Students lead tens of thousands in protests against tuition hikes and neoliberal reforms of Quebec government
VOICEOVER: More than 165,000 students in Quebec, Canada have been on strike for more than 9 weeks in response to a Provincial government plan that would raise university tuition rates, some of the lowest in the country, by 75% over the next 5 years. The student movement has since grown in popularity, with a March 22nd demonstration drawing nearly 300,000 supporters.
STANDUP: Weâ€™re here in Montreal, Quebec at the latest of a number of large scale mobilizations where demonstrators are protesting not only the planned student tuition hikes, but a number of other policies of the provincial Liberal government, which they say has been pushing a neoliberal agenda that places corporate interests over the interests of average working people.
VOICEOVER: The April 14th action which drew more than 85,000 participants was timed for the 9 year anniversary of the election of Quebec PremiÃ¨re Jean Charest of the Liberal Party.
DEMONSTRATOR (Subtitle translation from French): The government is counting on our collective passivity but we donâ€™t want to be passive, this is the largest and most corrupt government in contemporary Quebec history, and all theyâ€™re trying to do is kill the hope that the citizensâ€™ mobilization movement can bring about a social, democratic, and lasting change.
VOICEOVER: Student organizer and spokesperson Gabriel Nadeu-Dubois says that the government has so far failed to engage with the students to negotiate an end to the strike, and that the growing movement has attracted the support of a number of other sectors affected by government initiatives to privatize public services.
GABRIEL NADEAU-DUBOIS, SPOKESPERSON, CLASSE STUDENT ORGANIZATION: There has been no real answer our government the government announced an increasing of the student loans last week which is for us totally unacceptable because we think indebtment [sic] for students is not a way to increase accessibility but is another obstacle, we want the government to go back on its decision to raising fees and on this point there has been no response from the governmentâ€¦Since 4 or 5 years in Quebec there has been an unprecedented wave of tariffication [sic] and privatization of all public services, not only education but health system facing more and more threats of privatization the government decided to put what they called a tax penalty health tax of 200 dollars per year per person and what weâ€™ve seen for one or 2 weeks student strikes gaining more and more popularity in population with other groups community groups joining movement to fight not only student increase but all those measures of privatization o of our public services, families workers in the streets, unions community workers, artists in the streets with us who share our main demand which is to freeze tuition fees but also fight with us to fight against this government in general and all these policies.
VOICEOVER: One of the many groups participating in the mobilizations is the FÃ©dÃ©ration interprofessionelle de la santÃ© du QuÃ©bec, an association of Quebec health workers. FIQ executive committee member Robert Bomba explains why himself and other members came out in support of the students.
ROBERT BOMBA, EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEMBER, FIQ: Itâ€™s a liberal government but with the neoliberalization there is more and more a move to the right also with our conservative government in Canada that move is towards the right and so itâ€™s towards decentralization, less involvement with the government so indirectly people will have to pay more for their services be it healthcare or education.
VOICEOVER: The students have shown no indication that they will call off the strike and return to classes, even as the semester comes to a close. Student organizer Rushdia Mehreen says that the students came to the decision to go on strike through their weekly held general assemblies after all other strategies failed to make any progress with the provincial government.
RUSHDIA MAHREEN, STUDENT ORGANIZER: Since these cuts were announced students took all the usual measures there were demos petitions there were letters we called the ministers and prime minster they did all measures possible but they just didnâ€™t budge so our ultimate strategy ultimate tactic to fight this is strike, because the strike basically causes a lot of disruption to the government the official numbers say that every hour of strike cost over 100k dollars to the government so until now itâ€™s cost them millions, I think 81 million if I remember right, so thatâ€™s why strike is an effective means to get the government to listen to our demands.
VOICEOVER: Another mobilization also expected to draw large number of supporters has been planned for April 22nd, one month after the action that drew hundreds of thousands of Quebecois to the streets of Montreal. In addition to asserting their opposition to the planned hikes, a number of students are also calling for free state-funded higher education in what has become North Americaâ€™s largest student movement.