Quebec’s Maple Spring
May 1st in Montreal was a display of how the student strike is part of
Quebec’s larger struggle against neo-liberalism
ON MAY DAY, MONTREAL WAS SEA OF RED, THE COLOR OF THE SQUARE THAT HAS COME TO SYMBOLIZE THE ONGOING QUEBEC STUDENT STRIKE. A DIVERSE ARRAY OF PEOPLE JOINED SEVERAL MARCHES AND ACTIONS THROUGHOUT THE CITY IN SUPPORT OF THE STRIKING STUDENTS, TO CELEBRATE WORKERS STRUGGLES AND IN OPPOSITION TO THE QUEBEC LIBERAL GOVERNMENTâ€™S ONGOING AUSTERITY MEASURES.
MARIE-EVE LAMY, A MEMBER OF THE ANTI-CAPITALIST CONVERGENCE (CLAC), WAS A SPOKESPERSON AND ONE OF THE ORGANIZERS OF THE MAY DAY ANTI-CAPITALIST MARCH
Well thereâ€™s a lot of reasons for people to be angry these days. The context, especially since the crisis in 2008, I mean you have austerity measures everywhere, not only here in Canada, weâ€™ve seen it with the last Conservative budget, with major cuts, but the same in Italy in Spain, and in Europe, within the EU. You have massive layouts. For instance, you can look at Rio Tinto Alcan. With Rio Tinto we have many workers that are on lockout since January. Thereâ€™s growing inequalities, we see that every day, thereâ€™s the stealing of indigenous territories with plans like the Plan Nord, but also political repression, criminalization of dissent, we see it since the past weeks with the student movement thatâ€™s been brutalized by police for now almost three months. So thereâ€™s a lot of reasons to be angry, but thereâ€™s a lot to commemorate and a lot to be in solidarity with. I mean what we have seen, people in the street, resisting the police, staying strong. The governmentâ€™s response, or no response to the student movement, is violent in itself. And so, seeing that in the street, it brings all kinds of debates within society also, we see it in media and in social media as well. So it brings a debate and it brings all kinds of possibilities for rethinking what we want as a society.
MOSTAFA HENAWAY IS A COMMUNITY ORGANIZER WITH THE IMMIGRANT WORKERS CENTRE AND WAS ONE OF THE ORGANIZERS OF THE MIGRANT JUSTICE CONTINGENT IN THE ANTI-CAPITALIST MAY DAY MARCH. HE IS CONCERNED ABOUT CANADAâ€™S TWO â€“TIERED WORKING SYSTEM, AND SEES THE STUDENT MOVEMENT AS PART AND PARCEL OF THE BROADER FIGHT AGAINST AUSTERITY AND NEOLIBERLIZATION.
Canada now has bolstered a massive undertaking in creating this two-tiered work system that is coming more and more to the surface in terms of the temporary foreign worker program, bringing in over 250,000 temporary foreign workers last year, and sort of replacing an immigration system with a guest worker program completely tied to employers, so if youâ€™re fired for expressing your worker rights or your labor rights you can be deported and your visa would be finished. Now we see a policy statement being released saying that that temporary foreign workers can be paid 15% less than the average wage of the Canadian workers. And the abuses that we see with temporary foreign workers are rife. I think the student movement fits in all of this because itâ€™s not just about student issues, itâ€™s not about simply tuition. Itâ€™s about a broader fight against austerity, and its about a broader fight around an economic agenda, that are we going to have an economic system that benefits all of us, and all our children and all our families, or are we going to have an economic system thatâ€™s simply for profit at any cost. And so what we are seeing happening in the education system and the student movement in Quebec which has been incredibly inspiring, demonstrations nightly, massive demonstrations of 200,000 people, actions daily. You know we have groups of workers now approaching students for their support on their issues. They are taking inspiration because the students are leading the way in terms of this is actually how we have to fight. If anything is going to change in this society it really means building a mass social movement and that means fighting day in and day out if weâ€™re going to actually see power conceded in this economic system.
TESS TESSALONA, ALSO FROM THE IMMIGRANT WORKERS CENTRE, BELIEVES THAT A STUDENT FEE HIKE WILL DISPROPORTIONATELY AFFECT THE CHILDREN OF MIGRANT WORKERS AND TEMPORARY FOREIGN WORKERS.
Well, even now for the migrant workers who are mostly working two or three jobs on minimum wage or less than minimum wage and there are those who are not even qualified for lending (because of residency requirements), of course this is a very important fight. Itâ€™s a fight for future generations. If we think the mark of a civilized society is a well-educated population, then why is it that we are, in a way, pulling the carpet from under the feet of this next generation who will be the people who will be our future workers.
