Category Archives: Quebec

PQ appoints right-wing billionaire as Hydro-Québec chairman

By Richard Dufour 
1 June 2013
Pierre-Karl Péladeau, a billionaire notorious for his right-wing politics, took over the chairmanship of Hydro-Québec, Quebec’s largest publicly owned enterprise, last month.
By entrusting Hydro-Québec’s management to a prominent Quebec capitalist who has championed privatization, cuts to public services and further tax concessions for the rich, the provincial Parti Québécois government has underscored its eagerness to serve as the ruling class’s instrument in imposing austerity on working people. Péladeau is the majority shareholder and former chief executive of Quebecor, a media and communications giant, which owns 40 percent of Quebec’s daily papers by circulation, 25 percent of the province’s French TV market, and the largest cable distribution company in the province, Vidéotron. Elsewhere in Canada, a subsidiary of Quebecor owns the Toronto Sun and the Sun News cable channel, both ardent promoters of right-wing populism, as are Péladeau’s Journal de Montréal andJournal de Québec.
It is as the head of this media empire that Péladeau has assumed an increasing prominent political role, emerging as a spokesperson for the most vicious and avaricious sections of the bourgeoisie, who are baying for an immediate, all-out assault on all the social gains of the working class.
Péladeau frequently complains that trade unions have too much power in Quebec. In reality, over the course of the last three decades, the trade unions have smothered the class struggle, imposing job, wage and social spending cuts. They are completely integrated with both business and the provincial government through a series of tripartite committees and have also become major shareholders in a number of companies by way of union-controlled investment funds such as the Solidarity Fund of the Quebec Federation of Labour and the Fondaction of the Confederation of National Trade Unions.
The real targets of Péladeau’s denunciations of “union power” are the rights won by workers during the militant struggles of the 1960s and 1970s. Le Journal de Montréal has been an ardent promoter of Les lucides (the Clear-eyed), a group of journalists, academics and former PQ and Liberal Party politicians led by former PQ premier Lucien Bouchard, that has campaigned since 2005 for the Quebec government to rapidly dismantle social programs and massively reduce taxes on big business and the rich.
More recently, the Journal de Montréal and Péladeau’s other Quebec tabloids have published a series of sensationalist reports on the theme “Quebec in the red” so as to agitate for massive spending cuts. Péladeau’s newspapers have also fueled anti-immigrant chauvinism by denouncing the state policy of “reasonable accommodation” to ethnic and religious minorities and by decrying the abandonment of “our” Catholic Quebec culture. This chauvinist campaign has been adopted by the PQ, including in its call for a “Quebec citizenship” law that would strip Canadian citizens born outside Quebec of certain political rights if they couldn’t demonstrate, after three years’ residency in Quebec, “appropriate knowledge of the French language.”
In a surprise announcement that was not preceded by any public debate, PQ Premier Pauline Marois rushed Péladeau’s appointment as Hydro-Québec chairman through an emergency cabinet meeting in mid-April, so that he could personally oversee a drive to increase the profitability of the province’s largest state enterprise.
With 61 plants, Hydro-Québec is the largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world. In 2012, its sales exceeded $12 billion, with an $860 million profit, most of which goes to government coffers. Its total contribution to the province’s finances—in the form of dividends, taxes of all kinds, and hidden subsidies to privately owned aluminum smelters in the form of cut-rate electricity prices—amounts to several billion dollars annually.
For big business, these are profits that should be rightfully theirs.
In its November budget, the PQ launched a campaign to restructure Hydro-Québec at the expense of its employees and the province’s working people as a whole by announcing plans to eliminate 2,000 jobs at Hydro-Québec, 10 percent of its total workforce, and increase electricity rates for ordinary consumers,
Having sought and obtained from the Marois government the management of Hydro-Québec, Péladeau will exploit this strategic position to send thousands more jobs to the chopping block, increase electricity rates for working people, and prepare what is one of the main engines of the Quebec economy for privatization.
While managing Québecor, Péladeau has accumulated much experience in the elimination of jobs. In the last fourteen years, he has imposed 14 lockouts with a view to forcing through concessions and job cuts. The lockout at theJournal de Montréal, for example, lasted from 2009-2011 and resulted in three-quarters of the 250 workers losing their jobs through layoffs and forced retirements.
“Pierre-Karl Péladeau will rock the boat, we need him at Hydro-Québec,” said the leader of the far right Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), François Legault, in response to his appointment as the new Hydro-Québec chairman. “We have said that there are 4000 jobs too many.”
QMI, the news agency of the Québecor Media group, cited Claude Garcia, a former executive of Standard Life: “Another priority is to continue increasing the productivity of Hydro-Québec. Three years ago, 2,500 posts were removed, but there are still about 7,500 positions too many.”
This is the same Garcia who in 2007 called for the privatization of Hydro-Québec during a conference attended by Péladeau and organized by the Economic Institute of Montréal (EIM), a neoliberal think-tank some of whose most prominent members write for the Journal de Montréal.
“The improvement of Quebec’s financial situation requires higher electricity rates,” said Garcia. He cited Alberta, a province that “opened up the development of its natural resources to the private sector and pays for its oil at market prices,” as a model for Quebec.
What is really at play was revealed by Garcia’s co-speaker, Marcel Boyer, then Vice-President and Chief Economist at the EIM. “Hydropower has a phenomenal value that has increased dramatically as a result of market deregulation, but from which we have not drawn all possible benefits,” he argued.
No doubt, many business people present—Péladeau in particular—were salivating at the thought of one day being able to get their hands on a prize such as Hydro-Québec.
That day has now arrived. And, just as many times in the past, for example, with Lucien Bouchard’s massive budget cuts in 1996 in the name of a “zero deficit,” it is a PQ government that is taking a major new step in implementing the ruling elite’s program of social reaction.
Péladeau has longstanding ties to both the federal Conservatives, now led by Stephen Harper, and the PQ.
Former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney has long sat on the board of directors of Québecor, and Sun TV was set up with the active encouragement of the Harper government.
In 2001, a PQ government led by Bernard Landry ordered the Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec (The Quebec Deposit and Investment Fund, which manages public pension plans) to provide $3 billion dollars of Quebecers’ money to finance Péladeau’s acquisition of Vidéotron. Two years ago, the current PQ leader and premier of Quebec, Pauline Marois, caused a revolt within her parliamentary caucus when she ordered it to support Bill 204—an undemocratic law that prohibits law suits challenging a sweetheart deal between Québec City and Québecor Media for the management of a future amphitheater designed to accommodate a new National Hockey League franchise.
The nature of the PQ as a faithful defender of the capitalist ruling class was highlighted by Pauline Marois’ recent appearance at the annual general meeting of the Quebec Employers Council, which was held in Montreal.
“I repeat to you today: the government will balance the books,” assured the PQ premier. “During the last campaign, we heard people repeat every day that the PQ was held hostage by pressure groups and I do not have the courage to control public spending. However, that is exactly what I am doing,” boasted Maoris.
Referring to the appointment of Péladeau as Hydro-Québec chairman, Marois invited other “entrepreneurs” and “business leaders” to follow suit and “serve Quebec…with their experience and expertise.”

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Quebec unions silence criticism of PQ welfare cuts

By Louis Girard 
25 May 2013
According to a report published last week in the Montreal daily La Presse, Quebec’s unions forced the cancellation of a press conference that was to be held on the sidelines of a demonstration protesting against the federal Conservative government’s cuts to Employment Insurance (EI), because it was intended to draw attention to the parallel cuts to social assistance (welfare) being made by the provincial Parti Québécois (PQ) government.
This act of political censorship underscores the unions’ role in smothering opposition to the PQ government and its austerity program and in channeling, through their Coalition québécoise contre la réforme de l’assurance-emploi(Quebec Coalition Against the Employment Insurance Reform), the opposition to the Conservative government along rightwing nationalist lines.
The La Presse article reports that two days prior to an April 27 “national” (i.e. Quebec-wide) protest against the EI cuts, “all the presidents of (Quebec’s) major trade union federations jointly signed a letter to Francois Saillant, coordinator of the Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain(FRAPRU– the Popular Action Front for Urban Redevelopment), to convince him to cancel a planned press conference that would have … simultaneously denounced the (PQ’s) cuts to social assistance and the federal reform of Employment Insurance.”
Signed by the heads of the Quebec Federation of Labour, the Confederation of National Trade Unions, the Centrale des syndicats du Québec, and other major unions, the letter claimed that any criticism of the PQ government’s cuts would “have the effect of diverting attention from the critical issues in the fight over Employment Insurance, and the strong, unified message that we must always deliver with one voice.”
FRAPRU, whose coordinator Francois Saillant is a founding member and long-time leader of the pseudo-left Québec Solidaire, meekly submitted to the unions’ demands
In their letter to FRAPRU, the union presidents repeated the lie they have peddled for decades that the big business PQ is an ally of working people, especially in opposing the socially regressive actions of federal Liberal and Conservative governments. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, claimed the bureaucrats’ letter, “could profit from this double-message”—of opposition to the Conservatives’ EI and PQ’s welfare cuts—“to argue that the forces vives(progressive forces) in Quebec are divided.”
Contacted by La Presse, Quebec Federation of Labour President Michel Arsenault confirmed that the unions had censored criticism of the PQ at their April 27 demonstration, but claimed that he considers the PQ’s welfare cuts “unacceptable.”
Workers have heard decades of such double-talk.
The unions claimed to support last year’s militant student strike against the Charest Liberal government’s university tuition fee hikes. But, in the name of preserving “social peace,” they joined with Premier Jean Charest at the beginning of last May to bully the student associations into accepting a sellout deal that would have seen the government’s tuition fee hikes implemented in full. When students rejected this sellout and the government responded by imposing its authoritarian Bill 78, the unions again claimed to support the students and denounced Bill 78 as akin to the War Measures Act. However, they announced they would obey Bill 78 to the letter—including provisions that legally compelled them to order teachers and other university and CEGEP (college) personnel to act as strikebreakers—and worked systematically to isolate the students and channel the opposition to the Charest government behind the PQ’s election campaign.
Predictably the PQ, which had, with the unions’ help, feigned support for the students, pivoted to the imposition of austerity no sooner did it win last September’s provincial elections.
With only nominal opposition from the trade unions, Pauline Marois’ PQ government has imposed austerity measures that go far beyond those attempted by Charest. These include: the steepest social spending cuts in 15 years, the maintenance of a regressive healthcare head tax, the elimination of thousands of jobs at Hydro Québec. And the aforementioned cuts to social assistance: cuts that the PQ has justified by invoking the same reactionary rationale as the Harpers’ Conservatives have given for their EI cuts—the supposed need to end “dependency” on income support programs.
In February the unions participated in the sham education summit the PQ organized to provide political cover for their imposition of 3 percent annual university tuition fee hikes, welcoming it as a step forward.
The unions’ muzzling of FRAPRU underscores the validity of the characterization that the Socialist Equality Party (Canada) made of the April 27 demonstration in a statement distributed at the protest. It began: “The demonstration organized today by the union-led Coalition québécoise contre la réforme de l’assurance-emploi has nothing to do with a genuine workers’ mobilization against the anti-worker assault being jointly mounted by the Harper and Marois governments.”
The statement warned that rather than fighting for then independent political mobilization of the working class across Canada, the unions were promoting the fraud of a “national Quebec consensus” against the EI cuts, uniting the PQ, Liberals, NDP, municipal politicians and various big business lobby groups.
“This nationalist fiction,” said the statement, “serves to divide workers in Quebec from their class brothers and sisters in the rest of Canada, and to politically subordinate them to the representatives of the capitalist class–whether they are in the municipalities, or opposition parties like the Bloc Québécois and NDP. Equally, it facilitates the efforts of the Marois PQ government to use the federal cuts to Employment Insurance as a smokescreen to hide its own anti-worker measures.”
The unions, it should be added, are currently mounting a major lobbying campaign in association with the PQ government, the Montreal Chamber of Commerce and other “forces vivres” of Quebec to defend the tax concessions enjoyed by the union-controlled investment funds—the Quebec Federation of Labour’s Solidarity Fund and the Confederation of National Trade Unions’ Fondaction .
Through these multi-billion dollar funds, the union bureaucrats have developed intimate ties with big business and become junior partners in capitalist exploitation. They exemplify the transformation of the unions from limited organizations of working class defence into corporatist enforcers of wage and job cuts and capitalist austerity.
To the dismay of the union bureaucrats and the Quebec elite, for whom the union investment funds have become a significant source of venture capital, the Conservatives announced in this year’s federal budget that they intend to phase out a 15 percent tax credit that applies to all monies invested in the Solidarity Fund and Fondaction. The union bureaucracy immediately united with the Québécois political elite and the employers’ associations to demand that this decision be reversed for it will make the funds less profitable, to the detriment of the pocket books of employers and union bureaucrats alike.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Quebec unions mount nationalist campaign against savage cuts to jobless benefits

By Eric Marquis and Richard Dufour 
2 May 2013
Tens of thousands of workers from New Brunswick and all parts of Quebec joined a mass protest in Montreal last Saturday to oppose the federal Conservative government’s dismantling of Employment Insurance.
The demonstration was yet another sign of the mass opposition in the working class across Canada to changes to EI introduced in the 2012 federal budget. Under these changes, seasonal workers and other repeat EI claimants will have their benefits slashed. Moreover, they and all EI recipients can and are being forced to accept cheap labor jobs outside their area of expertise.
Supporters of the Socialist Equality Party (Canada) intervened at the demonstration, distributing hundreds of copies of a statement entitled: “Build rank-and-file committees of struggle independent from the unions to mobilize the working class against Harper and Marois. ”
Tens of thousands of workers marched in Montreal last Saturday to oppose the federal Conservative government’s cuts to jobless benefits.
Below we publish a translation of an article that first appeared in French on the WSWS last month that exposes the politics of the union-led Coalition québécoise contre la réforme de l’assurance-emploi (Quebec Coalition against Employment Insurance Reform), which organized last Saturday’s rally with the aim of politically derailing the opposition to the EI cuts.
The trade union-led Coalition québécoise contre la réforme de l’assurance-emploi (Quebec Coalition against Employment Insurance Reform) has promised to mount a “massive mobilization” in response to the federal Conservative government’s brutal cuts in jobless benefits and efforts to press-gang the unemployed into cheap-labour jobs.
But the Coalition bears no resemblance to a genuine working-class challenge to the draconian cuts Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are making to the worker co-financed Employment Insurance program. Rather, it is another example of the empty oppositional pose the unions have adopted for decades, the better to contain and suppress the working class and impose the diktats of big business.
Time after time, the unions have intervened to thwart militant struggles in defence of jobs and public services. One can cite, for instance, their isolation of the 1999 Quebec nurses’ strike, a struggle that had erupted in opposition to the sweeping budget cuts the unions had imposed in collaboration with the Parti Québécois (PQ) provincial government; their acceptance in 2005 of the Charest Liberal government’s imposition, by government decree, of seven-year concessionary contracts on half a million Quebec public sector workers; or their torpedoing of the mass movement that erupted in May 2012 against Bill 78 and their campaign to divert the Quebec student strike behind the election of a PQ government that has now imposed sweeping social spending cuts.
A group of workers voice their opposition to the Conservatives’ Employment Insurance “reform.”
The unions have invited the Union des Municipalités du Québec, the mouthpiece for the province’s big business municipal governments, to join their Coalition, and are promoting all manner of right-wing big business politicians as allies of the workers and unemployed in the fight against the Conservative cuts.
In keeping with this right-wing orientation, the unions are appealing to the Harper government to “rethink” its Employment Insurance (EI) cuts, completely ignoring what motivates this right-wing “reform”—namely, the class war that all levels of government are waging at big business’s behest in order to make working people pay for the deepest crisis of global capitalism since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Indeed, the unions have signaled that they are ready to accept Harper’s cuts in jobless benefits, so long as the government carries out “real public consultation” and “impact studies.”
The unions’ campaign revolves around the claim that there is a “national consensus” in Quebec against the Conservatives’ cuts, a consensus that transcends class divisions.
This nationalist fiction is aimed at dividing Quebec workers from their class brothers and sisters in English Canada and tying them to the political representatives of Quebec big business. It facilitates the efforts of Quebec Premier Pauline Marois and her PQ government to camouflage their own attacks on the working class behind hypocritical condemnations of the federal EI “reform.”
The changes to EI—including more restrictive rules surrounding accessibility, the obligation to accept a job up to a 100 kilometers (62 miles) away and at 30 percent lower wages, and harassment by inspectors who are themselves under threat if they don’t meet cost-reduction targets—have provoked substantial popular opposition. In Quebec and the Atlantic provinces—the regions of the country where seasonal work is especially common and which, therefore, will be particularly affected by the tightening of eligibility rules and new penalties for repeat EI claimants—there have been sizeable protests.
And across Canada, growing numbers of workers recognize that the attack on the unemployed is part of a broader Conservative-government and ruling-class agenda to drive down worker living standards and gut worker rights. In the past two years alone, the Harper government has raised the retirement age, slashed billions from federal spending, imposed a health-care funding formula designed to make Medicare unsustainable, and repeatedly illegalized strikes, then ordered government-appointed arbitrators to impose employer concession demands.
In the face of this all-out assault, the Coalition is mounting an anemic protest campaign. It largely consists of “unannounced visits” to the offices of Conservative MPs, with the aim of showing them that their EI reform “does not make sense.”
The futility of appealing to these representatives of the ruling class has been quickly exposed. After a “visit” to the office of Industry Minister Christian Paradis in the Eastern Townships, a spokesperson for the coalition confessed: “We invited Minister Paradis to a meeting in order to explain the concerns of his voters, and I fear our invitation is a dead letter.”
The following comment appears on the coalition’s website: “Reflecting a true consensus in Quebec against the [EI] reform, all the organizations in the coalition are mobilized around the slogan: “In our place ( Chez nous), it’s NO to the ravaging of EI.” This slogan—with its invocation of the Quebec nationalist trope Chez nous— is displayed in large letters on billboards in several Montreal neighbourhoods.
Its significance is highlighted in a remark Claude Faucher, vice-president of the Centrale des syndicats démocratiques (CSD-Congress of Democratic Trade Unions), made at the public launch of the Coalition québécoise contre la réforme de l’assurance-emploi: “The unemployed, workers, employers, trade unions, employer associations, municipal and provincial governments have all explained to the Harper government that its reform does not make sense.”
Contrary to Faucher’s statements and what is implied by the “ Chez nous ” in the coalition’s slogan, the true allies of the unemployed and workers of Quebec are not “employers,” their “associations,” or “municipal and provincial governments.”
These forces represent the class enemy. They work tirelessly to intensify the exploitation of workers in order to increase the profits of big business. The genuine allies of Québécois workers are working people across Canada, in the United States, and overseas, all of whom face the same ruling-class offensive against their wages, jobs, and social rights.
The nationalist perspective of the coalition is reflected in its make-up: trade unions, student associations and representatives of the petty bourgeoisie and weaker sections of big business, such as farmers, municipalities and chambers of commerce, that are threatened by Harper’s new measures. “We already anticipate a shortage of seasonal manpower in the regions (i.e. outside the Montreal and Quebec City metropolitan areas), a loss in productivity, and therefore a loss of income for businesses and this in a local economy that is already fragile,” says Joel Arseneau, mayor of Îles-de-la-Madeleine and a prominent coalition spokesman.
At an April 4 Coalition-sponsored protest in Montreal there were representatives of the Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party (NDP), and the PQ. When in office, these three big-business parties have all imposed their own anti-working class measures, including cuts to public and social services. As a result of the cuts in EI carried out by the Chretien-Martin Liberal government, today less than 40 percent of Canada’s jobless can draw EI benefits.
The PQ, which returned to power last September with the unions’ support, delivered an “emergency” budget last fall that imposed the biggest social spending cuts since the PQ’s “zero-deficit” drive of the mid-1990s, while reneging on promises to cancel the Liberals’ regressive per-head health care tax and increase taxes on the rich. In February the PQ imposed 3 percent per year university tuition hikes and soon after it announced cuts in social assistance (welfare)—cuts it has justified by invoking the same reactionary pretext as the Conservatives: that the government must ensure the jobless not become “dependent” on state support.
At the same time, the PQ government has established a “National Commission to Review EI”—co-chaired by Gilles Duceppe, the former head of the PQ’s sister party, the Bloc Québécois—as a means of covering up its own right-wing measures and drumming up support for its program for a separate République du Québec. Not surprisingly, the unions, which for decades have politically subordinated the working class to the big-business PQ, and their Coalition have warmly welcomed this maneuver.
The PQ and its union allies have long experience in exploiting the reactionary measures adopted by Ottawa to turn attention away from the imposition of like policies by the Quebec government.
On returning to power in 1994, the PQ announced a program of hospital closures. Yet with the support of the unions and the pseudo-left, PQ Premier Jacques Parizeau and BQ head and ex-Conservative cabinet minister Lucien Bouchard appealed to Quebeckers to vote “yes” to Quebec independence in the 1995 referendum as the only way to block “the right wave” sweeping across North America.
This phrase referenced the massive social spending cuts, including to EI, imposed by the Chretien-Martin federal Liberal government and the “Common Sense Revolution” of Mike Harris’s Ontario Progressive Conservative government, which slashed social assistance benefits by 22 percent.
Yet in the year after the referendum, the PQ, now headed by Bouchard, put in place, with the help of the unions, its own program of drastic social spending cuts, including the elimination of tens of thousands of jobs in the health and education sectors.
Today, the joint assault on what remains of the welfare state is being carried out by a Conservative government at the federal level, an NDP-backed Liberal minority government in Ontario, and a PQ government in Quebec.
A genuine struggle against the Conservatives’ EI cuts requires the independent political mobilization of the working class across Canada in opposition to big business’s assault on jobs, wages and worker rights and the austerity agenda being implemented by its political representatives in Ottawa, Quebec City, Toronto. In opposition to the never-ending ruling class demands for cuts and sacrifices, workers should advance a socialist program—the fight for a workers’ government that would radically reorganize socioeconomic life so that the abundant human, technical and natural resources that are available could be mobilized to satisfy social needs, not enrich a tiny capitalist elite.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Quebec’s Option Nationale: An aspiring party of big business

