Canada

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.

We are publishing a statement put out by our comrades in Quebec, La Tendance Marxiste Internationale au Québec, on the government's deal with the striking Quebec students.  Last night (Sunday), there was another large demonstration and our comrades handed out over 1,000 leaflets with this statement.  The original French version can be found by visiting the La Riposte website.

The fantastic 12-week long Quebec student strikes mark a new stage in struggle in the Canadian state. However, while this outburst is new for Canada, it is merely the continuation of the international movement against austerity which we have witnessed: the Greek general strikes, the indignados movement in Spain, Wisconsin, the Occupy movement, the inspiration from the Arab revolutions, etc. A victory for the Quebec students is a victory for all workers and youth, both in Canada and around the world, and it is vital that everything possible is done to assure its success and draw out the necessary lessons.

This week has been a crucial one in Quebec’s historic student strike. In their struggle against the $1,625 tuition increase, the students have held strong since February 13th —  for 73 days straight. 178,390 students remain on unlimited strike despite the government’s gamble they could wait this movement out, that it would tire and collapse.

As this article goes to print, the Quebec student strike is in its 11th week. All of the efforts by the Jean Charest government to derail and divide the student movement have so far failed, and generally have served to further ignite the flame and spread the indignation to the rest of the population. The vitriolic media campaign unleashed over the supposed “violence” of the students has failed; meanwhile, the government refuses to condemn the brutality and mass indiscriminate arrests by the police forces.

The slogan, “When injustice becomes law, resistance is a duty!” summarizes very well the analysis of the situation at the Université de Montréal (UdeM) and shows the only road forward that remains for students facing the attacks of the Charest government and the Guy Breton administration at UdeM.

A series of concessions by labour leaders across the country has put a dampener on the mood of the labour movement recently.  Workers have been told that all they can hope for are reduced benefits, less job security, and they should be thankful to even have a job.  However, a wildcat strike by hundreds of Air Canada workers across the country have shown that in spite of a timid leadership, workers are prepared to mount a massive fight against the bosses’ austerity agenda and flex their collective muscle.  More importantly, this show of strength can actually work and result in victory for workers.

Thomas Mulcair, the former Quebec Liberal and so-called “modernizer”, has been elected leader of the federal New Democratic Party. He gained 57% of the vote on the fourth and final ballot, defeating six other candidates in the process. Many in the party fear that he will take the same route as former British Labour leader Tony Blair. However, this will not be easy for him. There is little enthusiasm for Mulcair in the party and only 50% of the membership found a reason to vote for any of the candidates. The reality is that there were very few ideas discussed in the campaign and Mulcair’s victory was no way inevitable. A genuinely left-wing candidate could have galvanized the

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On Thursday, March 22nd, 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, and surprisingly, even a significant contingent from high schools! Workers’ unions, from the metallos to the nurses to the teachers and others, also came out, flying their union flags.

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