ANNA KRUZYNSKI IS A PROFESSOR AT CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY AT THE SCHOOL OF COMMUNITY PUBLIC AFFAIRS AND PART OF A GROUP CALLED PROFS CONTRE LA HAUSSE, OR PROFESSORS AGAINST THE HIKES. SHE WAS PART OF THE BABY BLOC CONTINGENT AT THE MAY DAY DEMO.
Well currently there is a liberal government thatâ€™s in place that is trying to push the neoliberalization of Quebec, so theyâ€™re working towards the privatization of our services, be it health, be it education, be it the hydro services. There is a real move to transform our public services into services that you have to pay for out of pocket as opposed to through progressive taxation. So there is a real movement here in Quebec opposing that neo- liberal agenda. Increasing tuition fees is not a solution. The claim is that the government needs the money to make the universities function properly, but itâ€™s really a question of priorities. Thereâ€™s been cutbacks on taxes on capitol, thereâ€™s been cutbacks also on income taxes for the rich. Those are priorities that this government has chosen to put into place, so those cutbacks represent much more money that this tuition hikes will represent. Tuition is a barrier to post-secondary education, its well demonstrated, and in Quebec we have relatively accessible education and it needs to stay that way. Well, this government has an ideological mission. I think thatâ€™s maybe one of the differences with previous governments, because there have been strikes over the history of the student movement in Quebec, some have been more successful than others, but this is the first time that we have seen such a huge movement. Half of the students, both at the college and CEGEPs, sort of high schools and universities, are on strike. There are many social movements that have bee supporting, womenâ€™s movements, workers, community organizations. Itâ€™s without precedent and this government is just refusing to budge. I guess they are tabling on winning the law and order vote. They are threatening to have elections in the next few months. So thereâ€™s going to be really a question as to what kind of orientation we want for this province.
THE MAY DAY RALLY WAS DECLARED ILLEGAL BY THE POLICE ABOUT AN HOUR AFTER PEOPLE STARTED MARCHING. DEMONSTRATORS USED A DIVERSITY OF TACTICS, WITH SOME THROWING FIREWORKS AND PAINT BALLS AND BREAKING WINDOWS AT TARGETED BANKS AND BUSINESSES. THE POLICE RESPONSE TO THE PROTEST WAS HARSH AND VIOLENT, AS IT HAS BEEN TO THE MOSTLY PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATIONS OF THE LAST THREE MONTHS. POLICE USED FLASH BANG GRENADES, TEAR GAS, PEPPER SPRAY, AND HIT PROTESTERS AND BYSTANDERS. ONE YOUNG MAN UNDERWENT SKULL SURGERY AFTER A POLICE HIT HIM WITH A BATON. DOWNTOWN MONTREAL WAS OVERRUN WITH RIOT POLICE AND THEY ARRESTED OVER 100 PEOPLE.
I AM IN DOWNTOWN MONTREAL. THE PROTEST HAS BEEN DISPERSED BY THE POLICE AND THEREâ€™S NOW TENS OF PEOPLE ENCIRCLED BY THE POLICE AND THEY ARE WAITING TO ARREST THEM.
OVER A THOUSAND PEOPLE HAVE BEEN ARRESTED SINCE STUDENT PROTESTS BEGAN, WITH POLICE HANDING OUT COSTLY TICKETS AND USING EXCESSIVE VIOLENCE AND FORCE.
HUGO LEVASSEUR IS A MUSIC STUDENT AT DRUMMONDVILLE COLLEGE WHO HAS BEEN SUPPORTING THE STRIKING STUDENTS AND BELIEVES THE POLICE RESPONSE IS UNACCEPTABLE.
I think this the symbol of fascism and all why we are fighting for, I mean look at these people. I was in the street earlier, policemen were hitting people, that was very violent, it was very horrible.
POLICE REPRESSION HAS ONLY INCREASED THE RESOLVE OF THE STUDENT MOVEMENT WITH TENS OF THOUSANDS TAKING TO THE STREETS DURING THE MAY DAY NIGHT.
SOPHIE LE-PHAT HO IS AN ARCHIVAL SCIENCE STUDENT AT THE UNIVERSITE DE MONTREAL.
The struggle is intensifying and itâ€™s a good idea to say that we are going to be back every night, and I think it is a good strategy.
THE QUEBEC STUDENT STRIKE, WHICH IS BEING CALLED THE MAPLE SPRING, IS THE LARGEST AND LONGEST STUDENT STRIKE IN NORTH AMERICAN HISTORY AND HAS CAPTURED INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION, SPARKING HOPE AND INSPIRING RESISTANCE TO NEOLIBERAL ECONOMIC POLICIES GLOBALLY.
LILLIAN BOCTOR, REAL NEWS NETWORK, MONTREAL.