Student Strike Sweeping Province

Many universities are on unlimited general strike, here UQAM

By Nicolas, People’s Potato Education Co-Coordinator

A strike for accessible education

It has been already a month now since a massive student strike has been sweeping through Québec. It all started in late February when approximately 10 student unions, mainly from the Montréal area, went on an unlimited general strike.

This is a strike in reaction to Liberal government cuts and for accessible education. A strike, if victorious, that will ensure that (almost) everybody has a chance to study, and that Cégeps and Universities are not just available for the rich and privilieged few.

The demands are the following :

  1. The return of 103 million dollars cut from the loans and bursaries program
  2. Maintaining the current province-wide organisation of Cégeps. No to the decentralisation of the network.
  3. The eventual elimination of all tution costs

Obviously the central demand is the first one, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the strike end if that demand was met by the government. However, the radical wing of the movement wants more, as is demonstrated in their slogan « 103 c’est pas assez, on veut la gratuité! ».

The intiators

ASSÉ General Strike Congress

The initiators of the strike were a small dozen of student unions affiliated with the CASSÉE. The CASSÉE is the Coalition Élargie de l’Association de Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante. The principles at the base of ASSÉ rest on the foundations of student unionism as established in Article 1 of the 1946 Grenoble Charter, which stipulates that a student is a young intellectual worker. It is by virtue of this fact that students must organize according to union principles. ASSÉ believes in the necessity of fighting to preserve the gains won by past student movements, and to win new concessions through enduring resistance. As education is a right and not a privilege, ASSÉ is based on the following principles :

  1. A public, free, secular, accessible and non-discriminatory education of quality ;
  2. An adequate financial aid regime which aims to eliminate student debt and guarantee that basic needs are met ;
  3. A free public education network exempt from private sector interference, including sub-contracting ;
  4. The democratization of educational institutions which conform to a vision of self-management ;
  5. A union solidarity with all international progressive movements for the well-being of society ;
  6. An opposition to all forms of globalization which enshrine the predominance of profit over the well-being of people.

Democracy lost

Direct democracy should be at the hearth of the struggle (strike meeting at UQAM)

There is a lot of confusion around the general assembly held at Concordia on March 9th. With approximately 1500 in attendance, it was possibly one of the largest general assemblies in the history of the Concordia Student Union. A vote was passed with a majority of 70% on holding a one day strike on March 16th. A subsequent vote on going on an unlimited general strike also passed, only to be recalled by the chair. The reason for refusing the vote was that quorum (the number of people necessary to make an assembly legitimate) was lost. Strangely, the chair made this decision without even counting the number of people in the room! Quorum for CSU assemblies is about 700 people, there is NO WAY there were less than that number of people present in the assembly at that time. Obviously, the CSU executive, Evolution, were ready to do anything, even corrupt union democracy, to avoid the unlimited general strike. Essentially, the hundreds of students in attendance were told their voice was less important than the voice of the chair and the positions of the executive. A petition circulated afterwards demanding another assembly, wich may occur, but only in a few weeks, when the strike movement will most likely be over :( .

Some may say that a few hundred students cannot maintain a unlimited strike when the majority of the student population (some 25 000 students) did not participate in the decision. This is partly true. However, CSU rules establish that quorum in an assembly is 700 people, if that needs to change to give the assembly more legitimacy, then it should be changed. Regardless, it must be stressed that most strikes in other schools are led by a minority of active students. A majority supports them, as proved by the fact that picket lines have rarely been crossed in a massive month-long strike.

The movement grows

Even the Université de Montréal is on strike!

While the strike was sabotaged at Concordia, the general movement is going in the other direction and keeps growing and growing. At one point, 230 000 students were on strike, wich represents half of all higher education students in Québec. Close to 100 000 attended a mass rally in Montréal on March 16th. Business School students from UQAM voted a one week strike. Future doctors are on strike. There is only one word to describe this : solidarity.

It seems rather ironic that Concordia, a University so committed to « fitting in and cleaning up » since the Netanyahu protests of 2002, is on the outside of this movement. Conservative students have been thrown a curve ball : activism is no longer marginal, it’s now a « mainstream » thing to strike and struggle!

Will direct action get the goods?

Strikers blocking the Concorde bridge.

As we go to print, the radical wing of the strike movement (organised around CASSÉ) has entered into a phase of economic disruption. The Montréal Casino was forced to close for 3 hours on Friday night March 18th after students blocked the main access to it on the Concorde bridge. The idea is to hit the government were it hurts to most : in their pocket books.

Economic disruption actions are planned throughout the coming 2 week (from March 21st to April 4th). A quick visit to the ASSÉ website will get you information on this.

These forms of non-violent direct action are powerfull weapons against the government. Coupled with mass support, they are capable of winning every student demand, including abolishing tution fees to make education FREE in Québec!