By Richard Dufour 
30 March 2013
At its first full convention, held earlier this month, Option Nationale—a new party formed by a split-off from the big business Parti Québécois—reached out to what it called “right-wing” Quebec sovereignists and paraded its support for capitalism and indifference to poverty.
The Option Nationale (ON) convention also opened the door to a possible merger with the PQ, which, since returning to power last September, has imposed steep cuts in social spending, including punitive cuts to social assistance benefits, and offered its support for the French imperialist intervention in Mali.
Québec Solidaire (QS), an ostensibly “left” party promoted by the Pabloites, has repeatedly described Option Nationale as a “natural ally.” It forged a limited “non-aggression pact” with it in last September’s provincial election and recently voted to work for an ON-QS merger.
But the ON convention spurned the QS’s overtures and publicly eschewed identification with the “left,” declaring that its aim is to build a party in which “right-wing” sovereiginists will be fully at home.
This was hardly surprising. ON is the political vehicle of Michel Aussant, a former investment banker and ex-PQ legislator, and it is being mentored by Jacques Parizeau, the scion of one of Quebec’s wealthiest families and a former PQ Premier of Quebec.
Aussant set the tone for the convention, declaring that “capitalism, when contained by a proper legal and regulatory framework, is the best system.”
The convention re-elected him as party leader by acclamation and voted to grant him an annual salary of $86,000. To the few delegates who urged debate on the size of the leader’s salary, Aussant replied, “For the hours I put into this party this is not far from the minimum wage.”
Aussant’s flippant dismissal of the plight of the working poor was in keeping with the convention’s rejection of a proposal to make the fight against poverty a party priority.
The convention promoted Option Nationale as Quebec’s only truly sovereignist party. The PQ, it asserted, is preoccupied with gaining provincial office and QS too focused on promoting its “social project” and to the determinant of uniting all sovereignist forces.
For decades and through a series of parties—including the PQ and its chief provincial rival, the Parti Libéral du Québec (PLQ)—the Quebec bourgeoisie has pressed for greater powers for the Quebec state, so as to strengthen its hand against its big business rivals and its domination and political control over the working class.
The PQ has held two sovereignty referendums, but has always left open the door to a possible new bargain, including a continued economic union, with the rest of Canada. Since its narrow loss in the 1995 referendum, the PQ has repeatedly been torn by factional warfare. Many of the party’s petty bourgeois cadre have complained that the leadership is soft-peddling independence and demanded the PQ introduce further chauvinist measures to promote French as Quebec’s sole official and “public language” and ensure that immigrants and religious minorities adhere to “Quebec values.”
For decades the unions have worked to harness the working class to the PQ, promoting it and the Quebec indépendantiste movement as “progressive,” while systematically isolating the struggles of Quebec workers from their class brothers and sisters in the rest of Canada and around the world.
But long historical experience—notably of PQ governments imposing sweeping austerity measures and using savage anti-strike laws—has demonstrated that the PQ is no less an implacable defender of big business and enemy of the working class than the Liberals and enormously undercuts the PQ’s electoral support among working people.
Option Nationale was formed in response to the crisis that wracked the PQ following the May 2011federal election. In that election, its sister party, the Bloc Québécois, was almost wiped off the political map as Quebecers turned en masse to the social-democratic NDP, a party hitherto little-known in Quebec, so as to demonstrate their opposition to the traditional political establishment, federalist and sovereignist alike.
With the PQ hit by a raft of defections, Aussant set up the ON with the aim of salvaging the Quebec bourgeoisie’s sovereigntist option, if not the PQ itself.
Aussant told this month’s convention that he is confident that one day “people will say that a sovereignist vote is a vote for Option Nationale.” At the same time, he left the door open to his followers eventually integrating into the PQ ranks, declaring, “If a party is as resolutely sovereignist as Option Nationale we will collaborate, or even merge with that party so as to advance the cause.” In subsequent discussion with reporters, he suggested that his and ON’s return to the PQ are unlikely under its current leader, Premier Pauline Marois, thereby underlining that were the PQ to choose a new leader committed to more aggressively promoting Quebec independence a merger might well result.
The guest of honor at the ON convention was none other than the 82 year-old Jacques Parizeau. The long time idol of the PQ’s “hardline” faction, Parizeau was a leading cabinet minster in the PQ government of the early 1980s that imposed sweeping concessions on public sector workers by government decree and threatened to fire teachers en masse. As PQ Premier from September 1994 to January 1996, Parizeau pushed through hospital closures and other austerity measures, initiating the PQ’s campaign for a “zero deficit” that under his successor, Lucien Bouchard, became the mechanism for imposing the greatest social spending cuts in Quebec history.
In a warmly-applauded speech, Parizeau reaffirmed his loyalty to the PQ, a party to which he said he is “attached with every fiber of my body,” while criticizing its lukewarm promotion of Quebec sovereignty. He welcomed Option Nationale’s emergence as “leaven in the dough.”
In a significant passage, the former PQ premier elaborated on this theme. “If your enthusiasm gradually spreads throughout the sovereignty circles,” said Parizeau, “then an agreement between all sovereignists becomes possible.”
Parizeau is a highly conscious representative of the Quebec ruling class, fighting determinedly to reverse the decline in support for the PQ and its proposal for a capitalist République du Québec. As such, he welcomes the efforts made in this direction by Option Nationale. But he fears that this is not enough, coming from a party that openly displays its admiration for capitalism and its indifference to pressing social problems such as poverty and low wages.
In the run-up to the 1995 sovereignty referendum Parizeau forged a PQ-led “rainbow coalition” in favor of sovereignty that included the right wing populist ADQ (predecessor of the current CAQ), the Quebec unions, and the pseudo-left. Parizeau is seeking a means to create a similar broad coalition, in particular one that includes the unions and the middle class forces that are in and around Québec Solidaire. Parizeau sees Option Nationale as a bridge to draw these layers more closely into the PQ’s orbit.
Québec Solidaire’s courtship of such an openly right wing party as Option Nationale attests to its own character as an aspiring bourgeois party, whose aim is to pressure and manoeuvre with the traditional parties of big business. Indeed, by proclaiming its readiness to ally and merge with ON, QS seeks to send a message to the PQ that it is open to co-operation with it as well. Indeed, the QS leadership meeting last December that voted to pursue a merger with ON also voted to consider a “tactical”, i.e. electoral, alliance with the PQ at the QS congress to be held in early May.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Quebec: PQ imposes annual hikes in university tuition fees

By Keith Jones 
28 February 2013
Using a phony “national” Education Summit as a backdrop, Quebec’s Parti Québecois (PQ) government announced Tuesday that henceforth university tuition fees will rise annually by at least 3 percent.
The banner reads: “Six months on strike for this? No to indexation!”
“It’s clear,” said Quebec Premier Pauline Marois in closing the two-day summit, “that it has been very difficult to arrive at a consensus. But at such a moment it is up to the government to take up its responsibilities. I’m doing that.”
The government had hoped that its trade union and student association allies would formally endorse the tuition fee hikes. But given the events of last year—a six-month long province-wide student strike that at its height threatened to trigger a mass movement of the working class in opposition to big business’ austerity agenda—the unions and FEUQ (Quebec Federation of University Students) and FECQ (Quebec Federation of College Students) deemed it politic to claim that they oppose the government’s decision.
Nonetheless, the union and student leaders made it crystal clear that they will do precisely nothing to oppose the tuition fee hikes, just as they have acquiesced before the PQ’s emergency budget of last November. That budget imposed the steepest social spending cuts in 15 years, including $250 million in cuts to university budgets to be implemented by March 2014, and discarded PQ election promises to eliminate a regressive per capita health care tax and partially freeze electricity rates.
FEUQ President Martine Desjardins said she was “disappointed” by the government’s decision to “index” tuition fees—in reality it is raising them by considerably more than the inflation rate. “But students,” she rushed to add, “aren’t leaving with empty hands.”
As proof of her claim, Desjardins pointed to Marois’ announcement that the government will allow one of the five working groups it has established to continue the “dialogue” on university accessibility, financing, and management to discuss its decision—announced along with tuition fee hike—to raise university administrative fees by 3 percent per year. (In addition to $2,275 in annual tuition, Quebec students pay on average $800 in administrative fees per year.)
“Unfortunately, we have to live with the hikes that are proposed,” said Daniel Boyer, the general-secretary of the Quebec Federation of Labour. Asked by reporters if there was ever question of the unions quitting the summit to protest the government’s unilateral imposition of the tuition fee hikes, Boyer gave an emphatic no: “We don’t want to act like little children every time we don’t get everything we want.”
The unions’ posturing at the summit as partisans of a tuition freeze and even the eventual abolition of tuition fees was utterly cynical.
They played the principal role in isolating and politically suppressing last year’s student strike.
There was a heavy police presence throughout Tuesday’s demonstration.
In the name of preserving “social peace,” the presidents of the QFL, the Confederation of National Trades Unions and the Centrale des syndicats du Québec joined with Charest in early May in bullying student leaders into accepting a sellout agreement. That agreement, which was overwhelming rejected by Quebec’s students, would have raised tuition fees by more than 80 percent over 7 years beginning last September.
When the Liberal government’s imposition of a draconian anti-strike law Bill 78 provoked mass opposition in the working class, the unions intensified their efforts to end the strike. The head of the QFL wrote the president of the Canadian Labor Congress to insist that no support should be given to the striking students and all the unions joined forces to divert the opposition movement behind the PQ, the Quebec elite’s alternate party of government—as exemplified by the QFL slogan “After the streets, to the ballot box.”
Assisted by the unions, the student federations, and Québec Solidaire, the PQ posed as a supporter of the striking students, with Marois for months wearing the “red square” that symbolized the strike. But at the summit, she and Education Minister Pierre Duchesne gave vent to their and the ruling class’ hostility to the students’ militant challenge to the ruling class drive to dismantle public services through cuts, privatization and the imposition of the user-pay principal. Time and again, they deplored the events of last spring as a period of “division” and “social crisis” that had “damaged” Quebec’s “image.” At one point Marois dismissed the so-called Maple Spring as a “psychodrama.”
Important sections of big business and the corporate media, have criticized the 3 percent tuition fee hike as inadequate. The Conseil de Patronat accused Marois of “buying social peace.”
But the government believes that imposing tuition increases that even in their first year will only be slightly smaller than the $100 per year increases the Liberals imposed between 2007 and 2011 is important for demonstrating—to big business and working people alike—its determination to impose right-wing measures in the face of mass opposition. In concluding the summit, Marois boasted, “The social crisis is behind us.”
Moreover, the government has established mechanisms through which more substantial increases could be imposed in the near future. One of the working groups is charged with considering whether departments that offer more costly programs should be allowed to charger higher fees, as well as whether non-native Quebec students are paying their “fair” share.
ASSE—the successor organization to CLASSE, the student group that led last year’s strike—chose at the eleventh hour to boycott the summit, on the grounds that the summit was a “political show” and that the PQ was “betraying” students by not seriously considering its demand for the gradual phasing out of tuition fees.
But ASSE itself did much to encourage illusions in the PQ and its phony “national” summit. It participated in all the pre-summit meetings, has failed to speak out against the PQ’s budget cuts, and adapted to the campaign of the unions, FECQ and FEUQ to channel the student strike behind the PQ, with leading ASSE representatives repeatedly saying Charest’s defeat would be a “victory.”
While an implicit admission of the failure of its orientation, ASSE’s boycott of this week’s summit is a continuation of its nationalist, middle-class protests perspective of pressuring the Quebec elite for concessions.
It made no criticism of the trade union leaders who participated in the summit—just as it meekly submitted to the unions and dropped its call for a “social strike” last spring, once the unions signaled their virulent opposition. And it continues to separate the struggle for education to be recognized as a social right from the struggle to mobilize the working class as an independent political force against the ruling class agenda of brutal austerity and job and wage cuts.
More than 10,000 students and their supporters participated Tuesday in a march called by ASSE through downtown Montreal, once again bearing witness to the growing radicalization of young people.
Speaking at a rally before the march, an ASSE spokesman from CEGEP de Valleyfield repeated ASSE’s claim the strike had ended in victory—no matter that the PQ had just imposed tuition fee hikes in perpetuity and has imposed social spending cuts far beyond those of its Liberal predecessor. Vowing that ASSE will continue on the same course, he declared, “Student unionism functions and makes gains … We will pull up our sleeves, return to our assemblies, and continue to do what we have done before—organize and mobilize.”
With a view to drawing the real lessons of the student strike, supporters of the WSWS distributed hundreds of copies of a statement titled, “The education summit and the bankruptcy of the politics of ASSE: to oppose the assault on public services student must turn to the working class.”

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Quebec’s education summit: A cover for university tuition fee hikes

By Keith Jones 
25 February 2013
Today and tomorrow, Quebec’s Parti Québecois (PQ) government will hold an education summit to provide political cover for imposing university tuition fee hikes and subordinating post-secondary education even more completely to the exigencies of big business.
The summit will bring together government and opposition leaders, representatives of big business, university and CEGEP (junior and technical college) administrators, the presidents of Quebec’s major labor federations, the heads of unions representing university and CEGEP teachers, and the leaders of all but one of the province’s student associations.
While the summit’s purported aim is to arrive at a “national consensus” on university financing, the government has made it known that it intends to institute annual university tuition fee hikes and has already ordered universities to impose $250 million in spending cuts by the end of March 2014.
In preparation for the summit, the government has proposed various “indexation” formulas that would raise tuition fees from between $46 and $83 per year. Quebec university students currently pay annual tuition fees of $2,175, plus administrative fees of on average $800 per year.
The government has also said that it is willing to consider the imposition of higher tuition fees at the province’s large research universities and/or by departments, such as medicine and dentistry, with above-average costs.
The big business PQ came to power last September by posing as an ally of the students and the popular opposition to the seven-year, 82 percent hike in university tuition fees ordered by the Liberal government of Jean Charest. The Liberal tuition fee hikes and the Charest government’s subsequent adoption of Law 12 (Bill 78)—legislation that effectively criminalized the then more than more three month-old student strike and imposed sweeping restrictions on the right to demonstrate—provoked mass opposition. At its height in late May, this opposition threatened to become the catalyst for a broader working-class challenge to the ruling class’ austerity agenda.
Ultimately, the student strike petered out last August, when the lengthy, government-imposed “suspension” of the spring semester at strike-hit CEGEPs and university departments came to an end. While the threat of sanctions under Bill 12 played a role, the principal reason that the strike collapsed was that the trade unions, the student associations, Québec Solidaire and other pseudo-left groups politically diverted it behind the PQ, which for the past four decades has served as the Quebec elite’s “left” party of government. CLASSE, the student group that led the strike, abruptly dropped its call for “a social strike,” as soon as the unions signalled their virulent opposition, and its spokespersons repeatedly suggested that Charest’s defeat at the hands of the PQ would constitute a “victory” for students.
On taking office, the minority PQ government canceled the Liberal tuition fee hikes and suspended Law 12, so as to shore up a capitalist political order that had been shaken by the half-year long student strike. That accomplished, the PQ pivoted to imposing capitalist austerity. During the fall, the PQ government abandoned a series of populist election promises, including a pledge to modestly raise capital-gains taxes, then enforced an “emergency” austerity budget that imposes the steepest spending cuts in 15 years.
In the run-up to this week’s summit, the government has been seeking to dampen expectations. Last Friday, Education Minister Pierre Duchesne said that, unlike the PQ-convened 1996 economic summits at which the unions gave their support for massive social spending cuts, the government is not expecting the education summit to produce an agreement or even a common communiqué. “At this time,” said Duchesne, “there is no question of a common declaration that everybody signs. What we are aiming for is to have discussions and to advance things sufficiently that we can say we’re going in this or that direction. It’s not a question of getting people to sign anything whatsoever.”
The unions and the student associations most closely aligned with the unions, the Quebec University Students Federation (FEUQ) and the Quebec College Students Federation (FECQ), have signaled that they are ready to be “persuaded” to except indexation, i.e. annual tuition fee increases. FEUQ has convened a congress beginning Monday morning so it can, as needed, vote to give its president, Martine Desjardins, the “flexibility” to negotiate with the government. Yesterday it held a joint press conference with the leadership of the PQ’s youth organization, the Comit é national des jeunes du Parti Québécois.
The unions, it should be recalled, bullied the student associations last May into accepting an agreement—subsequently overwhelmingly rejected by the striking students—that would have fully imposed the Liberal tuition increases.
Big business, the corporate media, and the university rectors have, on the other hand, indicated that they consider the “mere” indexation of tuition fees to be an undue concession to the students. And the two other major big business parties, the Liberals and the CAQ (Coalition avenir Québec), have opposed the PQ’s cuts to university spending, although they are in full agreement with the PQ’s insistence that the budget be balanced in the coming fiscal year and want further tax cuts.
In a statement that elicited much favorable press comment, McGill Principal Heather Monroe-Blum recently dismissed the summit as a “farce,” saying the government has already taken the key fiscal decisions in advance.
ASSE (the Association for Student Union Solidarity), the successor organization to CLASSE, participated in all the preparatory meetings for the education summit. However, on Feb. 14, three days after its representatives had met with PQ Premier Pauline Marois and Education Minster Duchesne, ASSE announced that it will boycott the education summit because the government is not prepared to seriously discuss its proposal for the abolition of tuition fees.
Prior to the closed door discussions with Marois, ASSE issued a series of “ultimatums,” none of which made an issue of the university budget cuts, let alone the PQ government’s austerity agenda.
In announcing ASSE’s decision to boycott the summit, ASSE spokesman Jérémie Bédard-Wien said his organization has no intention of legitimizing “another” tuition fee hike: “We will defend the option of free education and we will try to block indexation in the streets.”
Bédard-Wien went on to denounce the PQ for having “surfed on the wave” of the Quebec student strike. “They surfed on promises like the canceling of the university tuition fee hikes, the canceling of the [regressive, per head] health care tax … but they have retreated on each one of these issues. The PQ is not a progressive party. It pretends to be a progressive party, but in the end, it listens above all to big business.”
What Bédard-Wien didn’t and wouldn’t say is that if the PQ was able to exploit the popular opposition to the Charest Liberal government and deceive students and workers it was because ASSE and its allies—the unions, Québec Solidaire (QS), and the pseudo-left as a whole—promoted the lie that the big business PQ constituted a “lesser evil,” if not a progressive alternative, to the Liberals.
In June, QS appealed to the PQ for an electoral alliance and, in the final week of the campaign for the September 4 election, it pledged that if it held the balance of power it would prop up a minority PQ government without asking for any policy commitments whatsoever.
Rather than warn students about the PQ’s record in imposing the program of big business, including adopting draconian Bill 78-type strikebreaking laws, CLASSE appealed to PQ leader Marois to put back her red-square (a badge symbolizing the strike) last June, when she made a show of taking it off, so as to reassure big business of her party’s right-wing intentions.
ASSE, unlike its union and QS allies, has chosen at the eleventh hour to boycott the PQ summit. But this in no way represents a break with its middle-class, nationalist protest perspective. It continues to separate opposition to tuition fee hikes and the fight for education to be recognized as a social right from any broader opposition to the ruling class drive to make working people pay for the capitalist crisis through job and wage cuts and the dismantling of social services. Indeed, in its propaganda for a demonstration outside the summit on Tuesday, it makes no mention of the PQ government’s austerity measures, not even the cuts to university budgets, let alone those being implemented by the federal Conservative government and the political representatives of big business across Canada and around the world.
ASSE’s perspective has led students into a blind alley. A year after the launching of a student strike that could have served as the catalyst for the development of a powerful working-class counter-offensive, the elite of Quebec and Canada are pushing forward with a veritable social counter-revolution. Unemployment insurance, pensions, health care and all social services are being slashed, and the Quebec government is about to impose further university tuition fee hikes.
To secure basic social rights, including the right to free quality education, students must turn to the working class, the only social force with the power to break the political and economic domination of big business, and fight to mobilize it as an independent political force armed with a socialist program.
This author also recommends:

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Big business applauds Quebec budget

By Louis Girard and Keith Jones 
23 November 2012
Big business and the corporate media have enthusiastically applauded the maiden budget of the Parti Québécois (PQ) provincial government.
Simon Prévost, president of the Quebec Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told Radio-Canada he hadn’t “seen such a good budget in a long time.” For his part,
Conseil du Patronat (Quebec Business Council) head Yves-Thomas Dorval declared,
“We are very satisfied that the government has so firm an intention to return to a balanced budget in 2013-14.”
Many commentators have noted the similarity between the PQ budget and the string of austerity budgets delivered by its predecessor, the Liberal government of Jean Charest. Few however have made the other obvious point: while the federal Conservative government of Stephen Harper, arguably the most reactionary government in modern Canadian history, has decided to push back by a year the elimination of the annual federal budget deficit, the PQ is adamant that the previously announced target for a balanced budget be met irrespective of the social cost.
In an interview with the Globe and Mail published last weekend, PQ Premier Pauline Marois conceded that her government’s budget was written with the aim of satisfying the Quebec, Canadian and world financial elite. She said she was anxious to “send a message” to the “business community” and dispel “the myth” the PQ doesn’t “know anything about the economy.” The credit-rating agencies, added Marois, “are waiting to see how we perform and for us that’s important.”
Introduced on Tuesday, the PQ budget lavishes tax concessions on big business, while outlining a program of spending cuts that even corporate spokesmen have termed “ambitious.” It also retains, albeit in modified form, the regressive health-care head-tax and electricity rate increases introduced by the previous Liberal government—measures that the PQ had decried and promised to rescind when in opposition.
In the run-up to the September 4 election, the PQ, in the hopes of arresting the decline in its working class vote-base, promised to increase taxes on big business and the wealthy, so as to finance the abolition of the Liberals’ regressive health tax and fund some modest social spending increases. But the PQ has scaled back or abandoned most of these promises. First to go was a pledge to increase in taxes on capital gains and dividends. Tuesday’s budget announced that the government is delaying raising mining royalties, pending further consultation with the industry, but did slightly increase the tax rate on taxable income in excess of $100,000, from 24 to 25.75 percent.
The chief elements of the budget—which exceptionally covers the 17 month-period from now through the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year (March 31, 2014)—are:
#Commitments to eliminate the province’s annual budget deficit in the coming fiscal year despite anaemic economic growth and global economic turbulence and to accelerate the paying down of the provincial debt;
#A pledge to limit the growth in total program spending to 1.9 percent in the current fiscal year and to 1.8 percent in fiscal 2013-14;
#A $1.5 billion per year cut for the next five years in repairs to the province’s dilapidated infrastructure, including roads, sewers, schools and hospitals;
#Changes to the health-care tax which make it somewhat more equitable, but which will still see all but the poorest adult Quebecers paying an annual head-tax of $100 per year and most paying $200 per year
#Changes to the electricity rate structure whereby the so-called heritage share of electricity will be indexed to the inflation rate beginning in 2013 and that will make it easier for the government-owned utility Hydro-Quebec to otherwise raise rates;
#The elimination next year of 2,000 Hydro-Quebec jobs, almost 10 percent of the utility’s total workforce;
#A ten-year tax-holiday for new investments of more than $300 million in manufacturing, mineral and wood-processing, distribution centers and data-processing; an increase in the special pharmaceutical industry research and development tax credit; and the prolonging for several more years of a lucrative investment tax credit.
#Increases in tobacco and alcohol taxes that are expected to increase government revenue by $230 million per year.
The spending restraints are far and away the most severe in fifteen years and when inflation and population growth are taken into account, will translate into substantial spending cuts in virtually every government department.
Even prior to the budget, the government ordered the Health Ministry to cut spending by $400 million in the remainder of the current fiscal year.
The PQ claims to be sparing education and health care from cuts, but spending on elementary and secondary schooling is to increase by just 1.8 percent. Moreover the government is cutting $150 million from school board budgets—money that will either be slashed from programs or have to be raised through higher school taxes.
In so far as big business has raised concerns with the budget, it is that the government must now make good on its commitment to slash social spending and not waver in the face of popular opposition.
“I think our message was heard and that the government took it into account,” said Françoise Bertrand of the Quebec Chamber of Commerce.
In an op-ed comment titled “Tout ça pour ça?” (All of that, for this?), La presse columnist Alain Dubuc celebrated the budget for it “appears to announce the return to reality of a party that got carried away during the election campaign.” A return, added Dubuc, to the “economic consensus” the PQ has long shared with the Liberals and the even more rightwing Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ).
While Dubuc made no mention of this, the PQ’s cynical left feint during the recent election campaign—a campaign in which it coupled limited populist socio-economic promises with pledges to balance the budget and curb spending and chauvinist appeals—took place in the context of a militant student strike.
At its height last May, the strike threatened to spark a broader working challenge to the austerity program of the bourgeoisie. But the trade unions, Québec Solidaire, and the student associations, including CLASSE, the student group that initiated the strike, opposed mobilizing the working class and diverted the opposition to the Liberals behind the PQ, promoting it as a “lesser evil” to the Charest government.
The Liberals and CAQ both denounced Tuesday’s budget for not imposing still greater social spending cuts, but quickly made clear that they would not bring down the minority PQ government. As for Québec Solidaire (QS), it declared itself “disappointed” by the budget. The PQ said QS leader Françoise David is the “party of zero deficit at any price.”
QS has systematically promoted illusions in the PQ, the Quebec elite’s alternate party of government, and, David’s protestations notwithstanding, must bear political responsibility for its austerity measures. In June, QS proposed an electoral alliance with the big business PQ and just days before the September 4 election that brought it to power, QS pledged to prop up a minority PQ government for at least a year without asking for any policy commitments whatsoever.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Quebec’s premier venture-capital fund controlled by Quebec Federation of Labour

By Laurent Lafrance 
1 October 2012
The role that the trade unions played in suppressing the Quebec student strike has raised many questions among the province’s young people.
While the unions claimed to support the striking students, they joined with Premier Jean Charest in early May in seeking to bully the students into accepting a sell-out agreement. The unions similarly claimed to oppose the Liberal government’s draconian strikebreaking legislation (Bill 78), but pledged to obey it and intervened forcefully to stamp out the threat that workers might walk out in sympathy with the students.
In late May, as spontaneous protests were erupting across the province, Michel Arsenault, the president of the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ), the province’s largest labour federation, wrote to the Canadian Labour Congress to demand that it give no support to the students. Subsequently, the FTQ and all the province’s rival union apparatuses joined forces to corral the students and the broader opposition movement their struggle had provoked behind the election of the big-business Parti Québécois —the Quebec elite’s alternate party of government .
A notice that the FTQ recently published in La Presse sheds light on the objective reasons and class interests that lay behind the unions’ strangling of the students’ militant struggle.
Signed by FTQ President Arsenault, the notice honored Louis Laberge, the QFL’s president from 1964 to 1991, on the tenth anniversary of his death. It depicts Laberge, a notorious right-winger throughout his decades-long career as a union functionary, as an indefatigable fighter for the interests of working people. However, Arsenault’s memorial notice singles out as Laberge’s greatest achievement—an achievement all Quebecers should celebrate—his founding of the Solidarity Fund.
A government-supported investment fund, the misnamed Solidarity Fund provides capital to Quebec entrepreneurs. It has been controlled by the QFL bureaucracy throughout its entire 30-year existence.
“The whole of Quebec,” claimed Arsenault, “remembers Louis Laberge as the brilliant founder in 1983 of the Solidarity Fund, a fund which today totals more than eight and a half billion dollars.”
The importance Arsenault gives to the creation of the Solidarity Fund exemplifies the transformation of the FTQ into a corporatist, anti-worker organization that connives with big business and the state in slashing jobs and wages and suppressing all working-class resistance, and whose highly paid officials have increasingly become petty stockholders in the exploitation of the working class.
The official goal of the Solidarity Fund is to provide venture capital to small and medium-sized businesses and to “troubled” larger enterprises. While it solicits investments from FTQ members and other workers, all Quebecers, irrespective of their wealth, can invest in it. Since its foundation, the president of the FTQ has doubled as the Solidarity Fund president and, while professionally trained money managers run the fund, it is controlled by the FTQ bureaucracy.
Fund managers and union officials work hand in hand with businessmen to ensure the “profitability” of companies that are recipients of Solidarity Fund investments, a process that is invariably at the expense of the jobs and working conditions of the companies’ employees. The fund can and does frequently intervene to “rescue” companies with loans and investments, predicated on workers accepting concessions.
In launching the Solidarity Fund, Louis Laberge declared, “the Fund will not be a charity nor an agency to grant funds in place of the government; it will be profitable.” In becoming the principal managers of such investment funds—the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CNTU) has its own investment fund, Fondaction—the union bureaucracy has developed an alternate source of income to worker dues, thereby insulating itself from the fate of the workers they purportedly represent. Moreover, this income is derived from sharing in corporate profits, that is, in the direct exploitation of the working class.
The FTQ set up the Solidarity Fund in the wake of the global slump of the early 1980s, which hit Quebec and Canada very hard. Quebec was officially in recession from the summer of 1981 until the end of 1982. During this period, the unemployment rate rose to 14 percent.
Under conditions where the international bourgeoisie had turned to class-war policies, with the governments of Ronald Reagan in the U.S. and Margaret Thatcher in Britain acting as their spearhead, the Parti Québécois (PQ) government of René Lévesque turned viciously against the working class. By decree, the PQ imposed concessions, including wage cuts of up to 20 percent, on public sector employees. When teachers rebelled, the FTQ and CNTU isolated them, enabling the government to break the strike with a draconian antistrike law and the threat of mass firings.
Fearing that workers would begin to move independently against the PQ government’s assault, Laberge and the FTQ—aided by his “good friend René” (Lévesque)—floated the idea of a Solidarity Fund as an innovative way to “save jobs.”
At the height of the economic crisis, in August 1982, Laberge had effectively supported the government’s plans to cut public sector wages, declaring that “the FTQ was ready to consider any proposal that would allow funds gotten from wage cuts to be reinvested in initiatives to create employment. ” Subsequently, Laberge proposed that the FTQ would help “save jobs” by coupling “flexibility” at the bargaining table—that is the acceptance of contract concessions—with the development of a fund designed to provide capital to struggling enterprises.
All of this was, of course, rooted in violent opposition to any challenge to an economic system in which production and employment are subordinated to private profit.
Laberge called the establishment of the Solidarity Fund “much more revolutionary” than the creation of a “workers’ party.” He thereby acknowledged the FTQ’s utter hostility to the independent political mobilization of the working class to impose its own solution to the capitalist crisis and its turn, under the impact of the intensification of the capitalist crisis and the ruling class’s pursuit of class war, toward corporatism, in which the unions function as junior partners of big business and the state.
In 1986, several years after the creation of the Solidarity Fund, Laberge spelled this out in a speech before the Montreal Board of Trade. “In order to prevent the system from breaking,” declared Laberge, “the FTQ decided that the unions must intervene to increase employment, with its social partners. We decided to take action to restore confidence in a democratic economic system which has served us pretty well so far. “
Long-serving Quebec Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa warmly embraced the Solidarity Fund: “With this Fund, the unions no longer speak about destroying the system, but of improving it. It is a sign of insight and of maturity on the part of the FTQ. It is the way to go, if we want to get through the crisis. ‘
Bourassa’s support was emblematic of the attitude of Quebec’s big-business elite. They strongly supported the FTQ investment fund creation as a means of strengthening the trade union bureaucracy and giving it a direct financial incentive, as a petty shareholder in its enterprises, to increase the exploitation of workers.
The Fund’s establishment and success was entirely dependent on lucrative tax concessions—tax breaks that remain in effect to this day—from the federal Conservative government of Brian Mulroney and the Quebec provincial government.
Quebec’s francophone elite also welcomed the fund as a way to strengthen their grip on the province’s economy through the development and financing of Quebec companies. In paying homage to Laberge, former PQ Premier Jacques Parizeau declared, “Probably more than the CNTU, the FTQ and PQ, represents the basic orientation of our society and are a bit like two arms of the same operation” (to promote Quebecois capitalism).
While some workers have small sums invested in the Solidarity Fund, the real beneficiaries are the companies receiving the capital, the Fund’s major shareholders, its directors (a majority of whom are QFL officials), and highly paid investment mangers.
In 2009, Fund CEO Yvon Bolduc was paid a salary of $470,000, while the Chief Vice-president of Investments received $309,000, and the Chief Vice-president of Finance was paid $299,000.
The day-to-day management of the Solidarity Fund has been entrusted to the economic and political elite of the province. Its first CEO (from 1983 to 1997), the millionaire entrepreneur Claude Blanchet, is the husband of Pauline Marois, the current leader of the Parti Québécois and Quebec’s newly elected Premier. Blanchet’s successor, from 1997 to 2001, was Raymond Bachand, the Finance Minister in the outgoing Liberal government of Jean Charest. And Marois has named as her Minister for Industrial Policy Élaine Zakaïb, who for the past twenty years has been a senior Solidarity Fund executive.
The Solidarity Fund has become a major player in the Quebec economy and a means by which the bureaucracy is able to develop close financial and personal links with the Quebec bourgeoisie. The Fund has provided capital not only for hundreds of PMEs (small and medium-sized businesses), but also for large companies, such as the construction and engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, the cable-television and internet provider Vidéotron owned by the billionaire Pierre Karl Péladeau, and the airline Air Transat, led at the time by François Legault, now leader of the far-right CAQ (Coalition Avenir Quebec).
The Fund has also made headlines in recent months for investing millions of dollars in companies owned by the wealthy businessman Tony Accurso, who is at the center of a fraud and corruption scandal related to mafia involvement in the construction industry. In 2008, the FTQ’s Arsenault received a gift of jewelry worth $12,000 from Accurso, and in 2009 he spent time on Accurso’s private yacht, alongside other political and union figures.
The transformation of the unions into economic organizations that seek a share of the profits extracted from the working class is the result of a historical process; it is not simply the personal corruption of various union bureaucrats. The unions’ ever-closer alliance with employers is the outcome of their pro-capitalist and nationalist orientation under conditions of the development of globalized production. Their hostility to all worker struggle and to any social movement, like the Quebec student strike, that threatens to become the catalyst for working-class resistance shows that the task facing workers and young people is not to try to reform or pressure these bureaucratic apparatuses, but to break politically and organizationally from them and build new organs of struggle, above all a revolutionary workers’ party based on a socialist and internationalist program.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

