The International League of Peoples’ Struggle condemns the repressive Bill 78 imposed by the government of Jean Charest in Québec and salutes the militant response of the people
The emergency law, known as Bill 78, was the Québec government’s attempt to break the back of a student strike, now in its 105th day, by imposing massive fines of up to $125,000 for organizing protests and strike actions. And in a clause drawn straight from the books of South American dictators like Augusto Pinochet in Chile, anyone planning to gather just 50 people must give police 8 hours notice including their itinerary. In imposing the law, the government said it was defending the “right to education”, the same kind of logic governments use when they try to break workers’ strikes in the name of the “right to work”.
However, far from putting an end to the strike, the unenforceable law has galvanized a growing section of the population into a massive “social strike” against neoliberal policies and a government mired in corruption and kowtowing to the monopolies. On Tuesday, May 22, 250,000 students and supporters marched in Montréal to mark the 100th day of the strike, all of them breaking the emergency law, because they turned left instead of right at the first corner, refusing to follow the route police had demanded the rally organizers provide in advance.
The next day over 500 people were arrested during the 30th consecutive night of demonstrations in Montréal, among some 3000 arrests since the student strike began. The people’s response to this repression has been a joyous and militant casseroles (pots in French) movement, where every night, as the clock strikes 8 pm, men, women, children and elderly start banging their pots and pans and flowing into the streets, a practise inspired by similar movements in Chile and Argentina.
ILPS-Canada and IWA join May 22, 2012 march of 250,000 in Montréal marking day 100 of student strike and protest against Bill 78
The Montreal police, overwhelmed by the public reaction as dozens of marches, often involving thousands of people, occur at any one time, have limited themselves to directing traffic and momentarily at least, put away their truncheons, plastic bullets, tear gas and handcuffs.
The student strike began in February when the Québec Liberal government decided to go back on past promises and to hike post-secondary tuition fees by CAD $1,625 over the next five years, doubling present rates. Soon, red squares, the symbol of the student strike, could be seen everywhere, attached to people’s jackets, hats, bags and backpacks, and even decorating public monuments. Several weeks into the strike the government finally sat down with the student associations and offered tuition hikes of $254 per year over seven years instead of $325 a year over five years, small changes to bursaries and a committee to oversee university administrations in which students would play a minor role. The insulting deal was overwhelming rejected by striking students. The government has since refused to reopen discussions on tuition fee hikes.
Education in Canada is under provincial jurisdiction and tuition fees have historically been lower in Quebec (approximately CAN$2100/yr) than in other provinces because of strong student and popular mobilization. Keeping tuition fees low in university to enable more French-speaking Quebecers to have access to higher education became a key social policy issue in Quebec starting in the 1960s. At the time, the Catholic Church controlled education and French-speaking Québecers’ post-secondary education rate was way below that of the rest of the population in Canada – with only 7% attending university in Québec. Over the years, Québec student associations won the right to organize strikes, a right which does not similarly exist elsewhere in Canada and is now under attack with Bill 78.