Canada

Over 70 people crammed into the Yellow Griffin Pub in Toronto’s west end to celebrate the life of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.  The fact that so many people came out on a few hours’ notice demonstrates the effect that Chávez and the Bolivarian revolution have on the lives of people around the world.

Thousands of protesters took part in demonstrations across the country on Dec. 21 under the banner of Idle No More, a grassroots movement dedicated to protecting the environment and Aboriginal treaty rights against new federal legislation. First Nations activists and their supporters mobilized nationwide, with the largest protest on Parliament Hill drawing more than 2,000 people. Solidarity rallies took place around the world — from New Zealand to Los Angeles to the United Kingdom. Some activists also started blocking key roads and railways. In the span of a few weeks, Idle No More has become the most significant social movement in Canada since #Occupy and the Quebec student strike.

Over the past year, there has been an unprecedented interest amongst students across Canada in the fight against rocketing tuition fees. The major factor that has contributed to this growing political awakening among students, other than the unprecedented cost of education and student debt, has been the magnificent example set by the students in Quebec who were able to beat back tuition hikes, resist the attempt by the courts and the cops to repress their movement, and bring down the hated Liberal government of Jean Charest.

Last week the newly elected Parti Québécois government tabled their first budget since taking power. Finance minister Nicolas Marceau vowed to “balance the books” and “cut spending” in what is a clear austerity budget; new expenditures are being increased by the lowest amount in 14 years and almost no new money has been allocated to education spending. The government is also promising to pass a zero-deficit budget for 2013/14. Within an extremely short period since being elected, the PQ has now shown their true colours as a party subservient to Quebec big business, in line with the general austerity plan of the recently ousted Liberal Party.

Every day, new figures and stories come out describing Europe’s decay into virtual anarchy.  Once known for providing its workers with a relatively stable standard of living, one European country after another is pushed into crisis and austerity, provoking social explosions across the continent.  New reports from several leading financial institutions reveal that the European contagion is rapidly spreading across the Atlantic and threatening to overwhelm Canada’s own shaky situation.

A bleak future awaits today's youth as they are being forced to bear the brunt of the capitalist crisis despite having had nothing to do with its creation. Youth are facing challenges today that are unprecedented in history and they are living less stable and secure lives than previous generations. Indeed, youth today will likely never be able to afford the standard of living that their parents and grandparents were able to achieve; owning a home or vehicle is out of the question for a growing percentage of youth entering their adult lives. While record amounts of wealth is being accumulated in private hands, and billions of public dollars are being handed out for bailouts and tax cuts

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For seven long months, Quebec students waged a valiant battle on the streets against the Liberal government’s tuition hikes and undemocratic laws. Former premier Jean Charest called the election as a referendum on who runs society — was it the students and the “street”, or was it the government and the so-called “silent majority”? The results of this election show a complete rejection of the Liberal agenda and in many ways, represents a real victory for the student movement.

As this article is being written, defeated strike votes from Quebec’s universities and colleges are rolling in. The push to block the start of classes, imposed by the Liberal government, appears to be failing. Most of the strike votes have failed with a large majority voting to return to class. The movement is faltering as students are grudgingly voting to end the strike. However, while grim, all is not yet lost. This is a decisive turning point for the movement and it is vital that we learn the lessons going forward.

In the fall of 2008, as the financial crisis was just starting to impact the United States, the Harper government was lauding Canadian banks as the “soundest in the world.” This was to become a well-rehearsed and well-worn talking point for government and corporate mouthpieces throughout the duration of the 2008-10 recession. However, a recent study released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) reveals a staunchly different picture. Massive government bailouts were doled out to the country's largest banks to the tune of $114-billion of public money being pumped into the financial institutions.

Over the past month, thousands of students across Canada have joined in massive displays of solidarity with the Quebec student movement.  This solidarity movement has not been limited to just students; it has also included the participation of trade unionists, young workers, teachers, and parents.  It has even caught the imagination of residents and onlookers who have joined in the casserole-inspired demonstrations marching through neighbourhoods in Toronto and other cities. There has been at least ten solidarity demonstrations organized in Toronto alone over the past six weeks. The largest of these demonstrations had 3,000 people marching on a single evening.

As part of their agenda of austerity and attacks on working-class people, the Conservative government is attempting to bring in major “reforms” to Canada’s system of immigration. During the last federal election campaign, Stephen Harper and his minister of immigration, Jason Kenney, tried hard to woo ethnic communities’ support to the Conservatives.  But now that the elections are over for a while, the Tories feel safe in attacking these same communities as part of the general war against workers.

The numerous arrests during the festivities associated with the Grand Prix in Montreal launch a new stage in the police repression of the Quebec student strike, which has lasted for more than 120 days (as of the writing of this article). For the four days of these festivities, more than 130 people were arrested. More important than the number of arrested was the way in which these arrests were carried out.

In what has become a May-long-weekend tradition, about 50 Marxist supporters travelled to Toronto for the 12th national conference of the Canadian Marxists of Fightback and La Riposte.  As in previous years, the Marxists met to discuss the world situation and how to best intervene in the increasing number of movements against capitalism; but, what made this conference different from that of years past was the fact that it was being held at the same time as the largest mass movement in Canadian history.

The Quebec student movement has provided a beacon of hope for working people and youth across the world. The attempt by the Charest government to nearly double tuition fees in the province has sparked massive resistance. After some 16-weeks of student strikes and mass demonstrations, the government is shaking. This experience displays that mass mobilization, not lobbying, is the most effective method of fighting for accessible and free education.

Tuesday, May 22nd saw the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. Between 250,000 and 350,000 youth and workers came out onto the streets of Montreal and openly defied the emergency law that requires police approval of protest routes eight hours in advance. A widely publicized “official route” was broken; the crowd turned away, following an unannounced path.

Over the past two weeks, the student strike in Quebec has entered a new stage. What originally began as a strike against a 75% increase in tuition fees has rapidly progressed into a movement against the Liberal government itself. Premier Jean Charest’s government has clumsily fallen over itself, trying to suppress or divide the movement, with little success. Instead of killing the movement, every action by the government has only given the movement new life.

Fightback, the Marxists in English Canada have taken the initiative to spread the inspiring Quebec Student strike across the country. They are doing this in solidarity with their comrades in Quebec organized around La Riposte. The comrades launched an open letter calling on the Canadian Federation of Students, the main student federation in English Canada, to organize strike ballots for free education and to support the Quebec movement.

16 May: The past two weeks of the Quebec student strike have brought an intense roller-coaster of events. The Quebec government put forward an offer that would “find a way out of the crisis”, but which did nothing to resolve the issue of the proposed tuition increase. The offer was massively rejected in assembly after assembly across Quebec.