On 18 May, after three months of a combative students’ strike against a hike in tuition fees, the Quebec government implemented ‘Law 78’, an authoritarian piece of legislation designed to break the opposition movement. The law compels organisers of political events to inform the police of the itinerary, route, and means of transport of any demonstration involving 50 persons or more. The police can then change the location and route of the demonstration. Law 78 forbids pickets and protests in universities and within 50 metres around a university. Whoever does not respect this law can face a fine of between C$1000 and C$5000, from C$7000 to C$35,000 for organisers or leaders, and between C$25,000 and C$125,000 per day for student organisations!
The special law did not stop the striking students from demonstrating. Facing such an attack on democratic rights, the demonstrators became more radicalised. An important demonstration against Law 78 took place in Montreal. The student union, CLASSE (Broad Coalition of the Association for Students’ Union Solidarity), continues organising the strike. Along with the left party, Quebec Solidaire, CLASSE called for disobeying the law.
On 22 May, hundreds of thousands demonstrated against a rise in tuition fees and against Law 78. The demonstration lasted hours and flowed seamlessly into night demonstrations, as well. As the protest wound along streets, residents on balconies knocked pots in rhythm and chanted protest slogans, as they have been doing every night since the new law was passed.
At the same time, in several English-speaking Canada cities, the US and in Paris, support demonstrations took place. "An increase in the powers of police and the state anywhere is an attack on us everywhere," said the press release from the New York event.
One hundred and thirteen people were arrested and six injured during the May 22 night demonstrations. After an inquiry was established to “find” the protest organisers, more demonstrators will be condemned under Law 78. For 30 days, students have organized night demonstrations. Effective from 23 May, those demonstrations were officially prohibited by Law 78. During that evening, 475 people were arrested in Montreal and 170 in Quebec City.
The demonstrations have involved broader layers of society than just students. Many people started to demonstrate alongside students because they are repelled by the new anti-democratic law. CLASSE calls for a “social strike” that would involve not only students but all workers and others “against all politics of cuts and selling off social services and collective rights”.
At the same time as trying to raise student tuition fees, the Quebec government is about to implement a new “health tax”. The health subscription has already increased from C$25 in 2010 to C$200 in 2012! Rents and electricity bills are rising and salaries are frozen. In several enterprises, such as Rio Tinto Alcan, Air Canada, MABE and Electrolux, workers are fighting against redundancies and closures. The rail workers of Canadian Pacific Railways are struggling for their pensions and will hold a 72-hour strike, which the Canadian federal government is trying to forbid by passing another special law.
Support for the student movement is increasing. Austerity measures have hit hard the working class and youth of Quebec. Workers could join the students’ strike and extend its demands to oppose the entire austerity agenda and all workplace closures.
Law 78 says also that courses are suspended until August, in an attempt to end the strike (universities are closed then anyway). But the students’ strike committee is going to vote on an indefinite general strike in autumn. However, for this movement to be successful, they need the support of workers, who have the power to bring the entire economy to a halt. The government is deeply worried about the student movement protests and strike because it is aware it could extend to workers.
The student movement is calling on workers to discuss supporting the students’ action by striking in their workplaces and by joining student demonstrations. For the moment, they propose workers use sick days or days off to join the demonstrations and not to actually take strike action.
This combative movement has given Quebec people the opportunity to struggle and to collectively organise. This experience will lead to further struggles against austerity and the dictatorship of the markets.
Alternative Socialiste (CWI in Quebec) stands for a 24-hour general strike, uniting workers and students against austerity, for free education, at all levels, and for decent jobs to fight youth unemployment. The social struggles have to unite against the capitalist policy of making workers and youth pay for the bosses’ crisis!