CLASSE and Quebec’s student federations welcome PQ’s election

By Eric Marquis 
15 September 2012
The election of a minority Parti Québecois (PQ) government in last week’s provincial election has been welcomed by Quebec’s student associations, including CLASSE, the student group that led the six-month (February through August) student strike.
Pointing to the pledges of the big business PQ to scrap its Liberal predecessor’s plan to raise university tuition fees by $254 annually for the next seven years and to annul Bill 72 (Law 12), the Quebec College Students’ Federation (FECQ) and Quebec University Students’ Federation (FEUQ) declared the PQ’s return to power “a victory for all Quebec students.”
FECQ’s and FEUQ’s enthusiasm for the PQ victory was hardly surprising. For months they and their patrons in the trade unions had been urging students to make the defeat of the Liberals in the coming election their priority.
CLASSE was somewhat more guarded. In a statement issued Sept. 6, CLASSE said that it “welcomes with prudence the election of a minority PQ government,” while observing that there are “still several outstanding questions.” For his part, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, CLASSE’s most prominent spokesman until he stepped down last month, echoed FECQ and FEUQ. “We should not be embarrassed,” he declared, “to say that we won: the [tuition] increase will be set aside, Bill 12 also… and [Liberal Premier] Jean Charest has resigned.”
The reality is otherwise. The bourgeoisie’s austerity drive aimed at making the working class pay for the greatest crisis of capitalism since the Great Depression has not been derailed, nor education secured as a social right.
Through the elections Quebec’s ruing elite succeeded in breaking the longest student strike in Quebec history—a strike that at its height, following the passage of Bill 78 last May, threatened to precipitate a mass movement of the working class—and in replacing the Liberals with the PQ, long its alternate party of government.
The elections, coupled with Bill 78’s threat of police violence and mass arrest, was the mechanism employed by the ruling class to divert the opposition to the Charest government’s social spending cuts and regressive tax and user fee hikes into inoffensive political channels. Already in early June, La presse, Quebec’s most influential newspaper and the mouthpiece of the billionaire Desmarais family, was urging the calling of elections, calculating that they would serve as a means to paint the strike as “anti-democratic” and to corral the students and the wider opposition movement that erupted in response to Bill 78 behind the PQ.
Ostensibly a party of the “left,” the PQ has frequently been employed by the bourgeoisie to politically emasculate anti-establishment movements, especially of the working class, by feigning support. In the 1970s, the union bureaucracy joined forces with the PQ to harness a mass worker upsurge in Quebec to bourgeois politics and quarantine it from workers in the rest of North America. When the PQ last held office (1994-2003), it imposed the greatest social spending cuts in Quebec history, slashed taxes for big business and the rich, and used a Bill 78-type law to break a nurses’ strike.
During the just completed election campaign, the PQ made no secret of its determination to continue where it left off in imposing the dictates of big business. It pledged to balance Quebec’s budget and to hold the annual increase in government program spending for the next half decade to 2.4 percent, which, due to inflation and population growth, constitutes a huge per capita spending cut.
Even as PQ leader Pauline Marois shamelessly appealed for students to vote for her party so as to ensure they repeal of Bill 78, she urged students to obey the draconian law and end their strike, reiterated the PQ’s support for raising tuition fees by at least the inflation rate, and mused about the need to develop a better “framework” for student democracy (i.e. to impede the organization of student strikes).
Since winning the election, Marois has signaled she will scrap the Liberals’ tuition increase, but in doing so she has also vowed to cancel a $39 million per year increase in bursaries for students from low-income families.
The ruling elite’s plans to scuttle the student trike were totally dependent on the support of the trade unions. It was the unions that isolated the students, ensuring that they faced the threat of state suppression under Bill 78 alone and that there was not an eruption like that which occurred in France in May-June 1968.
With workers in large numbers joining the protests against Bill 78, the head of Quebec’s largest union federation, the Quebec Federation of Labour (QFL), wrote to the Canadian Labour Congress in late May to demand that the unions in English Canada give the striking students no support. The unions’ pledged to obey Bill 78, vehemently opposed CLASSE’s call for a broader protest movement, and worked to channel the students behind their longtime ally the PQ, as exemplified by the QFL slogan “After the streets, to the ballot box.”
Québec’s Solidaire (QS) and Quebec’s pseudo-left also promoted the lie that students and the working-class could make major gains through the elections. QS repeatedly volunteered its services to the PQ, offering in June to join a PQ-led electoral alliance of “sovereignist” parties, declaring that its fondest desire was that it would be in a position to prop up a PQ minority government, and guaranteeing support for a PQ minority government for at least a year.
For one to say that the student strike had advanced the struggle to defend and broaden accessibility to education and oppose the ruling class assault on public services and workers’ living standards and rights, it would have been necessary for students and their supporters to have fought to make the strike the spearhead of a working class counter-offensive. A turn to the working class—the only social force that can provide a genuine progressive alternative to big business’ program of austerity and social reaction—requires a struggle to build new worker organizations in opposition to the pro-capitalist unions, which as the student strike itself demonstrated, serve to suppress, not defend, the workers.
Although CLASSE initiated the strike, it played a major role in smothering it, by confining the strike to a single-issue protest aimed at pressuring the elite to withdraw the tuition fee hikes and confining it within the framework of Quebec. After the unions’ rejected its call for a “social strike,” CLASSE fell silent, making no effort to broaden the struggle and refusing to even criticize the unions. At the same time, it ever-more explicitly embraced the claim that the defeat of Charest’s Liberals at the hand of the PQ would advance the students’ struggle.
Now CLASSE is calling on students to orient towards pressuring the PQ to make good on its promises. In keeping with this perspective, CLASSE has announced that it wants to meet with Marois and to participate in an education summit the PQ has promised to convene later this year.
The PQ intends to use this “national” summit on the financing and administration of universities to press forward with its plan to impose tuition fee hikes, beginning with the indexing of fees to the inflation rate. Marois has also said that such a summit, which will be dominated by representatives of the government, big business, and university administrations, will be free to advance its own proposals on university financing, including much larger tuition fee hikes.
The PQ has a long experience in organizing such “national” summits as a means of claiming a Quebec-wide consensus for imposing unpopular policies. In 1996, the QFL and the other union federations participated in the socio-economic summit convened by the PQ government of Lucien Bouchard and gave their support for massive social spending cuts in the name of eliminating the province’s budget deficit. In fact it was the unions that advocated the early retirement scheme the PQ used to eliminate tens of thousands of health care and education jobs.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Parti Quebecois to form minority government, after narrow election win

By Keith Jones 
6 September 2012
The Parti Québécois, the Quebec elite’s alternate party of government, won 54 of the 125 National Assembly seats in Tuesday’s provincial election—enough to form a minority government and end nine years’ of Liberal rule.
In terms of the popular vote, the Liberal’s recorded their worst-ever result, 31.2 percent. Premier Jean Charest went down to personal defeat in Sherbrooke, Quebec’s sixth largest city, and on Wednesday resigned as Liberal leader. Due to many three- and several four-way races and the tepid support for the Parti Québécois (PQ), the Liberals nevertheless captured 50 seats, just four less than the incoming government.
Mass opposition to the Liberals’ big business austerity agenda erupted last spring in the form of a militant province-wide student strike. Following the Liberals’ imposition of Bill 78—anti-democratic legislation that criminalized the student strike and placed sweeping restrictions on the right to demonstrate over any issue—the strike threatened to trigger a mass movement of the working class.
But the trade unions systematically isolated the striking students, pledging to obey and enforce Bill 78 as soon as it was adopted. Along with their student association allies, the unions sought to divert the popular opposition to the Liberals behind the PQ as exemplified by the slogan that the Quebec Federation of Labour adopted at the very point when the students’ defiance of Bill 78 was galvanizing mass working class support—“After the street, to the ballot box.” Prominent among the new crop of PQ members of the National Assembly is Léo Bureau-Blouin, who headed FECQ (the Quebec College Students’ Federation) until June.
CLASSE, the student group that led the strike, capitulated before the unions’ opposition to its call for a broader protest movement involving limited worker job-action, abandoning its demand for a “social strike.” It also lent support to the claim that the defeat of the Liberals at the hands of the PQ would represent a victory for students.
Tuesday’s election results indicate widespread alienation from and distrust of the entire political establishment. Close to 30 percent of the electorate did not vote. Despite the popular hostility to the Liberals, the PQ captured just 31.9 percent of the popular vote, a loss of three percentage points from the 2008 election.
While the unions and the petty bourgeois pseudo-left promote the PQ as a “progressive” alternative to the Liberals, large sections of the working class rightly view it as an establishment party, which when it last held office carried out the greatest social spending cuts in Quebec history.
During the course of this year, the PQ sought to refurbish its tattered “left” credentials in the hope of exploiting the mounting opposition to the government. It cast itself as an opponent of several high-profile Liberal austerity measures, including the Liberals’ tuition fee hikes and a $200 per adult health care tax. During the election campaign it called for a modest roll back of some of the tax concessions that PQ and Liberal governments alike have lavished on the upper middle class, rich and super-rich over the course of the new century.
At the same time, they sought to reassure big business that they would balance the budget and otherwise pursue its austerity agenda. This included a vow to limit the growth in public spending to 2.4 percent a year during the mandate of a majority government. When inflation and population growth are taken into account, this constitutes a pledge to impose significant real-dollar spending cuts each year for the next five years.
In the name of defending “Quebec values” and the French-language, the PQ placed at the center of its campaign a series of chauvinist pledges. These included: stripping certain political rights from newcomers to Quebec who fail to prove French-language proficiency after three years’ residence, adopting a “secular charter” that targets symbols of minority faiths while exempting Catholic ones, and barring native French-speakers and the children of persons born outside of Canada from attending English-language CEGEPs (pre-university and technical colleges).
While the PQ’s trumpeting of “identity” issues no doubt pleased sections of the Quebecois petty bourgeois, starting with its own party cadre, it clearly helped the Liberals to rally minority voters. The PQ won only 6 of the 28 seats on the Island of Montreal.
The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), a new party former by ex-PQ cabinet minister and millionaire businessman François Legault and that incorporates the right-wing populist Action-démocratique du Québec, elected 19 MNAs and won 27.1percent of the vote.
The CAQ was massively promoted by the corporate media over the past year as a means of pushing Quebec politics still further right. Although Legault has been a prominent political player in Quebec for close to 15 years, he promoted himself as an outsider, railed against the corruption of the Liberals and PQ, and promised he could cut taxes, while improving health care and education. Support for the CAQ tapered off in the last days of the campaign, precisely at the point when Legault became more forthright in presenting some of his party’s key right-wing policy planks, including favoring privatization and granting municipalities the right to lock out their workers.
Québec Solidaire (QS), a “left” pro-Quebec independence party to which the Pabloites and most of the Quebec pseudo-left adhere, increased its representation in the National Assembly from 1 to 2 and raised its share of the popular vote from 4 to 6 percent. In June, QS urged the PQ to join it an electoral alliance and during the course of the campaign the QS made clear that its fondest hope was that the elections would place it in the position to prop up a minority PQ government. Indeed, the co-leaders of the QS, Françoise David and Amir Khadir, publicly declared last week that they were prepared to guarantee in advance that QS would prop up a PQ minority government for at least a year, effectively giving this right-wing big business party a blank cheque.
In her victory speech Tuesday night, however, PQ leader and Premier-elect Pauline Marois announced her eagerness to collaborate not with the QS, but with the Liberals and the CAQ—the parties she had derided during the election campaign as right-wing twins.
Marois’ speech was interrupted by an apparent assassination attempt. A 62-year-old anglophone small businessman shot and killed a worker for a company hired to help stage the PQ post-election party and critically injured a second worker, while seeking to get onto the stage from where Marois was speaking. Videotape of the arrest of Marois’ assailant shows him urging the English to “rise up.”
While Marois’ assailant was evidently deranged, this does not mean that there was no political motivation to his attack, nor that it is without social significance.
Following the 1995 referendum on Quebec independence, the federal Liberal government and the English-Canadian media made what was in effect a veiled threat of civil war by promoting a movement calling for the partition of Quebec on ethnic-linguistic lines in the event Quebec ever seceded from Canada.
Speaking Wednesday Marois reiterated her call for collaboration with the Liberals and CAQ, while announcing she would cancel the Liberals’ tuition fee hike and convene a conference on university funding—a conference the PQ will use to defreeze university fees. As in the past, the PQ will use their right-wing opponents to try to intimidate the working class, while enlisting the unions to assist it in imposing the austerity program of the ruling class.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Parti Quebecois promotes chauvinist, anti-immigrant agenda

By Keith Jones 
1 September 2012
The Parti Québécois—the indépendantiste party that long has served as the Quebec elite’s alternate party of government—has placed the so-called identity issue at the center of its campaign for next Tuesday’s Quebec election.
In the name of defending Quebec values and the French language, the PQ has pledged to enact a series of anti-democratic measures. These include a Quebec citizenship law that would strip newcomers to the province deemed not proficient in French of certain basic political rights and a “secular charter” that has been expressly designed to target symbols of minority faiths, while exempting Roman Catholic ones.
In 2006-7, the right-wing populist Action-démocratique du Québec (ADQ) and sections of the corporate media raised a hue and a cry against “reasonable accommodation,” a government policy aimed at the integration of immigrant and religious communities, claiming that “Quebec values” were being marginalized, if not trampled upon, in deference to the province’s minorities.
The furor raised the profile of the ADQ, hitherto a political also-ran, and in the March 2007 election, the ADQ displaced the PQ as the Official Opposition. The subsequent rapid collapse of ADQ support—it won just 7 seats in the Dec. 2008 election—underscored that the ADQ’s 2007 surge was not the outcome of a sharp shift to the right on the part of most Quebecers. Rather the ADQ was the temporary beneficiary of popular anger with the political establishment, federalist and sovereignist (pro-Quebec independence) alike.
However, the PQ concluded from its 2007 election debacle that it had to ensure that it would never again be outflanked on the “identity issue,” that it needed to become even more explicitly chauvinist.
Speaking to reporters on Aug. 21, following a meeting with the president of FIQ, a union representing nurses and other health care professionals, Marois vowed that a PQ government would bar persons deemed insufficiently proficient in French from standing as candidates in provincial and municipal elections.
After a public outcry, especially from the province’s aboriginal groups, Marois said she had misspoke. Only newcomers to Quebec would be threatened with the loss of certain political rights.
Under the PQ’s proposed Citizenship Act, persons moving to Quebec, whether from elsewhere in Canada or abroad, would be reduced to second-class citizens if they failed to meet a state-established minimum of French proficiency after three years’ residence in Quebec. In addition to losing the right to stand as candidates, those who failed to acquire Quebec citizenship due to their poor French would be barred from donating to provincial and municipal political parties and from initiating or signing petitions to the National Assembly.
The PQ is also championing a “secular charter.” The charter would bar public employees from wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols, like a Sikh turban, Jewish yarmulke, or the Muslim hijab. But the PQ has made a point of declaring that there would be no interdiction on public employees wearing “discreet” crosses (a traditional Catholic symbol). And it has vigorously opposed calls to purge public buildings of Roman Catholic symbols, including the crucifix that the arch right-winger Maurice Duplessis had hung in the National Assembly in 1936 to symbolize the close ties between the Catholic Church and state. Such symbols, asserts the PQ, are part of Quebec’s “cultural heritage” for which no apology need be made.
This is not only hypocritical. It is deeply reactionary. Like the PQ’s proposed citizenship law, its secular charter is aimed at asserting the primacy of the ethnic Québécois over others, and it is in keeping with the media and state stigmatization of Muslim immigrant communities that has accompanied, and been used to justify, the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan, in which Canada has played a leading role.
Last spring the PQ, taking its lead from the French fascist National Front, sought to make an issue of the purported spread of halal butchers in Quebec. In the run-up to the Sept. 4 election, it has not returned, at least in its “national” campaign, to this issue.
The PQ is also vowing that within its first hundred days in office it will further restrict access to education in English and extend provisions of Bill 101 that make French the language of work to companies employing 11 to 50 workers. The PQ wants to extend the current restrictions on English-language elementary and secondary school education, so as to bar native-French speakers and immigrants (including those whose first language is English) from attending CEGEP (pre-university and technical college), and adult and professional education courses in English.
The PQ has expressed alarm over the decline in the percentage of native-French speakers living on the Island of Montreal and is pledging to give urgent attention to introducing policies to reverse this decline. “The weakening of the French majority places in peril our collective capacity to integrate new immigrants into French,” declared PQ star candidate Jean- François Lisée on Wednesday.
The PQ’s chauvinist policies exemplify the reactionary character of its program to create a capitalist République du Québec that would be a member of NATO, NORAD and NAFTA.
Through its base chauvinist appeals, the PQ seeks to exploit and channel in a reactionary direction the anxiety and frustrations of professionals, shop-keepers and other sections of the middle- and working-class under conditions of deepening socioeconomic crisis and growing social inequality.
The PQ’s main big business rivals have their own nationalist-chauvinist planks.
Should they be reelected, the Liberals are promising to pass Bill 94, legislation that targets the tiny number of Quebec women who wear the niqab or burqa. Unless they remove their religious headdress, such women would be denied service by provincial public agencies, including schools and hospitals. An exception would be made only in “emergency situations.”
Several Liberal candidates, including at least one sitting cabinet minister, praised the mayor of Saguenay, Quebec’s fifth-largest municipality, after he denounced a foreign-born PQ candidate saying that as an outsider she had no right to intervene in the debate over reasonable accommodation.
The CAQ (the successor party to the ADQ) wants, for its part, to slash the number of immigrants received by Quebec for at least the next two years, and to carry out a review of the province’s immigration and language policies. It has suggested creating a temporary immigration status that would enable the state to strip immigrants who failed to find work or learn French after two years of the right to reside in Quebec.
Québec Solidaire (QS), an ostensibly left pro-Quebec independence party that enjoys the support of the pseudo-left, lends legitimacy to the bourgeois political establishment’s use of chauvinist appeals. Rather than labeling the entire “reasonable accommodation” debate a reactionary diversion aimed at promoting nationalism and dividing the working class, QS has termed it important and necessary, and in that vein criticized the PQ’s secular charter for not going far enough. QS opposes the PQ’s proposed citizenship law, but it supports strengthening Bill 101 and has joined with the PQ in making a hue and cry over the hiring of unilingual Anglophones as CEOs of some of Quebec’s largest companies, including SNC-Lavalin.
QS responded to the Quebec student strike, which at its height in late May threatened to trigger a mass movement of the working class, by proposing an electoral alliance with the big business PQ. During the current election campaign its leaders have repeatedly made clear that their fondest hope is that come Sept. 5 they will be able to prop up a minority PQ government.
For decades, the Pabloite renegades from Trotskyism and the Quebec pseudo-left as a whole have promoted Quebec nationalism as “progressive,” and worked to corral the Quebec workers behind the drive of a section of the Quebec bourgeoisie to create a sovereign Quebec, while assisting the union bureaucracy in isolating Quebec workers from their class brothers and sisters in English Canada and internationally.
Virulently opposed to the struggle for the political independence of the working class, the pseudo-left has echoed the claim of the rival factions of the bourgeoisie that there are only two camps in Canada’s chronic constitutional wrangling—Quebec sovereignists and federalists. They have peddled the lie that opposition to the program of Quebec independence from the standpoint of the fight to unite the working class—French, English and immigrant—against all factions of the bourgeoisie constitutes support for the reactionary Canadian federal state.
The PQ’s anti-immigrant, chauvinist platform attests to the retrograde and anti-democratic character of the political forces to which Quebec’s pseudo-left has given succor.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Quebec’s major parties advance rival right-wing agendas

By Keith Jones 
29 August 2012
During the campaign for the September 4 Quebec election, the province’s major parties have traded accusations of corruption, promoted a slew of right-wing policy planks, and engaged in mutual finger-pointing as to who is responsible for the perilous state of the province’s public health care system.
The governing Liberals have run an extreme right-wing campaign, in which they have held up their imposition of an 82 percent increase in university tuition fees and passing of draconian legislation to criminalize the Quebec student strike as proof of their readiness to take “tough,” “unpopular” decisions.
Premier Jean Charest has repeatedly attacked Pauline Marois, the leader of the Official Opposition Parti Québécois (PQ), for capitulating to the “street,” a reference to the PQ’s claims to have supported the student strike
Charest has denounced the Liberals’ other major rival, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), for making “irresponsible” promises of tax cuts and increased education spending that would purportedly jeopardize a balanced budget. In making this attack, Charest has openly appealed to former supporters of the right-wing populist Action-démocratique du Québec (ADQ) to recognize that their true home is the Liberal party. (In what was officially described as a merger, the CAQ took over the ADQ earlier this year.)
The Liberals’ right-wing appeals appear to have gained little public traction. A spate of opinion polls indicate that after nine years in office the Liberals will win barely a quarter of the popular vote next Tuesday and be reduced, for the first time ever, to third-party status in the National Assembly.
In recent years, the PQ, long the Quebec bourgeoisie’s alternate party of government, has repeatedly attacked the Liberals from the right, that is for not reducing government spending fast enough and reputedly favoring tax increases over social spending cuts in their drive to balance the province’s budget. However, over the past eight months, the PQ has made a small—and manifestly cynical—feint left on socio-economic issues in the hopes of tapping into the massive popular opposition to the Quebec Liberal and federal Conservative governments’ austerity policies.
The PQ is claiming that if it forms the government it will cancel the Liberals’ $200 per adult health care charge, scrap a Liberal plan to raise electricity rates well above generation-cost increases, and limit university tuition fee hikes to the rise in inflation. These measures and a handful of other promises, such as a modest increase in daycare spaces, are to be paid for through higher mine royalties and a small increase in the tax rate on high-income earners. The latter measure would only partially reverse the cuts in the taxation rates on the rich made by Liberal and PQ government alike over the last 12 years.
While seeking to paint the election as a stark choice between a “progressive” PQ and “two right-wing parties,” Marois has been at pains to reassure big business that by enlisting the support of its trade unions allies the PQ can more effectively slash public services and promote privatization than its political rivals.
At the beginning of the election campaign, Marois urged students to end their strike and obey Bill 78 (Law 12). On Monday she reiterated that call after students at Montreal’s two main French-language universities staged protests in defiance of Law 12 provisions that make it illegal to protest within 50 meters of a university or CEGEP (pre-university and technical college) building. In urging students to submit to Law 12, Marois emphatically rejected students’ demand tuition fees be abolished and education recognized as a social right.
Socio-economic issues have not been the focal point of the PQ campaign. Rather it has emphasized Liberal corruption and Quebec nationalism and anti-immigrant chauvinism.
With the most powerful sections of big business opposed to reopening the question of Quebec’s constitutional status under conditions of global economic crisis, the pro-independence PQ is emphasizing a series of anti-democratic measures aimed at ensuring the “primacy” of “Quebec values” and the French language.
The PQ is vowing to deny newcomers to Quebec certain political rights, including the right to stand as candidates in provincial and municipal elections, if they do not prove French-language proficiency after three years’ residence. It is also pledging to introduce a hypocritical “secular charter” under which public sector workers would be barred from wearing religious symbols, but “discreet” Christian crosses would be exempt. Furthermore, in the name of upholding Quebec’s “cultural heritage,” the PQ insists that the crucifix that hangs in the National Assembly remain.
The PQ came into violent conflict with the working class on the two previous occasions it held power. In 1983, it threatened to fire teachers en masse after they struck in defiance of the Lévesque government’s wage-cutting public sector contract-decrees. In 1999 it used a Bill 78-type law to break a strike by nurses, who had rebelled against the impact of public sector job cuts on their workload and patient care. Marois served as a leading cabinet minister in both these governments.
The unions and the ostensibly leftwing Québec Solidaire (QS) are providing the PQ with pivotal support in repositioning itself to electorally exploit and politically emasculate the popular opposition to the Charest Liberal government.
While not formally endorsing the PQ, the unions and their student association allies, FECQ and FEUQ, are campaigning for the defeat of the Liberals and CAQ, in other words for a PQ or PQ-led government.
In June, Québec Solidaire called for the formation of a PQ-led alliance of “sovereignist”—i.e. pro-Quebec independence—parties to defeat the Liberals. With the PQ leading, albeit only narrowly, in the opinion polls, QS spokespersons are gushing over the possibility their party could be called upon to prop up a minority PQ government. Speaking on the weekend, Francois Saillant, a high-profile QS candidate in the Montreal working-class riding of Rosemont, declared “For me that is the ideal scenario.”
Led by Francois Legault, a multi-millionaire businessman and former PQ cabinet minister, the CAQ has been heavily promoted by the corporate media since Legault first began exploring the possibility of creating a party that would “put aside the federalist-sovereignist dispute” so as to concentrate on making socio-economic “change.”
Legault has made the axis of the CAQ campaign’s denunciations of the old-line parties as corrupt and subservient to “special interests.” Speaking in last week’s leaders’ debates, he ruled out supporting either the Liberals or PQ in the event no party wins a majority in the National Assembly. The Liberals, said Legault, have “dirty hands” while the PQ has “hands tied to the unions.”
There is much evidence to suggest that the entire Quebec political establishment—of which Legault has been a part for close to 15 years—has long presided over a system of bid-rigging and political kickbacks in the construction industry.
But Legault is very much using the corruption issue as did Harper and his Conservatives in the 2006 federal election, that is as a means to divert attention from a right-wing agenda that is inimical to the interests of working people. At the same time, so as to rally big business support, the CAQ has focused on a select series of right-wing policy planks. These include “experimenting” with health care privatization, gutting teacher seniority rights, eliminating 4,000 Hydro-Quebec jobs, giving municipalities the right to lock out their employees, and making it more difficult for unions to obtain accreditation.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Quebec: Thousands protest Liberals’ tuition hikes, user fees and privatization

