Students in Quebec on Strike!
It all started in march 2011, when Jean Charest, the Prime Minister, decided to not be a wuss and give universities in Québec what they really need: more money. Instead of taxing the entire population, he said that students should pay their fair share. Québec students pay the lowest tuition in North America, about 3000 dollars for a year. He proposed an increase in 1675 dollars in 5 years. It would bring tuition to maximum 4975 Canadian dollars a year, an increase of 75 %. Still much lower than the national average. And yet, students all around Québec had a meltdown. Understandable. No one wants to pay more.
The three leaders of the main associations étudiantes, CLASSE, FEUQ and FEQC immediately called for an unlimited general strike this year. The universities voted in their own general assemblies. The vote was hands up or down. Does this remind you of anything? ("cough" communist regime "cough"). Any student voting against the strike was intimidated: people took pictures, shouted insults and shamed them. Thankfully, at McGill University (where I'm at), the strike was voted down. This was attributed to the large population of foreign students who simply do not care about local Québec politics. I like to think of the vote as common sense and a commitment to working and being productive as opposed to running down the streets with a red flag.
Protests started to take place all around Quebec. They led to confrontations between the police and students. Students crying out, blaming police violence. Policemen complaining about students throwing projectiles and screaming "fuck the police". (I want to join the police later so I can't help but be sympathetic. If someday someone throws rocks at me, I'm going to arrest them.)
However, this did little to stop Charest. The students got angrier. You know how children get when you refuse them something? They get nasty and throw food at you. After this, acts of vandalism started to become more common. Red squares were painted everywhere. Shops windows were shattered. The protesters started to wear masks. Charest called on the leaders of CLASSE, FEUQ and FEQC to condemn these acts of violence. They wouldn't. (What does that say about them?) Students started asking for free education. They turned it into a social conflict against capitalism and a "corrupt government".
I might add that the minute the "strike vote" was passed in universities (reminder: the vote was not anonymous and anyone who tried to vote against it was shamed) people couldn't go to class anymore. Anyone who tried was thrown out and humiliated. Here is an example:
On Wednesday, a masked enforcement squad swept through the campus at the Université du Québec à Montréal, hunting for students who had dared to show up for class. Wherever they found a class in session, they broke in and shouted “Scab!” in the students’ faces. The enforcement squad was defying a court injunction that ordered the university to open. They jumped on desks and tables and spray-painted slogans on the classroom walls. They grabbed two female students by the arm and told them to get out. The intimidated professors fled. Later, as law student Christina Macedo tried to explain to reporters what had happened, they drowned her out. “Scab! Scab! Scab!” they shrieked.
All the while they blocked exams, classes etc, they screamed "we're going this for YOU! So YOU can go to school!" Dichotomy between actions and words here - You just stopped hundreds of students from going to classes they wanted to attend and already paid for. They LOST time and money. Proud now?
The strikers' reasoning? "The strike was voted! It must be respected!" they whined. NO. You can't stop people from going to class. And I'm guessing the majority of students want to go back to class. When asked why they don't have an anonymous vote, the strikers suddenly fall silent. What are they afraid of?
A few brave students went to court and some universities were forced to open their doors, but the protestors always got their way through pure intimidation. As a result, the semester is now suspended due to Charest's "special law". Essentially, protestors now need to make their itinerary known 8 hours in advance. They aren't allowed to wear masks. They aren't allowed to stop students from going to class. The semester is suspended until August.
They had another meltdown. Claiming this new law gives too much power to the police, the leaders of the associations étudiantes just said they would not comply with this law, and they are asking students to do the same. And here is where I just lost it. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois (leader of CLASSE) just told students to disobey the law. He says he doesn't care about fines. He says the government added fuel to the fire. And what would he call what he just did? Now Quebec is the scene of a huge riot. 300 protestors were arrested the other night. Fires were burning. Monuments were vandalized: trash cans overturned, beer cans, condoms?! Sounds more like they're having a party than protesting for freedom and civil rights...
I grew up in France. France, the land of strikes. French people love striking. It is kind of adorable sometimes, hugely annoying at other times. When I came to Quebec I thought I came to a place were people accepted that sometimes life can be tough and sometimes you have to pay for stuff.
There are civilised ways to let the government know you're pissed off: peaceful protests, petitions and elections. It's called democracy and the Québec student strikers really should give it a try.
(Here is a timeline of what's been happening)