Quebec Student Demo

On Thursday, March 22, around 300,000 students, teachers, and workers took to the streets of Montreal in a massive demonstration of historic proportions. On that day, 308,723 students were united in a strike across the province. The march was joined by buses from all over Quebec which brought students from universities, CEGEPs (General and Vocational Colleges), and even a significant contingent from the high schools! Workers’ unions, from the metal workers to the nurses, the teachers and others, also came out, flying their union flags.

This was truly a demonstration by all the working layers of society. Everyone is coming under attack from an economic system in crisis, and this demo was an outlet for frustrations that go beyond just the tuition increase.

quebecdemo00The amazing thing is that the Quebec Liberal government has spent months attempting to belittle the striking students, to claim that they are a minority, and to set up a youth front to organize strike-breakers on the campuses. But, with mass action, the student movement has simply swept this all aside and shown that it is not a “handful of radicals,” but an elemental force. And like a force of nature it flooded down streets. When the crowd got too crowded, one could look down a parallel street and note that the protesters were marching on two streets and you could not see the beginning or end of the march.

The crowd was very lively, with artists and clowns all around. Musicians drummed, and puppeteers, dressed as fat cat capitalists, pulled strings on a giant effigy of Quebec premier Jean Charest. The morale was very high, and the main lesson was very simple: we are not alone!

But we also need to be thinking of the next step. One of the best things in the demo was actually outside of it. All along the route, people young and old came out on their balconies and windows and hung red towels, or red sheets, or red napkins, and waved them at the crowd. There were restaurant workers in the old port waving red napkins. This broad support was also evident earlier in the morning when a group of students blocked the port in old Montreal. Many students had a fear that the workers would be mad that the students were blocking their way. What happened was actually the opposite. The truck drivers showed up with red squares and were chanting, “Students and workers, same struggle!” The support runs deep in the working class, and this is where the real way forward lies.

Despite the energy, size, and militancy of the current movement, students are not able to shut down production when they go on strike—their economic impact is not very great. But, the potential is there! The real force in society was waving its solidarity from the windows! With the introduction of health care fees in Quebec, with the attacks on pensions, with the illegalization of strikes in the postal and airline industries, with the riot police gassing the Aveos workers who lost their jobs overnight, this tuition hike is only part of a generalized attack by the capitalist class. Such an attack can only be responded to with a one-day general strike that shows society who wields real power in society—the working class. The time has now come for the main trade union federations to mobilize the working class into action alongside the student unions. The Canadian trade union leaders must prepare the 24-hour general strike against austerity.

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