By Keith Jones 
24 August 2012

Tens of thousands of students and their supporters demonstrated through downtown Montreal Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of students and working people demonstrated through downtown Montreal Wednesday to protest against the provincial Liberal government’s plans to raise university tuition fees and make the reactionary “user pay principle” for public services the new norm.
The demonstration was called by the student group CLASSE and theCoalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics(Coalition against the tariffication and privatization of public services), a coalition of trade unions, and student and community groups.
Wednesday’s demonstration was the sixth consecutive mass protest organized by CLASSE on the 22nd day of the month. The tradition of demonstrating on the 22nd began last March when striking students mounted one of the largest demonstrations in Quebec history and sunk roots on May 22, when more than 250,000 people took to the streets to denounce Bill 78—a draconian law, adopted just five days earlier, that criminalized the student strike and placed sweeping restrictions on the right to demonstrate over any issue anywhere in Quebec.
In the run-up to Wednesday’s demonstration, the six-month-long Quebec student strike largely petered out, although not even the students’ minimum demand, the rescinding of the tuition hikes, has been met.
The unions systematically isolated the striking students, leaving them to face alone the threat of criminal sanctions under Bill 78 (Law 12) and police violence. At the same time they and the student-associations most directly under their political influence, FECQ and FEUQ, sought to divert the students and the broader opposition movement that erupted in response to Bill 78 behind the big business Parti Quebecois (PQ).

Wednesday’s march was the sixth consecutive mass protest held on the 22nd of the month.

When the strike was at its height last Spring, CLASSE called for defiance of Bill 78 and briefly flirted with the notion of a “social strike,” a broader protest movement, involving limited job action. But once the unions made clear their vehement opposition to anything that was suggestive of a political strike and their intention to obey and enforce Bill 78, CLASSE’s leadership jettisoned all talk of a “social strike.”
In the ensuing two-and-a-half-months, CLASSE has moved increasingly to the right, elaborating ever more clearly and fully its protest and Quebec nationalist perspective—that is its opposition to a turn to the working class and the fight to fuse the students’ struggle with a cross-Canada movement of the working class against the austerity measures of the Quebec and Ontario Liberal and federal Conservative governments.
CLASSE’s turn to the right is exemplified by its failure to make any criticism whatsoever of the unions for opposing its “social strike” call and the repeated statements of its spokespersons suggesting that the defeat of the Liberals at the hands of the PQ in the September 4 provincial election would be a gain if not an outright victory for the students.
The large turnout in Wednesday’s demonstration attests to the fact that youth and workers are as determined as ever in their opposition to the Liberal government and its rightwing agenda and increasingly animated by anti-big business and anti-capitalist sentiment.
But CLASSE made no effort to draw the political lessons of the past six months of struggle. On the contrary, the manner in which it organized Wednesday’s protest reveals it is becoming ever more explicitly nationalist, moving closer to the unions, and increasingly providing them with political cover; all the while repeating its familiar protest refrain—as typified by the slogan “Crions plus fort pour que personne ne nous ignore” (Shout louder so that no one can ignore us).
None of the three speakers who addressed the demonstration at its outset made any mention of the Parti Quebecois, although polls indicate that it is poised to win the plurality of the seats and there is a massive union-led campaign to divert the opposition to Charest behind the Quebec ruling elite’s alternate party of government. This campaign extends to the ostensibly leftwing Quebec Solidaire, which in the immediate aftermath of the explosion of popular opposition to Bill 78 proposed an electoral pact with the PQ and has said it would welcome the opportunity to work with a PQ minority government.
CLASSE spokesperson Jeanne Reynolds complained that the political parties had said little about students and education during the election campaign. She vowed that the student movement would continue and be needed to pressure the politicians whatever the result of the September 4 election.
She and the two other speakers denounced neo-liberalism, not capitalism, promoting the reactionary illusion that the assault on the social gains of the working class being mounted by big business and its political representatives the world over is the product of greed, not the inherent bankruptcy of capitalism. The corollary to this claim is the assertion that through protest it will be possible to pressure the elite into reverting to the Keynesian and social welfare policies it pursued decades ago at the height of the post-Second World War boom.
Significantly, for the first time, CLASSE invited a trade union bureaucrat to address one its major rallies. Régine Laurent, the president of the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ, the Quebec Interprofessional Health Federation) joined in the denunciation of “neo-liberalism” and in a piece of hyperbole that conveniently overlooked the massive upsurge of the working class in the late 1960s and early 1970s praised the students for mounting the “largest social movement in Quebec history.”
Laurent and the FIQ leadership had, it need be noted, only the day before welcomed PQ leader Pauline Marois to their headquarters. The purported purpose of their meeting was for a discussion on health care, but it was in fact a transparent attempt to boost the PQ’s electoral prospects. Following the meeting FIQ issued a press release declaring itself “satisfied” with its “friendly” meeting with Marois.
Supporters of the Socialist Equality Party and the International Students for Social Equality intervened at the demonstration to fight for students and workers to draw the lessons of the strike, above all the need for the mobilization of the working class as an independent political force on the basis of a socialist-internationalist program. More than a thousand copies of the statement “Political lessons of the Quebec student strike” were distributed.
The World Socialist Web Site spoke interviewed some of the participants in Wednesday’s march.
Émilie Rondeau, a nurse, said she hoped the strike would resume after the elections. Pointing to the massive social spending cuts the PQ carried out when it last held office, she said, “I don’t believe in the PQ. Apart from the question of sovereignty (Quebec independence), they are the same as the Liberals. Marois and (Quebec Liberal Premier) Charest are six-of-one and half-a-dozen of the other.
“The unions,” added Émilie, “smothered the strike. They didn’t support the movement. I don’t really believe in the big unions.
“My employer told me, as a nurse, I shouldn’t have the right to wear the red square (the symbol of the strike. Wearing the red square is very touchy at work. There’s intimidation.”
Simon, a geography student at UQAM, expressed disappointment over the fact the strike had fizzled out, although he wasn’t sure why that had happened.
“We haven’t really made gains. I don’t know why we’re in a so-called truce. We’ve been on strike for six months; I don’t see why we would stop now.
Simon added that he is not “all that excited about the idea of independence. It would be easier to take decisions because it would be on a smaller scale, but class conflicts would remain. There’d be the same problems, just in a smaller arena.”

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Political lessons of the Quebec student strike

21 August 2012
Only a few short weeks ago the Quebec student strike was shaking Canada’s ruling elite and threatening to precipitate a political eruption of the working class. Now it is petering out, with students having failed to secure their immediate demand for a university tuition fee freeze, let alone their larger objective—recognition of education as a social right.
No one can reproach the students for insufficient militancy or determination. For months they braved an unprecedented campaign of police repression, including tear-gas and pepper-spray barrages and rubber bullets. During the course of the six-month-long strike, more than 3,000 students and supporters were arrested, the vast majority of them for the “crime” of demonstrating without police permission. To the dismay of the provincial Liberal government and the corporate media, students refused to be cowed by the criminalization of their strike with the adoption last May of the flagrantly antidemocratic Bill 78 (Law 12).
What then accounts for the strike’s collapse?
The trade unions and the union- and Parti Quebecois-allied student associations (FECQ and FEUQ), have been all but openly campaigning for the strike’s end for months. No sooner was Bill 78 passed than the unions announced they would comply with all its provisions, including those that legally compel them to ensure that teachers assist the government in breaking the strike.
In tandem with their efforts to break the strike, the unions, with FECQ and FEUQ in their trail, sought to divert students and the broader opposition movement that erupted against Bill 78 behind the Parti Quebecois (PQ). Quebec big business’s alternate party of government, the PQ imposed the greatest social spending cuts in the province’s history when it last held office.
But the unions and their student association allies are not alone culpable. The social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP), Quebec Solidaire, and the entire Quebec pseudo-left joined with them in politically suffocating and isolating the strike.
All were adamant that it be confined to a student protest aimed at pressuring the Charest government and the Quebec elite. All opposed fusing the students’ struggle with the growing movement of the Canadian and international working class against the drive of big business and its political representatives to make working people pay for the global capitalist crisis.
For months, CLASSE, the student group that initiated the strike, insisted on separating the issue of the tuition fee hikes from any challenge to the austerity programs of the Quebec Liberal and federal Conservative governments. Following the passage of Bill 78, CLASSE fleetingly spoke of the need for a “social strike,” a broader protest movement. But once the unions made clear their determination to prevent any worker job action, no matter how limited, CLASSE dropped its proposal like a hot potato.
Like any major social struggle, the Quebec student strike is rich in lessons—lessons of vital importance to young people and workers not just in Quebec and Canada, but around the world.
First, the Canadian ruling class, no less than its counterparts in the US, Europe and Japan, has responded to the eruption of the greatest crisis of capitalism since the Great Depression by launching a social counterrevolution.
CLASSE insisted that if students protested long and loud enough, the government would negotiate. But far from ceding to popular pressure, the Charest government, egged on by the corporate media and the Canadian ruling class as a whole, responded with escalating state repression.
Social rights—such as the right to an education, job or health care—will be secured only through a political struggle against the capitalist system, its political representatives, police and courts.
Second, only the working class has the social power to break the stranglehold the banks and big business wield over socioeconomic life. This requires the establishment of workers’ governments committed to the socialist reorganization of the economy, so that fulfilling social needs, not enriching a narrow elite, becomes the animating principle. But the mobilization of the working class to assert its fundamental class interests requires the building of new organizations of struggle, independent of and in opposition to the existing trade union apparatuses, which over the course of the past three decades have thoroughly integrated themselves into corporate management and the state.
The student strike has provided a further demonstration of the unions’ perfidious role.
Canada’s ruling elite was shaken by the students’ defiance of Bill 78 and the support it galvanized within the working class. Just four days after Bill 78’s adoption, more than 250,000 people demonstrated in Montreal, and in the days that followed thousands more joined spontaneous antigovernment protests across Quebec.
Recognizing that an attempt to apply the full sanctions of Bill 78 might provoke a situation akin to that which erupted in France in May-June 1968, the ruling class made a tactical shift. While holding the savage sanctions of Bill 78 in reserve, it chose to rely first and foremost on the unions and their political allies to undermine the strike.
This confidence was not misplaced. The Quebec Federation of Labour responded to the eruption of working-class opposition to Bill 78 by writing to the Canadian Labour Congress to demand that no support be given to striking students. A few days later, Quebec’s largest labour federation adopted the slogan, “After the street, to the ballot box”—spearheading a campaign on the part of all the unions to harness the opposition to the right-wing Liberal government behind the PQ.
Third, the student strike has underscored the pivotal importance of the fight to build revolutionary leadership based on a socialist-internationalist perspective, in opposition to the various middle-class pseudo-left organizations that mouth radical phrases while upholding the authority of the unions and the bourgeoisie’s “left” parties of government, promoting nationalism, and insisting on the unassailability of the capitalist order.
Many students turned to CLASSE believing it to be a fighting organization in opposition to the establishment-aligned FECQ and FEUQ. But CLASSE’s nationalist-protest orientation was fundamentally no different. It opposed a turn to the working class, refused to criticize the unions for leaving students alone to confront the state, and adapted to the campaign to corral students behind the PQ. CLASSE spokespersons have repeatedly declared that the Liberals’ defeat at the hands of the PQ would be a gain if not an outright victory for the students.
The politics of CLASSE have been heavily influenced by Quebec Solidaire (QS) and various anarchist groups. While the ruling elite has been working to suppress the student strike by diverting students behind the PQ, QS has been seeking to strike an alliance with this big-business party, first as an electoral ally and now as a junior partner in the event the PQ forms a minority government after the September 4 election.
In opposition to the struggle to mobilize the working class and free it from the political and organizational domination of the unions, the anarchists are the foremost proponents of “direct action”—individual confrontations with the police and symbolic occupations and blockades. Their blanket denunciations of all politics and parties only serve to block the struggle for the working class to separate itself from the parties of the ruling class and articulate a program for reorganizing society in the interests of working people.
The student strike has come up against the same essential political problems as the wave of workers’ struggles that has rocked the world since 2011, from Egypt to Greece, Spain and Wisconsin. The struggles of the working class are being contained and suppressed by the unions, the ostensible “left” parties, and pseudo-radical organizations that act as their apologists and props. The Socialist Equality Party, its youth organization, the International Students for Social Equality, and the World Socialist Web Site are fighting to overcome the crisis of working-class leadership and develop the revolutionary leadership that will politically prepare and lead the working class in fighting for a workers’ government and socialism.
Keith Jones

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Quebec CEGEP students end their strike

By Eric Marquis 
20 August 2012
Under the threat of state repression and heavy pressure from the trade unions and their political ally, the Parti Quebecois, students at the fourteen CEGEPs (pre-university and technical colleges) that have been on strike since last winter voted last week to return to class.
University student associations will hold similar general assembly meetings and votes this week. But it is evident that the militant, six-month-long student strike against the plans of Quebec’s Liberal government to raise university tuition fees by 82 percent is petering out.
Last Friday was the deadline imposed by the Liberal’s draconian Bill 78 (Law 12) for the resumption of the government-suspended winter term at the strike-hit CEGEPs. Bill 78 effectively criminalizes the student strike by banning all picketing in the vicinity of the province’s post-secondary institutions and by threatening teachers with severe criminal sanctions if they made any accommodation to students boycotting their classes.
CEGEP students attending last week’s general assembly meetings were met by a heavy police presence, so as to underscore the government’s readiness to deploy them to enforce Bill 78 if students defied the political establishment and the unions and voted to continue their strike. The Quebec Federation of CEGEPs, meanwhile, threatened to cancel the semester in the event the strike continued.
A significant minority of students, nevertheless, voted to continue the strike and at two CEGEPs, Cegep St-Laurent and Cegep du Vieux-Montreal, students initially voted to remain on strike. But on Friday that decision was reversed after the administration at both colleges incited right-wing students to mount a petition campaign to demand a revote. To add further pressure on the students, both administrations said that canceling the semester would “entail the failure of all courses that have not been completed in the 2012 winter semester.”
As at many of the other 14 CEGEPs, the students at Cegep St-Laurent voted to walk out this coming Wednesday, August 22, to join a mass demonstration against the university tuition fee hikes. Since March, CLASSE, the student association that has led the strike, has mounted a major demonstration on the 22nd of each month.
According to CLASSE, about 60,000 university students remain on strike and, buoyed by walkouts at many CEGEPs, as many as 100,000 could be on strike this Wednesday.
The threat of police repression and a cancelled semester undoubtedly weighed heavily on many students. But other forces have played an even more crucial role in sabotaging a militant social struggle that found broad support in the working class.
The trade unions, the Parti Quebecois (PQ), Quebec Solidaire (QS) and the establishment-aligned student associations, (FECQ) and (FEUQ), all worked to divert the students behind their campaign to replace the Liberals with a government led by the PQ—the Quebec bourgeoisie’s alternate party of government for the past four decades.
In the name of maintaining “social peace,” the unions tried for months to suppress the strike. In early May, they joined with Premier Jean Charest in seeking to bully students into accepting a sellout entente that called for the entire tuition fee increase to be imposed. And while the unions claimed to oppose Bill 78, from the very outset they pledged to enforce it. The unions vehemently opposed CLASSE’s call for a “social strike”, a broader protest movement involving limited worker job-action—an opposition underlined by their effective boycott of student demonstrations after 250,000 workers and youth took to the streets of Montreal on May 22 to denounce Bill 78.
QS has been trying for months to convince the PQ to join it in an electoral alliance. They promote the PQ as a “lesser evil” than Charest’s Liberals, even though the PQ carried out the most drastic social spending cuts in the province’s history when it last held office.
FEUQ and FECQ are also very close to the PQ and for months have been working to end the strike, claiming that students should direct their energies into unseating the Liberals in the coming election. Leo Bureau-Blouin, who was FECQ’s president during the first four months of the student strike, is now a PQ election candidate.
As for CLASSE, its nationalist and protest politics led the strike into a political impasse. CLASSE opposed making the strike the spearhead of a working class challenge to the austerity measures being carried out by the Quebec Liberal and federal Conservative governments. For months, it explicitly limited the strike to a single-issue protest campaign, aimed at pressuring the government to negotiate. In late May, after the government had imposed Bill 78, it even agreed to negotiations based on the government’s reactionary fiscal framework and de facto acceptance of the draconian anti-strike law.
Throughout the strike CLASSE has refused to expose the PQ’s pose as a “student ally” or to criticize the unions, thereby lending support to their claim that the Liberals’ defeat in the September 4 provincial election would be a “victory” for the students.
In opposition to these forces, the Socialist Equality Party and the International Students for Social Equality held a public meeting in Montreal last Thursday to draw a political balance sheet of the strike and arm youth and workers with a socialist strategy based on the independent political mobilization of the working class—the only social force that has the power to break the stranglehold big business wields over social-economic life and thereby secure social rights, including the right to an education.
Speaking on behalf of the SEP, Richard Dufour insisted that the student strike had to be understood as part of a growing movement of the international working class against the efforts of the ruling elite around the world to make working people pay for the global capitalist crisis.
Dufour pointed in particular to the pernicious political influence of the “left” Quebec nationalism promoted by the unions, Quebec Solidaire and the entire pseudo-left.
“Workers in Quebec,” he explained, “have no interest whatsoever in supporting a section of the Quebec elite in its attempt to create its own nation-state where they will be ‘the masters.’ On the contrary, to defend their class interests, workers in Quebec should join forces with their class brothers and sisters across Canada, in the U.S. and internationally.
“Unemployment and falling living standards, the dismantling of public services, university tuition fee hikes, an escalating attack on democratic rights and the threat of new imperialist wars— the problems facing workers and youth in Quebec are fundamentally the same as those confronting workers around the world and only through an industrial and political offensive of the world working class for socialism can and will they be resolved.”

