks. Marxists advocate independence for Quebec and oppose English Canadian chauvinism in all its forms. At the same time, we seek to break Québécois workers and radical youth from any illusions in the PQ, which represents the interests of the Québécois capitalists.
For their part, leaders of the petty-bourgeois Québec Solidaire have joined the student protests. But during the militant 2007 student protests, QS actually solidarized with the campus administrations, writing: “These institutions are of course protecting the security of their personnel and property” (quebecsolidaire.net, 16 November 2007)! Most of the pseudo-Marxist left in Quebec has joined QS and gives it more or less uncritical support. But these petty-bourgeois nationalists are another trap for workers and youth, as shown most recently by QS leaders’ on-and-off discussions with the bourgeois PQ over a no-contest pact for the next Quebec elections.
The way forward for students battling tuition hikes, and for all those victimized by the vicious capitalist offensive, lies through mobilizing the power of the working class. Student struggle can provide a spark for the broader social struggle necessary to beat back these attacks. What’s needed is an alliance with the working class, which must be mobilized independently of the PQ and all other capitalist parties. Due to its central position in social production—in the factories, transport and service industries—the working class uniquely has the power to strike real blows against the bourgeoisie’s profit system, and to provide leadership to all the many victims of racist capitalism.
Securing the right of all to free quality education, health care, decent jobs and housing will become possible when the working class has seized the mines, factories and banks and placed them in the service of meeting the needs of the working people instead of a tiny handful of capitalist exploiters. That requires socialist revolution to sweep away the capitalist state and expropriate the bourgeoisie. The Spartacus Youth Clubs fight to win students and other youth to the perspective of forging a multiracial, binational revolutionary workers party to lead such a struggle.