Quebec Classroom War Shakes Canadian Elites

Thousands of students protested against the fee rises in Montreal last Saturday

There’s been an almost total media blackout around the rest of the world, so you’d certainly be forgiven if you’ve not heard of it, but young people in the largely French-speaking province of Quebec in Canada are taking part in perhaps the biggest student uprising since Paris 1968.

Nearly two hundred thousand students  have now been striking and holding regular, militant demonstrations for twelve weeks. Ostensibly, the dispute is over the Liberal government’s plans to increase tuition fees by $1,625 (just over a thousand pounds). But significant though this amount is – it is small in comparison to tuition fee rises elsewhere in North America, and indeed in Europe. There is a sense that the rise is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Véronique Boulanger-Vaugeois, an unemployed graduate who has been active in the student movement, told the National Post that: “For me the student movement, the student strike is just one part of everything we have to resolve[…]The student movement is one in which the youth give us the energy, give us the power to refuse what is going on right now.” But is also an expression of outrage against “the entire capitalist, neo-liberal context that over time ends up having a very harmful impact, both locally and internationally, on the environment and on humanity.”

The Canadian ruling class senses that a student victory could prove a turning point in class struggle generally, and is determined to hold out. Montreal Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Michel Leblanc declared that Quebec’s government “shouldn’t give in or make any compromises”. In the province’s major daily La Presse, a former editor argued that students must be defeated so as “break” the “mold” of “attachment to the status quo … of acquired rights”. The current editor was more explicit, spelling out elite fears that “If the Charest government were to follow the advice of the left and wets who, while in favor of the tuition fee hikes, tremble at the sight of a ‘crisis,’ there would no longer be the means to carry out any reform whatsoever in Quebec.”

Further, in ‘quality daily’ Le Soleil, senior civil servant Bernard Guay reminisced about the good old days of fascism:

“We must organize to regain lost ground. In the 1920s and 1930s, the fascist movements did this by giving leftists a taste of their own medicine. This lesson was so seared into their memories that three quarters of a century later, they still demonize this reaction of political good-health.”

While police have certainly not been slow to brutalise the student demonstrators, Guay’s comments give some indication of what the Quebec and Canadian governments may be plotting, as student bodies continue their refusal of phony government ‘offers’. Most fundamentally, students need workers to come to their aid, as part of a new movement for the defence of working class living standards, and precisely those “acquired rights” threatened by the ultra-rich.