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Quebec student strike votes produce mixed results

By Keith Jones 
15 August 2012
Thousands of Quebec students are voting this week on whether to continue their six month-long strike, under conditions where the trade unions have systematically isolated the students and left them to face the harsh criminal sanctions of Bill 78 (Law 12) alone.
The voting to date has produced mixed results. Students at two major CEGEPs (pre-university and technical colleges), CEGEP-du-Vieux- Montréal and CEGEP St. Laurent, voted narrowly to continue the strike. So also did students at one of the major faculties of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). But with students at more than a half-dozen other CEGEPs in the Montreal-area, Valleyfield, and St. Jerome voting to return to class, there is a growing perception that the strike is fizzling out.
The vote results are not surprising, given the forces arrayed against the students and the failure of CLASSE, the student group that has led the strike, to articulate a strategy to mobilize the working class in support of the students. The strike would have to become the spearhead of a struggle against the austerity measures of the provincial Liberal and federal Conservative governments.
For weeks, Quebec’s Liberal government has been vowing to mobilize the courts and police to enforce Bill 78’s anti-democratic provisions. In calling a provincial election for Tuesday Sept. 4, Premier Jean Charest had a double-objective: to provide a “democratic” cover for his government’s plans to use state repression to break the students’ strike and to appeal to the ruling elite to rally behind his government as its most determined and ruthless political instrument in imposing austerity measures.
Meanwhile, the unions and the establishment-aligned student associations, FECQ and FEUQ, have been urging students to return to class and “carry forward their fight” by opposing the Liberals at the polls—that is, by supporting the election of the big business Parti Quebecois.
For weeks it has been clear that the student strike would face a pivotal turning point in mid-August when the strike-hit CEGEPs are legally compelled under Bill 78 to resume the government-suspended winter semester. Yet the leadership of CLASSE issued no call to workers in Quebec, let alone across Canada, to take action in support of the student strike. Once the unions made clear that they were vehemently opposed to a “social strike,” CLASSE shelved its call for a border protest movement.
Only last Sunday did CLASSE’s leadership issue a clear call for the strike to continue. But in doing so it elaborated no strategy to widen the struggle and to counter the efforts of the state and the unions to defeat the strike.
The Socialist Equality Party and its youth movement, the International Students for Social Equality, have intervened among the striking students to advance a socialist strategy. In recent days, SEP and ISSE members and supporters distributed a statement entitled “A new policy is needed for Quebec student strike.” It reads in part:
“To end the strike would deliver a political victory to the Charest Liberal government and the entire ruling class. This victory would be welcomed by the big business Parti Quebecois as fervently as by Charest and Stephen Harper, as has been made abundantly clear by PQ leader Pauline Marois’ repeated calls for the strike to be ended and Bill 78 obeyed. … But [the strike] must be armed with a radically new perspective, if it is not to succumb in the face of state repression and the maneuvers of the unions to isolate it and channel the opposition to the hated Liberal government of Charest behind the PQ.
“This new perspective must be founded on the recognition that the students’ strike is part of growing worldwide working class resistance to the drive of big business and its political representatives to make workers and youth pay for the greatest crisis of global capitalism since the Great Depression.
“It is to the working class across Canada and internationally that students must now resolutely turn. The strike must become the catalyst for a working-class counter offensive against the class war assault being implemented by big business and all its political representatives in the name of corporate competitiveness and austerity.”
Many of the students who voted to end the strike did so reluctantly. This was exemplified by the decision of students at several CEGEPs to end the strike, but nonetheless walkout on August 22 so as to participate in a Quebec-wide demonstration against the Liberals’ plan to raise university tuition fees by 82 percent over the next seven years.
Concern about legal penalties and the threat students’ semester would be canceled if the strike continues have weighed heavily in the votes.
Illusions in the Parti Quebecois have also play a major role. Although the PQ implemented the greatest social spending cuts in Quebec history when it last held office and has come into headlong conflict with the working class whenever it has formed the government, the unions continue to promote it as a “progressive” party. In this they have been seconded by Quebec Solidaire (QS), an ostensibly “left” pro-Quebec independence party. In June QS proposed an electoral alliance with the PQ in the name of defeating the “right” and last weekend co-QS leader Francoise David said QS would welcome the opportunity to work with, i.e. prop up, a minority PQ government.
CLASSE has also promoted illusions in the PQ with its claim that the defeat of Charest’s government at the hands of the Quebec elite’s alternate party of government would be a gain for the student movement. This perspective was spelled out in a letter published in the Quebec nationalist daily Le Devoir last Thursday, announcing Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois’ resignation as a spokesperson for CLASSE. “I leave with only one regret,” wrote Nadeau-Dubois. “I regret that I am quitting my functions while Quebec is still led by Jean Charest, a premier who is contemptuous and violent toward Quebec and its youth.”
CLASSE’s best-known representative, Nadeau-Dubois was for months vilified by the press and Liberal cabinet ministers, including Charest, and targeted by death-threats. He has said his decision to return to being a simple CLASSE activist was motivated by personal exhaustion and has denied press reports that his resignation was prompted by differences within CLASSE over whether it should bow to the ruling class campaign to “suspend the strike” during the election campaign.
Wherever the truth lies, Nadeau-Dubois’ personal exhaustion has undoubtedly been fed by the exhaustion of the protest perspective which he came to personify—the claim that if students were sufficiently mobilized the government and Quebec elite would have to listen to the student protest and negotiate.
Instead, Canada’s elite, like big business around the world, responded to the opposition to its austerity program with repression, demonstrating thereby that the defence of the basic rights of working people must take the form of a political struggle for workers’ governments and socialism.
World Socialist Web Site reporters spoke with participants in Tuesday evening’s student assembly and strike vote at CEGEP-du-Vieux- Montréal.
“Since the beginning, I have been against the tuition fee hike,” said Valérie Côté. “The fact there is an election on September 4 could change things. Except I tell myself that it is almost six months that we have been on strike and I ask if we except a two-week truce to later perhaps go back on strike would that not just be to lower our guard? I haven’t put a stop to my studies for so important a struggle only to have nothing at the end.
“I am in agreement with the idea of appealing to the workers. I say that the state is there to respond to the needs of citizens and if the state doesn’t even listen to the citizens then I ask myself if one has real democracy.”
Gabriel told the WSWS “it is important to continue the strike. If we lower our arms the politicians, even those who have made promises like the PQ, will take will take notice and perhaps rethink their promises. I think we have to maintain pressure on these parties.
“The PQ is a party that that in the past has proposed unfreezing tuition fees. It could be very easy for them to revert back to be in favour of raising tuition fees if they see we are no longer mobilized.”
Mathieu was also wary of the PQ, saying “we are not certain of its good faith because we have seen what the PQ’s done in the past. Also its promise of an education summit is very vague. We are very far from having social measures like free tuition.
“The student movement,” he continued, “has led to a larger social movement for more equality.
“The trade union federations are tied to the government. They don’t really want to make too many waves for fear that they will lose their subsidies.
“There is a connection between the Charest government’s education policy and what’s going on in Europe—the capitalist system. There is a new crisis and they want to resolve it by punishing those who shouldn’t be punished, the ordinary people.”
The author also recommends:

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

A new policy is needed for Quebec student strike

By the Socialist Equality Party (Canada) 
10 August 2012
In the face of a media vilification campaign, police violence and draconian anti-democratic legislation (Bill 78), students in Quebec have waged a determined and courageous six month-long struggle against the provincial Liberal government’s plan to dramatically increase university tuition fees.
However, the students’ struggle has now reached a point where critical questions of political perspective can no longer be ignored or sidestepped.
To end the strike would deliver a political victory to the Charest Liberal government and the entire ruling elite. This victory would be welcomed by the big business Parti Quebecois (PQ) as fervently as by Jean Charest and Stephen Harper, as has been made abundantly clear by PQ leader Pauline Marois’ repeated calls for the strike to be ended and Bill 78 obeyed.
There is no evidence to support the claim made by the union officialdom and the leaders of the establishment-aligned student associations, FECQ and FEUQ, that ending the strike would assist in Charest’s defeat at the hands of the PQ in the September 4 provincial election. But even were this true, what of it? The PQ is the Quebec bourgeoisie’s alternate party of government. When it last held office it imposed the greatest social spending cuts in Quebec history, used a savage Bill 78-type law to break a nurses’ strike, and slashed taxes for big business and the rich.
The PQ is the Quebec variant of the “left” parties of government present the world over, from the Democratic Party in the US to the Labour Party in Britain and the Socialist Party in France. Their function is to suppress and co-opt oppositional movements and work with the trade union bureaucracy to impose the agenda of the ruling class.
The strike should be continued. But it must be armed with a radically new perspective, if it is not to succumb in the face of state repression and the maneuvers of the unions to isolate it and channel the opposition to the hated Liberal government of Charest behind the PQ.
This new perspective must be founded on the recognition that the students’ strike is part of growing worldwide working class resistance to the drive of big business and its political representatives to make workers and youth pay for the greatest crisis of global capitalism since the Great Depression.
It is to the working class across Canada and internationally that students must now resolutely turn. The strike must become the catalyst for a working-class counteroffensive against the assault being implemented by big business and all its political representatives in the name of corporate competitiveness and austerity.
No one should underestimate the forces arraigned against the strike.
The Liberals, egged on by the corporate establishment, are preparing to suppress the strike using the police, courts and the draconian provisions of Bill 78.
A no less sinister role is being played by those who have posed as allies of the students, most importantly the trade unions. The unions in Quebec as around the world are not workers’ organizations, but rather auxiliaries of big business and the state in policing the working class. In the name of “preserving social peace,” the unions have been working for months to smother the strike. They joined with Charest in seeking to bully students into accepting a sellout agreement in early May. No sooner was Bill 78 adopted, than the unions pledged to enforce it, including making teachers assist the government in breaking the strike. They vehemently opposed CLASSE’s call for a “social strike.”
CLASSE has itself increasingly adapted to the drive of the ruling class, its political parties, and the unions to end the strike. It has refused to criticize the unions for opposing a “social strike,” and in deference to them has dropped altogether the call for a broader mobilization. It has lent support to the attempt to corral the students behind the PQ, saying the defeat of Charest would be a gain, if not an outright victory, for the students. And it has failed to officially fight for the strike’s continuation.
The strike’s fatal weakness has been its protest and nationalist orientation—its restriction to a protest campaign based on acceptance of the existing social-economic order, limited to pressuring the Charest government and Quebec’s elite, and confined to Quebec.
CLASSE claimed that if students boycotted classes and mounted demonstrations they could create a rapport de force (balance of power) in which the government would have no choice but to negotiate.
Instead students were met with state violence and found themselves in a headlong collision not just with the Quebec Liberal government, but with the entire Canadian ruling class, its courts and police.
This is an experience common to working people around the world. Under the impact of the capitalist crisis the ruling class is seeking to destroy all the social rights of the working class, from public services to collective bargaining, and answering the inevitable working class opposition with state repression.
The international working class is the only social force that has the power to break the stranglehold of big business over social-economic life and to secure the fundamental social rights of working people—including the rights to a decent education, job, pension, and health care. But to carry out this social transformation the working population must organize itself as an independent political force to establish workers’ governments. Then the economy can be radically reorganized so as to make social need, not private profit, the animating principle.
In opposition to the socialist perspective that students fuse their struggle with the Canadian and international working class’ resistance to the assault of global capital, CLASSE issued a manifesto last month imbued with Quebec nationalism. The manifesto celebrates the student strike as a “democratic struggle” of the Quebec people, while omitting any mention of the working class or capitalism.
The ideology of the Quebec bourgeoisie, Quebec nationalism, like its twin Canadian nationalism, is used by the elite to harness the working class to its rule and divide the workers of Quebec from their true allies, workers in English Canada and around the world.
The CLASSE manifesto bears the heavy imprint of the influence of Quebec Solidaire (QS) and various anarchist groups.
QS is a member of the PQ-led Conseil de la souveraineté du Québec and a would-be electoral ally of the PQ. It promotes itself as “a party of the street and the ballot box,” that is a party orientated to pressuring and working with the establishment.
In opposition to the struggle to mobilize the working class and free it from the political and organizational domination of the unions, the anarchists are the foremost proponents of direct action—individual confrontations with the police and symbolic occupations and blockades. Their blanket denunciations of all politics and parties only serve to block the struggle for the working class to separate itself from the parties of the ruling elite and articulate a program for reorganizing of society in the interests of working people.
The student strike has come up against the same problem as has the initial wave of worker struggles around the world. These struggles are being contained and suppressed by the unions, the ostensible “left” parties, and pseudo-radical organizations that promote nationalism and the authority of the unions and “left” parties.
The Socialist Equality Party, its youth organization, the International Students for Social Equality, and the World Socialist Web Site exist to overcome the crisis of working-class leadership, to develop the revolutionary leadership that will politically prepare and lead the working class in breaking free of the pro-capitalist trade unions and in fighting for a workers’ government and socialism.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

CLASSE manifesto promotes Quebec nationalism and protest politics

Quebec student strike:
By Richard Dufour and Keith Jones 
8 August 2012
In general assembly meetings this week and next, Quebec’s striking students will decide how they will proceed when the province’s post-secondary institutions resume the suspended winter term—under police gauntlet—later this month.
During the half-year long strike, two opposed strategies have been advanced by the political forces that claim to support the students’ struggle against the Liberal government’s plans to dramatically hike university tuition fees and for education to be recognized as a social right.
From the beginning, the World Socialist Web Site has insisted that the strike constitutes an implicit challenge to the austerity agenda of the ruling class across Canada and around the world. Determined to make working people pay for the capitalist crisis, big business and its political representatives are seeking to destroy all the social gains the working class wrenched from them through the convulsive struggles of the last century.
The WSWS has fought for students to turn to the working class, the only social force that has the power and whose class interests lie in breaking the stranglehold big business wields over socio-economic life. To prevail, the strike must become the catalyst for a cross-Canada offensive of the working class—French, English and immigrant—in defence of all jobs and public services and for workers’ governments committed to reorganizing the economy on socialist lines, so as to make the fulfillment of social needs, not private profit, its animating principle.
The student associations, the trade unions, Québec Solidaire and the entire pseudo-left, have meanwhile insisted that the strike be limited to pressuring the Quebec elite.
For months, CLASSE, the student association leading the strike, maintained that the students’ struggle should be waged as a single-issue protest. Opposition to the Liberals’ tuition fee hikes was deliberately separated from any challenge to the provincial government’s austerity agenda and from that of the federal Conservative government and the ruling elite as a whole.
This perspective has been decisively refuted by events. Far from negotiating, the Liberal government, egged on by the corporate media, has used unprecedented police violence and then Bill 78 to suppress the strike.
In the face of the government’s intransigence and buoyed by the wave of popular, largely working class, opposition that erupted following the passage of Bill 78, CLASSE briefly advanced the call for of a broader struggle in the form of a “social strike.” This, however, was not a call for a political general strike aimed at bringing down Jean Charest’s Liberal government and developing a mass movement for workers’ governments in Ottawa and Quebec City. It was merely a proposal for a bigger protest movement.
Once the unions made clear their vehement opposition, CLASSE quickly dropped its “social strike” call. Increasingly, it has adapted to the drive of the trade unions and their allies in FECQ (the Quebec Colleges Students’ Federation) and FEUQ (the Quebec University Students Federation) to divert the student strike behind the campaign to replace the Liberals with the Official Opposition Parti Québécois (PQ).
CLASSE leaders have repeatedly said Charest’s defeat at the hands of the PQ—a big business, pro-Quebec independence party that carried out the greatest social spending cuts in Quebec history when it last held office—would be a positive outcome, if not an outright victory, for the students.
That CLASSE is becoming an auxiliary to the unions’ betrayal of the strike is underscored by the manifesto it issued last month to outline its perspective for a broader struggle.
The manifesto bears the heavy imprint of the protest and nationalist politics of Quebec’s pseudo-left, from the PQ’s would-be electoral ally, Québec Solidaire, to the anarchists.
The CLASSE manifesto does not criticize, let alone indict the unions for their opposition to the social strike and their earlier efforts to impose a sellout entente on the students. It does not warn students and workers that the PQ is a big business party as dedicated as the Liberals and Harper’s Conservatives to upholding the interests of the bourgeoisie.
It makes no call for support from students and workers in the rest of Canada. In fact, it makes no reference whatsoever to any issue, event, or development outside Quebec. Not to the greatest crisis of world capitalism since the Great Depression—the real driving force of the clash between the students and the Canadian elite. Not to the brutal austerity programs being imposed in Greece, Spain and across Europe and the mounting opposition they are meeting from the working class.
In opposition to the socialist perspective that students fuse their struggle with the Canadian and international working class’ resistance to the assault of global capital, the CLASSE manifesto argues that the student strike has become and must go forward as a “peoples’ struggle” to assert the “common good” against a Quebec government and elite who are allied with, and speak for, foreign interests.
“What began as a student strike,” declares the CLASSE manifesto, “has become a people’s struggle: the question of tuition fees has allowed us … to speak of a much wider political problem.”
But for CLASSE the “wider political problem” is not capitalism—the word is not mentioned once in its eight-page manifesto. It is “representative democracy” and “neo-liberalism.”
The manifesto points to the hypocrisy of the elite, which employs “emergency laws,” “riot sticks, pepper spray and tear gas,” “when the people voice their discontent” and which “betrays the principles it says it defends,” when it “feels threatened.” In opposition to the elite’s “vision, that they call representative,” CLASSE advocates “direct democracy”. An anarchist catchphrase, CLASSE defines “direct democracy” as a democracy “experienced every moment of every day,” “where democratic decisions arise from a shared space, where men and women are valued … [and] can work together to build a society that is dedicated to the public good.”
This is an empty and pious wish. Empty because it is based on a rejection of the essential starting point of any scientific analysis of contemporary society and progressive program of social struggle—the recognition that society is divided into antagonistic social classes. Whatever the political forms, genuine democracy is impossible within the confines of a socio-economic order in which a tiny minority monopolizes the wealth.
In denouncing “neo-liberalism,” but not capitalism, CLASSE echoes a whole series of petty bourgeois forces intent on breathing life into the failed program of reforming or “humanizing” capitalism. They present the ruling elite’s rejection of the welfare-state polices it pursued during the post-Second World War boom as a bad policy choice rooted in greed, and not the conscious response of the bourgeoisie to the resurgence of the fundamental contradictions of capitalism—contradictions that in the first half of the 20th century led to two world wars, the Great Depression and fascism.
The CLASSE manifesto eschews the term working class and has all but nothing to say about its problems and struggles. The growth in social inequality and economic insecurity, the criminalization of workers’ struggles, and the employers’ never-ending drive to lower wages and speed-up production merit no mention.
Arguably the most striking feature of the CLASSE manifesto is its parochial, unabashedly Quebec nationalist viewpoint.
Unlike the unions and Québec Solidaire, CLASSE does not explicitly call for the creation of a capitalist République du Québec, but its support is implicit—implicit in its myopic Quebec focus, its nationalist rhetoric, its failure to oppose the PQ, its call for an education system that can serve “as the path to liberating a whole society … and lay the foundation for self-determination,” and in its casting of the student strike as a democratic struggle of the Quebec people.
The manifesto opposes privatization and the Charest government’s scheme to exploit Quebec’s mineral wealth (le Plan Nord) in language akin to that employed by the Parti Québécois in the 1970s and a decade earlier by the Quebec Liberal Party when, in the name of making Quebecers “masters in our own house,” the latter nationalized Quebec’s hydro-electric industry.
In traditional Quebec nationalist style, CLASSE rails against a clique “of greedy persons” who cater “in colonial style” to the “whims” of “faraway stockholders,” selling off “our underground wealth” and sacrificing the “common good.”
Working people in Quebec have no interest in supporting the drive of a faction of the Quebec elite to carve out its own nation-state, where it will be the “master.” On the contrary, to assert their class interests, Quebec workers need to join forces with their class brothers and sisters across Canada, in the US and around the world.
Unemployment and deteriorating living standards, the dismantling of public services, rising university tuitions, an escalating attack on democratic rights, the threat of imperialist war—the problems of workers and youth in Quebec are fundamentally the same as those that confront working people the world over and will only be overcome through the development of an international industrial and political offensive of the working class for socialism.
Forty years ago, the trade union bureaucracy successfully harnessed a powerful movement of the Quebec working class that emerged as part of an international working class offensive, to the big business PQ, with disastrous consequences for the political development of the working class across North America.
Now under conditions of a systemic crisis of capitalism and a growing wave of mass struggles, from Egypt, Greece and Spain, to Wisconsin, the Quebec unions, Québec Solidaire, the rest of the pseudo-left, and now CLASSE are yet again trying to quarantine the struggles of Quebec workers and youth, and promoting nationalism and the PQ-led movement for Quebec independence.
Students and workers must spurn CLASSE’s nationalist-protest perspective. This path leads to the strike’s isolation and collapse in the face of the combined opposition of the state, the PQ, the trade unions and FECQ and FEUQ, and the transformation of the student movement into an adjunct of the bourgeois Quebec independence movement.
The right to an education and all the fundamental social rights of working people—to a job, a decent pensions, health care etc.—will only be secured through the development of a movement of the working class, based on a socialist internationalist program, in opposition to the capitalist social order. Students can play a vital role in the development of such a movement, in developing the revolutionary leadership that will politically prepare and lead the working class in breaking free of the pro-capitalist trade unions and articulating its class interests through the development of a mass revolutionary socialist party.
The authors also recommend:
[7 July 2012]
[7 July 2012]

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Parti Quebecois and unions press students to end strike

By Keith Jones 
4 August 2012
On the second day of the Quebec election campaign, Parti Quebecois (PQ) leader Pauline Marois urged the province’s post-secondary students to end their nearly six-month-long strike against the Liberal government’s plans to dramatically increase university tuition fees.
Under the Liberals’ draconian Bill 78—legislation that effectively criminalizes the strike—CEGEPs (pre-university and technical colleges) must resume the suspended winter 2012 term by August 17. Many students, however, are vowing to continue boycotting classes in defiance of Liberal government plans to suppress the strike using an unprecedented police mobilization and the punitive criminal sanctions contained in Bill 78.
The big business PQ has feigned support for the students in the hopes of capitalizing on popular animosity toward the nine-year-old Liberal government of Jean Charest. But it, no less than the Liberals, fears the political impact of a headlong confrontation between the striking students and the state. In the name of upholding “social peace,” the unions, close allies of the PQ, have been working for months to isolate the students and corral them back to class.
In issuing her call for students to end the strike, Marois was flanked by Léo Bureau-Blouin, who was president of FECQ (the Quebec College Students Federation) until his term expired at the beginning of June. Bureau-Blouin was recently recruited by the PQ to be its candidate in Laval-des-Rapides, a suburban Montreal constituency.
Both Marois and Bureau-Blouin presented the PQ’s call for an end to the strike as an “electoral truce” and sought to justify it with the claim that Liberal Premier Jean Charest is deliberately provoking a confrontation with the students so as to divert public attention from his government’s record of corruption and mismanagement.
“We need to achieve a peaceful social climate,” declared Bureau-Blouin. “That is why I support the idea of a truce. We have to take all precautions not to play into the Liberals’ hands.”
The PQ is promising that within the first 100 days of taking office it will rescind Bill 78, withdraw the Liberal government’s plan to increase tuition fees by 82 percent over the next seven years, and convene a “national” summit meeting to consider the financing and management of universities, tuition fees, student aid and debt, and student housing.
Mariois said that at such a summit the PQ would advocate indexing tuition fees to inflation, but that the meeting, which would be dominated by university administrators and representatives of big business and the government, would be free to make any proposal it chooses as regards tuition fees.
The PQ claims to be a party of the “left,” but has a decades-long record of anti-worker austerity measures and savage strikebreaking laws. And while it has criticized certain right-wing Liberal measures, including the tuition fee hike and the imposition of a new health care head-tax, it has also repeatedly denounced the government for not cutting spending and taxes fast enough.
In recent weeks Marois has boasted that even when the PQ government of Lucien Bouchard and Bernard Landry made eliminating the province’s annual budget deficit its first priority it didn’t raise university tuition fees.
But insofar as students were “spared” paying higher tuition, it was only at the expense of other vital social needs. Between 1996 and 1998, the PQ imposed the greatest social spending cuts in Quebec history.
The PQ has a long history of organizing tripartite “national” summits, with a view to securing the unions’ collaboration in imposing the agenda of big business. The PQ’s “zero-deficit” drive was politically prepared by precisely such a summit.
The PQ’s opposition to the Bill 78 is no more genuine than its claim to defend access to education. While it has promised to rescind Bill 78 if elected, it stands with the Liberals in demanding that Bill 78’s anti-democratic provisions be obeyed in full till then.
The PQ’s “truce call’” is a part of a campaign uniting all sections of the establishment to suppress the student strike and the broader movement of social contestation to which it has given rise.
While the Liberals, egged on by much of the corporate media, denounce the students as “violent” and prepare to use the courts and police to break the strike, the PQ and above all the union bureaucrats pressure the students to end the strike, all the while posing as their “friends” and allies.
The unions have vehemently opposed the call of CLASSE, the student association that has led the strike, for a “social strike”—a broader protest movement involving limited worker-job action. And they have repeatedly pledged to obey Bill 78, including provisions that legally compel them to do everything in their power to ensure CEGEP and university teachers assist the government in breaking the strike.
In late May, at the very moment when hundreds of thousands had come out into the streets to oppose Bill 78 and the strike was threatening to precipitate a broader working class-led movement, the president of Quebec’s largest union body, the Quebec Federation of Labour, wrote to the head of the Canadian Labour Congress to demand that no support be given to the striking students.
Subsequently, the QFL has tried to cover it tracks and claimed that QFL President Michel Arsenault’s letter was misinterpreted. But in “clarifying” matters late last month, the QFL reiterated that it is opposed to all action in defiance of Bill 78 and all civil disobedience.
While actively preparing to assist the government in breaking the strike, through their compliance with Bill 78, the unions are seeking to politically divert the students and the broader opposition movement behind the campaign to replace the Charest Liberals with the PQ, the Quebec ruling elite’s alternate party of government.
FECQ and its sister organization, FEUQ (the Quebec University Students Federation), are also working hand-in-glove with the PQ and the unions to end the strike. Both have repeatedly voiced their opposition to any defiance of Bill 78, going so far as to boycott CLASSE demonstrations that were not police approved. Moreover, for weeks they have been insisting that students should focus their efforts on defeating the Liberals at the ballot box—an all but open endorsement of the PQ.
FEUQ President Martine Desjardins said Thursday that her organization is “neutral” in respect to the PQ’s call for a “truce,” while quickly adding that she fears that should the strike continue it will “give munitions to the Liberals.”
CLASSE has categorically rejected the PQ’s call for an end to the student strike. “We won’t end the mobilization till our demands have been met,” declared a CLASSE spokesperson Thursday. But CLASSE has adapted to the unions’ fierce opposition to making the student strike the spearhead of a wider movement in opposition to the austerity agenda of the ruling elite. It has completely dropped its call for a social strike, while making no substantive criticism of the unions. Indeed, following a meeting between CLASSE representatives and QFL President Arsenault, a CLASSE spokesman said they were convinced of the QFL leadership’s good faith.
While critical of FECQ and FEUQ for their electoralist orientation, CLASSE has joined with them in claiming that the defeat of the Liberals at the polls would be a victory of students, thereby promoting illusions in the big-business PQ.
If the student strike is not to be suppressed through state violence or by harnessing it to the parties of the ruling class, or, what is most likely, through a combination of the two, students and their supporters must turn resolutely to the working class in Quebec and across Canada. In opposition to the pro-capitalist union apparatuses, the strike must become the catalyst for a working class counteroffensive against the austerity agenda being pursued by all the parties of the establishment, and for the development of an independent political movement of the working class armed with a socialist program.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Quebec Liberals launch re-election bid with tirade against striking students

By Keith Jones 
2 August 2012
To no one’s surprise, Quebec Premier Jean Charest yesterday called a provincial election for Tuesday, September 4.
Much of Charest’s maiden campaign speech was given over to a virulent denunciation of the five month-long province-wide student strike.
Serving notice that he and his Liberal Party will mount an extreme right-wing campaign, Charest sought to paint his Liberal government as the bulwark of law and order against elements who, in the name of opposing university tuition fee hikes, are seeking to “challenge the established order and its democratic institutions, including the National Assembly and also the courts.”
Charest claimed that the events of the past five months mean that “the September 4 election is not like others. We must decide what type of society we want to live in.”
Repeating his own government’s propaganda and that of the big business-controlled media, Charest said Quebec has been witness “to acts of intimidation, vandalism and violence.”
“In the last few months, we have heard a lot from student leaders, from people on the streets, we’ve heard from those who’ve been hitting away at pots and pans. Now is the time for the silent majority to speak.”
Unquestionably, the student strike has figured large in the timing of the Liberals’ election call. The Liberals are determined to inflict a demonstrable defeat on the students so as to break popular resistance to their austerity agenda of social spending cuts, regressive tax and user fee increases, and privatization.
They intend to use the elections to provide a “democratic” cover for an unprecedented police mobilization when the “suspended” winter semester resumes in mid-August—a mobilization aimed at applying the draconian and flagrantly anti-democratic provisions of Bill 78 and smashing the student strike.
In this, the Liberals are counting on the open support of the corporate media, which will claim that those opposed to the government should seek to defeat it at the polls not by striking in defiance of the law, and the tacit support of the trade unions. The latter have rejected appeals from CLASSE, the student association that has effectively led the strike, for a broadening of the opposition movement through limited worker job-action (a “social strike”). And the unions have repeatedly declared that they will obey Bill 78, including provisions that legally compel them to do everything in their power to force teachers to assist the government in breaking the student strike.
By placing their drive to ram through a dramatic increase in university tuition fees at the center of their re-election campaign, the Liberals are also making a transparent appeal for ruling class support, arguing that they are the best political vehicle for implementing its class war agenda.
Charest has repeatedly touted the government’s refusal to bend before the students and readiness to run roughshod over democratic rights as proof that he and his government have the “courage” to take “difficult” and “unpopular” stands.
In his opening campaign address, Charest attacked Pauline Marois, the head of the Official Opposition Parti Quebecois (PQ), suggesting she and her party are unfit to govern because of their professed support for the students’ strike. “Pauline Marois,” declared Charest, “proposes a government that abdicates its responsibilities in the face of the street. Pauline Marois and the Parti Quebecois made the choice to embrace the movement of contestation, to wear its symbols and even to recruit a student leader (the ex-head of the establishment-aligned FECQ, Léo Bureau-Blouin) as a candidate. [Marois] proposes to give in, to concede, to give the students] everything they want.”
The reality is the PQ is a rival big business party. When it last held office, between 1994 and 2003, the PQ implemented the greatest social spending cuts in Quebec history and tax cuts that were skewed to benefit big business and the well-to-do. In recent years it has repeatedly attacked the Liberals from the right, for not cutting spending quickly enough and relying too much on tax increases to reduce the deficit.
As Charest on other occasions has noted, Mariois has repeatedly flip-flopped on the question of tuition fee increases. Her party’s professed support for the student strike was a cynical maneuver aimed at boosting the PQ’s electoral fortunes under conditions where it had been badly shaken by a series of defections and electoral reversals. (The PQ’s sister party, the BQ, was all but wiped out in the May 2011 federal election.)
No less than the Liberals, the PQ is adamantly opposed to defiance of Bill 78, a stand that was underlined by its support for the arrest of Quebec Solidaire legislator Amir Khadir for the “crime” of participating in a demonstration in early June. Significantly, in launching the PQ’s election campaign yesterday, Marois avoided any mention of the student strike or the Liberals’ plan to nearly double tuition fees over the next seven years.
Hoping to capitalize on the unpopularity of the Charest Liberal government, the PQ intends to say as little as possible about the socio-economic agenda that it would pursue if elected. Instead it plans to focus its campaign on various corruption scandals, particularly the widespread evidence of collusion, bid-rigging and kickbacks in the construction industry.
While the PQ is committed to Quebec’s secession, it will not make a major issue of independence during the election campaign, because it is far from enjoying majority support and because Marois recognizes that there is little enthusiasm within Quebec’s ruling elite for a constitutional clash with Ottawa. The PQ will, however, raise the issue identitaire, attacking the Liberal government on chauvinist grounds for not doing enough to force immigrants to use French and accept “Quebec values” or to promote French as the language of work.
For decades, the unions have politically subordinated the working class to the big business PQ. Fearful of the growing radicalization in Quebec and the possibility that the student strike could become the catalyst for a wider movement of the working class in Quebec and across Canada, the union officialdom is clutching to the PQ more tightly than ever. Already in early June, Quebec’s largest union body, the Quebec Federation of Labour, raised the slogan “After the streets, to the ballot box.”
Two other parties, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) and Québec Solidaire, will be important factors in the election’s outcome.
CAQ is a newly created right-wing party, formed by ex-PQ cabinet minister and multimillionaire businessman Francois Legault. It calls for the expansion of private health-care and the ripping up of teachers’ seniority rights. It supported Bill 78, although it opposed the decision to suspend the winter semester, arguing the government should have immediately mobilized the power of the state to suppress the strike.
Although the CAQ gobbled up the right-wing populist ADQ, it is very much Legault’s personal vehicle, with the leader personally choosing all the party’s candidates. Last year polls placed the as of yet to be formally created CAQ well in the lead, but as electors have become more familiar with its program support for the CAQ has fizzled. Currently it has about 20 percent support in the polls.
Québec Solidaire (QS), which currently has one seat in the National Assembly, describes itself as a left, pro-Quebec independence, “citizens’” party and opponent of “neo-liberalism.” An aspiring establishment party, it seeks to revive illusions in the project of creating an independent capitalist Quebec. It recently offered to form an electoral alliance with the PQ in the name of defeating the “right.” But the PQ has rejected the proposal. It fears that association with the “radical” QS would undermine its efforts to convince the ruling class that it is better poised to push through austerity measures than the Liberals, precisely because of its close ties to the unions and residual popular illusions that it is a party of the “left.”

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Which way forward for the Montreal student strike?

By Andre Damon 

28 July 2012

Five months after students in Montreal, Quebec launched a strike against tuition increases, the movement stands at a crossroads. The strike’s leaders are seeking to channel mass opposition among students and workers behind the political establishment and upcoming elections, while the government appears set to force the reopening of schools on August 15.



http://www.wsws.org/articles/2012/jul2012/vide-j28.shtml

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’);}

Quebec student strike at the crossroads

13 July 2012
The five-month-long strike by Quebec students against university tuition fee hikes and their courageous defiance of Bill 78—legislation that criminalizes the strike and restricts the right to demonstrate—has shaken the provincial Liberal government and the entire Canadian ruling class. Nonetheless, the fate of the strike hangs in the balance.
The government is using the three-month suspension of the winter term imposed under Bill 78 to prepare for an unprecedented police mobilization when the strike-bound universities and CEGEPs (pre-university and technical colleges) reopen in mid-August.
The trade unions are systematically isolating the strike and working for its defeat. No sooner was Bill 78 adopted than Quebec’s labor federations declared they would obey it, including provisions that legally compel them to do everything in their power to ensure that teachers and other university and CEGEP personnel assist the government in breaking the strike.
The New Democratic Party (NDP), the party of the trade unions in English Canada, has refused to even nominally support the students or to oppose Bill 78 on the spurious grounds these are “provincial matters.”
Quebec’s unions and the student associations most directly under their influence are seeking to divert the strike and the wider opposition movement that erupted against Bill 78 behind the election of the big business Parti Quebecois. “After the streets, to the ballot box,” trumpets the Quebec Federation of Labour (QFL), the province’s largest union body.
Students and workers in Quebec, across Canada and around the world must draw the lessons of the past five months. The students’ demand for education to be recognized as a social right has brought them into headlong conflict not only with Quebec’s Liberal government, but with the entire Canadian ruling class, its courts and police.
This is because the strike has challenged—if, as of yet, only implicitly—the basic strategy of the ruling class in Canada and around the world. Everywhere, big business and its political representatives are determined to make the working class pay for the deepest crisis of world capitalism since the Great Depression through the destruction of public services and massive cuts in jobs and wages.
To prevail in their struggle, students must make their challenge to the ruling class’s austerity agenda explicit. They must broaden their struggle politically and geographically by making it the catalyst for a working class counteroffensive in Quebec and across North America in defence of all jobs and public services, and for the development of an independent political movement of the working class directed at bringing to power workers’ governments.
Only the working class can break the stranglehold of big business over socioeconomic life by radically reorganizing the economy so as to make social need, not private profit, the animating principle.
The perspective of the student associations, including CLASSE, the association that initiated the strike and led the defiance of Bill 78, has manifestly failed.
The student associations insisted that the government could be pressured into dropping the tuition hikes through a single-issue protest campaign that separated the students’ struggle from any broader challenge to the austerity agenda of the Quebec Liberal and federal Conservative governments. But far from ceding to protests, the Quebec Liberal government resorted to unprecedented police repression, culminating in the adoption of Bill 78.
With many students pressing for a broadening of the strike in answer to Bill 78, CLASSE raised the call for a “social strike.” This call, however, represents a continuation of CLASSE’s middle-class protest orientation, not a break with it.
A concept promoted by the Convergence of Anti-Capitalist Struggles and other anarchist groups, the so-called “social strike” is a wider protest, potentially including some form of limited job action by workers. It is, however, the antipode to a political general strike aimed at bringing down the Charest Liberal government and developing the struggle for workers’ governments committed to socialist policies.
For the unions, anything that smacks of a political job action, even if for a day, is anathema. In late may, QFL President Michel Arsenault wrote to the Canadian Labour Congress to warn against the “radicals” promoting a social strike and demand that the unions in English Canada deny the students support. Louis Roy, the president of the Confederation of National Trade Unions, Quebec’s second largest union federation, delivered a public dressing down to a CLASSE spokesman after he spoke in favor of a social strike at a forum on which they were co-panelists.
Faced with this opposition, CLASSE ceased all talk of a social strike. Its leaders made no mention of it at the mass demonstrations held in Montreal and Quebec City on June 22, and in the ensuing three weeks said virtually nothing publicly about the strike.
On Thursday this silence ended. CLASSE issued a “manifesto” that shows its leaders have learned nothing from the past five months and are rapidly becoming an appendage to the unions in the strike’s betrayal.
The manifesto acknowledges that the student strike has gone far beyond the issue of tuition fee increases, claiming it has become a “popular struggle” for the democratization of Quebec. It is full of talk about the “people,” while making only the most cursory mention of the working class, which it dismisses as only one among a long list of oppressed and “marginal” groups.
It makes no reference to capitalism, let alone the world capitalist crisis and the working-class resistance it is provoking, from Greece, to Spain to Egypt. Indeed, no developments beyond the borders of Quebec merit mention in the CASSE manifesto, although Quebec students are well aware of the massive debt loads faced by US students and frequently mention it as a reason for their fight.
Despite the exclusive focus on Quebec, the eight-page manifesto fails to mention the Parti Quebecois and the unions’ drive to liquidate the strike and transform it into a campaign to return the PQ—which carried out the greatest social spending cuts in Quebec history—to power.
The concluding sentence makes reference to the social strike, but in a manner that suggests even the prospect of a wider protest is more a hope than an aim. It says not a word as to who will carry it out, when, or toward what end. Clearly CLASSE is yet again ceding to the pressure of the unions, which it continues to promote as genuine workers’ organizations and allies of the students.
The day before they issued their manifesto, several CLASSE leasers met QFL President Arsenault, reputedly to discuss his letter to the CLC demanding that it isolate the striking students. At the meeting’s conclusion, CLASSE communications secretary Ludvig Moquin Beaudry said the QFL had reiterated its support for the strike, adding “we believe they are in good faith.”
The QFL “supports” the student strike like a rope supports a hanged man. The unions in Quebec as around the world are not workers’ organizations, but rather auxiliaries of big business and the state in suppressing the working class. The mobilization of the working class will not take place through these pro-capitalist organizations, but only through a political and organizational break with them and the development of new organs of working-class struggle.
The Quebec student strike must be relaunched on a socialist perspective. Students will be able to answer the campaign of state repression directed against them and secure their just demand for education to be recognized as a social right only by turning to the broadest layers of the working class, breaking out of the narrow Quebec framework to which their struggle has been confined, and fighting for the development of an independent political movement of the working class armed with a socialist and internationalist program.
Keith Jones

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Rank-and-file pressure begins to shift the Canadian Federation of Students: What are the tasks of student militants?

Written by Farshad Azadian

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.
In addition to the demonstrations, there have also been dozens upon dozens of organizing meetings, educational forums, and discussions held on the topic of the Quebec student movement. This inspiring wave of youth activism continues to build upon the energy coming from the Occupy movement and the organizing efforts around the G20. It is significant that this has all occurred during the summer months when student activism tends to slow down.
It would, however, be simplistic to view this political movement as being solely an expression of solidarity. It is obviously true that students have significant sympathies with the struggle of their peers in Quebec. Furthermore, students and workers in Ontario are furious at the anti-democratic and brutal measures carried out by Quebec premier Jean Charest and the police forces. Nonetheless, this solidarity movement actually speaks more to the conditions facing youth and workers in Ontario.
Pro-business politicians and university administrations across Canada are realizing the warning inherent in these solidarity mobilizations. The message they are correctly taking is that students in the rest of Canada, too, are aware of the inequality and barriers presented by record-high tuition fees, and that they are looking for an outlet for their anger. There is a thirst among youth to fight back, and the solidarity efforts over the past two months display this.
The opportunity is there to build the student movement and build towards strike action. We must be able to present students with a strategy and method for actually carrying out such a struggle. We must be able to educate and agitate amongst students to let them know what such a struggle could achieve. Most students are angry at the status quo, but they are skeptical. They do not believe they can actually win, and most end up drifting towards apathy.
What students lack at the moment are the political vehicles through which their fighting spirit can express itself. Without organization, the sense of collective confidence of students is tremendously lowered. Therefore, the significant task is to strengthen and democratize the mass student organizations on the basis of a fighting strategy. The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) must become a fighting student union.
This sentiment is already popular among the student union rank-and-file. Many have been inspired by the example of the militant CLASSE student unions in Quebec. As a result, thousands of students have vocally raised demands on their student union executives and leadership across Canada to build the student movement.
Pressure from the grassroots
It is therefore encouraging to see that some sections of the CFS are beginning to shift towards a more fighting stance. Some student leaders are taking positive steps to build and strengthen the student movement, and some are even raising the possibility of organizing a student strike in the coming school semesters. Fightback welcomes the positive steps taken by these student leaders that contribute to raising consciousness and participation of students in the movement.
Fightback has insisted from the beginning of the movement in Quebec that our student unions in English Canada should take a lead from this magnificent movement. We explained that the positive example and momentum from Quebec provided an excellent opportunity to build the movement. The thousands of students who began to spontaneously organize, protest, distribute red squares, leaflet, put up posters, and to generally spread the movement across Canada adequately displays this.
It is unfortunate, however, that the student unions have largely been outside, or a minor component part, of these solidarity efforts thus far. It is a testament to the tremendous energy of the student grassroots who, without waiting for their leaders to begin organizing, have already carried out a range of impressive political actions. Now it seems like the student leaders are starting to catch up with the sentiment in the streets and in the classrooms.
This was displayed at a demonstration organized by the Ontario Student Mobilization Committee (OSMC) on 5th June in Toronto. The rally ended at the Ryerson Students’ Centre, where a series of speeches were made, including by several elected student leaders. It was very indicative that several of the elected student leaders openly raised the demand for free post-secondary education. These excellent speeches were made by student leaders such as Rodney Diverlus, president of the Ryerson Students Unions (RSU), and Alastair Woods, vice-president of Campaigns and Advocacy at the York Federation of Students (YFS).
Raising this slogan openly in the movement represents a significant step forward, and has long been a point of contention within the student movement. Student militants have insisted that the student leaders openly and publicly call for free education, as opposed to the call for reducing or freezing tuition fees, or the ambiguous “drop fees” slogan. The latter slogans already concede to the rationale of a class-biased education system. Meanwhile, the demand for free education tends to get a very enthusiastic hearing from students. Even students who are skeptical about whether free education is realistic will tend to be supportive of the demand, and any questions they raise tend to open up important discussions about broader political questions. When the student leaders raised these slogans at the rally, it had an electrifying effect on the crowd.
The mass solidarity movement is finding a reflection within the CFS. The enormous pressure from the rank-and-file is catching the ears of the more sensitive and genuine student leaders. This explains the growing fighting spirit in the speeches and slogans being raised by the student leaders. More important than just words, however, is that certain CFS locals are beginning to take concrete steps to advance the student movement.
CFS locals begin to move
The York Federation of Students (YFS), which represents some 50,000 students and stands as one of the largest locals of the CFS, is taking some excellent steps, which other student locals should take as an example. The YFS leaders have committed to organizing monthly student assemblies to build student participation and ownership over their student union. Importantly, the YFS has committed to giving these monthly assemblies the decision-making power to determine the political campaigns and activism of the student union local. This is very important. Student assemblies must not become a “talk-shop”, and the rank-and-file should have the ability to hold their leaders to account, and even to overrule them if necessary. We insist that these democratic assemblies be set up with full decision-making powers. This will be a huge step forward. The first assembly at York will be held in August, and they are scheduled to continue to occur on a monthly basis.
The YFS has also begun to organize educational efforts to raise the consciousness of the rank-and-file and to popularize the strike tactic. They are planning an educational for July, called “Lessons from Quebec; Building in Ontario”for July 18. This is a very encouraging beginning, which must develop into regular discussions and workshops on the campus. The topics covered should range from immediate issues around the free education and the strike tactic, to broader political issues of interest to the student body.
The Students’ Union at Ottawa University (SFUO) has also played an excellent mobilizing role. They have taken it upon themselves to organize and mobilize for the impressive demonstrations we have witnessed in Ottawa to support the Quebec students. They have also organized educationals for the purpose of radicalizing the rank-and-file, including on the topic of civil disobedience and the Quebec movement. They have also been bussing solidarity delegations to Quebec. This is a great example of the kind of initiative that is necessary of leadership; the SFUO sent their first delegation to Montreal back in March 2012!
It is notable that the SFUO has taken the initiative to organize solidarity rallies in the city of Ottawa. This stands in contrast to the CFS locals in Toronto who have not taken a leading role organizing the demonstrations. The evening casseroles protests in Toronto have been organized spontaneously, while an ad hoc body called the Ontario Student Mobilization Committee (OSMC) has organized the planned demonstrations. The powerful CFS locals in Toronto must immediately begin to take an active role organizing mass rallies.
The Laurentian Students’ Union (LSU) at the Barrie campus was perhaps the CFS local which showed the greatest initiative to organize democratic assemblies, and they have just convened their first assembly. The elected leadership at the LSU must be given credit for the very active role they have played in solidarity efforts this summer. It has also been confirmed that the University of Toronto at Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) are beginning to organize assemblies on their campus, as well.
These are all excellent examples of the efforts that can, and must be taken by the student unions. Student activists should assist in efforts where their student leaders are taking positive steps. They should also hold the student leaders to their commitments, and continue to pressure from the grassroots to ensure that the student unions actually keep moving forward.
Just the first steps
We are positive about these steps that are being taken by the CFS locals. It must, however, be clearly said that just holding several educationals, organizing a few demonstrations, or even initiating regular democratic assemblies on campus will not lead to free education. In fact, on their own, they will not even put a dent in the skyrocketing tuition fees in Ontario. The protracted nature of the struggle of Quebec students shows this. It is unlikely that the provincial government, or local administrations, will buckle without students first taking strike action and connecting it to the larger problem of capitalist austerity.
In Quebec, students have been on unlimited strike since February, and the Quebec Liberal government has yet to back down on their proposed tuition increase. But, the student strike has shaken Quebec society to its core, further destabilized the precarious Charest government, and endangered the ability of future Quebec governments to impose their austerity program. If the student strike can bring in the mass of workers, then the strike will very likely force the government to back down.
But, we cannot expect such a strike to magically occur or organize itself overnight in the rest of Canada. Students will need to prepare themselves if there is going to be an unlimited students’ strike.
Therefore, these positive steps that have been taken by the CFS locals must be part of acampaign that inexplicitly working towards a 24-hour student strike. Educationals, assemblies, and rallies must be used to raise confidence and consciousness for the purpose of building towards strike actions. The CFS locals must openly promote and popularize strike action. Anything short of this is unacceptable. Of course, if the government doesn’t back down in the face of a 24-hour strike in Ontario, then we should escalate towards longer strikes.
We should also understand that this shift to the left is in its first stages, and is occurring very unevenly, only involving a few CFS locals. We should encourage the more left and activist wing of the CFS to move forward, while openly confronting the more conservative wing of the CFS leaders who are unwilling to move. We should also insist that the more activist CFS leaders should openly challenge the conservatism that has developed within provincial and national federations of our student unions. A concrete way of doing this is to demand that the positive steps taken by certain CFS locals (such as the YFS, SFUO, and LSU) be generalized across all locals. Student militants should also use these examples to press their own elected student executives on their local campus.
Lesson drawn — We can reshape our student unions
These developments point to an important fact — there are enormous possibilities that exist within the CFS. This is a direct rebuke towards the student leaders and staffers who have tried to avoid any responsibility to organize. Some of the student leaders have even made the argument that it is not their job to educate the membership or to build the student movement. These examples clearly show what these elected executives and staffers could be doing, if they had any interest in doing so.
Others have tried to deflect the pressure on the student leaders to act, by making a vague argument that the movement can only come from “the grassroots”. The conclusion these people make is that the elected leaders of our student unions can play no role in building a student movement. The examples of what certain CFS locals are doing — along with the excellent lessons from the CLASSE union in Quebec — shows this argument to be patently false. This argument is simply an attempt to disguise inaction and conservatism within the student unions, with a left-wing language through appeals to the “grassroots” and “bottom up”. It is a blatant abrogation of leadership. It is particularly pernicious because it serves to confuse newly radicalized students.
At York, Ottawa, and Laurentian, we have concrete examples of student union locals actually building the grassroots and encouraging participation! This is also precisely the lesson to be learned from Quebec — a fighting student union can help build the grassroots, which in turn will serve to further strengthen the student union itself. There is absolutely no excuse for inaction among the student unions, except for being politically opposed to students fighting skyrocketing tuition fees. These student leaders who are not ready to build the movement must be asked to step aside, or be replaced with leaders who are willing to advance the student movement.
These developments on some of campuses should lead us to be optimistic. As we have explained, the beginning of a shift to the left in the CFS is a huge step forward. We must understand that is entirely the result of political action and pressure from the rank-and-file. That section of the CFS leaders that are more sensitive to the needs and demands of working class students on the campuses are being pushed into action. We must continue to pressure, and hold the elected leaders to account. Where commitments and steps are being taken, we should support them, while ensuring that these commitments to build the movement actually translate into action.
It is true that we would have wished that this process had started sooner (such as when the Quebec movement first began). Already, big opportunities have been lost, largely because of the conservatism of the student leaders. Nonetheless, every student militant should enthusiastically greet the development in which certain CFS locals are taking the initiative to mobilize, educate, and organize towards a more participatory and fighting student movement. Most importantly, it provides a solid example of how students can, and will, reshape our student unions into fighting organizations.
Appeal to student militants — Build on your local campus!
There is enormous potential among the hundreds of thousands of students in English Canada. Students who are currently involved in the solidarity movement in Ontario and other provinces must now become organizers on their campuses. We must agitate among our peers. The first steps of organizing on campus should result in gathering the students who are the most open to the demands for free post-secondary education and who are sympathetic to the Quebec student movement. These students can be developed into activists themselves, and help us spread our influence even more broadly among the student population.
Some have misinterpreted the “Open Letter to the CFS”, as well as Fightback’s demands for the CFS leadership to take a lead. We have bluntly raised the demand that the CFS and its affiliated locals must openly agitate and raise the need for a strike, and make preparations for escalating the student movement by organizing assemblies or taking strike votes. Some honest activists have misunderstood the demands on the CFS to mean that we are suggesting that student activists should just sit and patiently wait for their student leaders to organize. Many of the honest activists will correctly point to the tradition of inactivity in the CFS, and correctly feel that a sit-and-wait strategy (in relation to the CFS leaders) would be ineffective.
Nothing could be further from what we believe, or actually do in practice. The enormous anger among youth must be given a political vehicle. While certain CFS locals are making positive steps forward, student militants should not wait for the student leaders to organize. We must build immediately. The task of organizing fellow students is urgent. Indeed, militant students taking initiative to organize on their own is the best way to pressure the student leaders to move. This is precisely the process that is occurring at the moment, where the rank-and-file is shifting certain CFS locals.
Fightback encourages student militants to get involved with our student groups — Socialist Fightback clubs – that are set up on the local campuses. Our efforts are focused on building a strong base for militant and socialist politics on the campus. We give a priority to organizing around the key issues of free education and student-worker solidarity efforts. We encourage students who are still hesitant about Marxist theory to engage in coordinated work with us around these broader issues we all agree on (while, of course, continuing to learn about Marxism!). Political theory is best sharpened through actually engaging in political activism.
Naturally, some of the efforts of our campus clubs are also oriented towards building and reshaping our local student unions. Having clarified that we are not interested in simply waiting for our student unions to organize, it is worth repeating Fightback’s key point.
We understand that it is necessary to organize mass strike action to be able to win free education. Without pro-strike student unions that are willing to agitate, educate, and mobilize their members, it will be impossible to effectively organize mass strikes. The mass of students in Ontario will only get mobilized in a sustained struggle if they feel they have the strength of a collective student organization behind them, which would allow them to fight alongside tens of thousands of their fellow students. The current potential for a mass and militant student movement, which exists across English Canada, will not be realized without fighting student union organization.
We therefore ask student militants, regardless of particular political stripes, to join us in agitating for the following concrete program. In the coming weeks and months we must raise the following demands on our student union locals and leaders:
For the immediate convening of monthly assemblies, with real democratic decision-making power, to direct the political activities of the student union local.
For the establishment of activist committees and regular educationals, coordinated by the student union locals, to encourage mass participation and raise political consciousness on the campuses. These bodies should present and popularize the slogan of free education and the necessity of the strike tactic among the rank-and-file.
Begin mobilizing towards a 24-hour student strike to fight for free post-secondary education.
Today there is an immense potential for mass political action. This will require the establishing of systematic and consistent efforts on the campuses to organize among our peers. We must agitate among the tens of thousands of students who are hesitant to fight because of a lack of political confidence, and bring them into the movement. This is what the Socialist Fightback clubs are doing on the campuses, and we are interested in working with any students and activists who want to co-ordinate efforts with us. We must maintain the energy from a summer of solidarity actions, and put it at the disposal of the student struggle on our local campuses. Only in this way can we build towards our own strike wave across the province, and across Canada.
We must also never lose sight of the fact that our efforts on campus are necessarily linked to the broader working class movement, and to the fight against all of the austerity cuts. Students and workers must be united against the assault of Bay Street. The experience of Quebec further displays how the struggle for free education is about something much larger than a single educational reform. It is a challenge to the irrational capitalist system, which puts the profits of a minority above the economic well-being and democratic rights of the majority. The fight to make education a right and the fight against the broader austerity agenda, which is being carried out across the globe, point towards the necessity of abolishing capitalism and building a socialist society.
Student militants, build on your campus!
For a CFS committed to a fighting student unionism!
Mobilize towards a 24-hour student strike to abolish tuition fees!

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Massive demonstrations in support of Quebec’s striking students

By Keith Jones 
23 June 2012
DemonstrationPart of the march in Montreal
Tens of thousands took to the streets of Montreal and Quebec City yesterday to support the four month-long student strike against an 82 percent increase in university tuition fees and oppose the right-wing provincial Liberal government of Jean Charest.
According to the Quebec City daily Le Soleil, Quebec’s capital yesterday witnessed its largest demonstration since the strike began. Organizers of the Montreal march put the crowd in the order of 100,000 people.
The large turnouts attest to the government’s failure to break the strike despite an unprecedented campaign of police violence and the adoption of Bill 78—legislation that criminalizes the student strike and places sweeping restrictions on the right to demonstrate in Quebec over any issue.
The awareness that the tenacity and militancy of the strike and the groundswell of opposition to Bill 78 has rocked the government and Quebec establishment contributed to a spirit of festive defiance.
bannerDemonstrators in the march
The size and composition of the demonstrations also underscore that the strike itself has become part of a wider social movement in opposition to the big business Liberal government.
Large numbers of workers and retirees joined the Montreal demonstration, although there were only a handful of official union delegations and these were quite small.
The unions claim to support the students and have denounced Bill 78. However, they have worked systematically to isolate the strike. No sooner did Bill 78 become law than the unions declared they would obey it, including provisions that legally compel them to do everything in their power to ensure that teachers and other union members assist the government in breaking the strike.
The unions, and the two student associations most directly under their influence and patronage, FECQ (Quebec College Students’ Federation) and FEUQ (Quebec University Students’ Federation), are openly seeking to divert the student strike behind the election of a Parti Quebecois (PQ) government. The Quebec bourgeoisie’s alternate party of government, the PQ imposed the greatest social spending cuts in Quebec history when it last held power.
Speaking Friday, FEUQ President Martin Desjardins declared, “The youth will change the face of Quebec in the next few years and will be called upon to mobilize massively at the next election.”
In recent weeks, spokesmen for CLASSE (The Broader Coalition of the Association for Student-Union Solidarity), the student association that initiated the strike movement last February, have spoken of the need for a “social strike,” in which the unions would play a central role in a wider opposition movement directed against other elements of the Charest government’s austerity program.
But the unions have rejected this out of hand. Confederation of National Trade Unions President Louis Roy has publicly rubbished the idea of a “social strike” and the province’s largest labour federation, the Quebec Federation of Labour, has proclaimed its central slogan “After the streets, to the ballot box.”
The unions’ vehement opposition to even limited job action against the Charest government was driven home by their effective boycott of yesterday’s demonstration in Montreal, which was organized principally by CLASSE.
SaulnierYvonne Saulnier, of “Profs contre l’hausse”
(Teachers Against the Fee Hike)
CLASSE, for its part, did not seek to use the demonstration and the presence of tens of thousands of youth and workers, many of them actively looking for a means to broaden the struggle, to raise its call for a “social strike.”
Speaking at the pre-march rally, Yvonne Saulnier of Profs contre l’hausse (Teachers against the fee hike) denounced the government’s “user-pay” principal for public services and the dismantling of public education. “We refuse to accept,” said Saulnier, “that the business model is the only acceptable model for education and society. The university is not an enterprise and the more we fight the more we will stop it from becoming one.”



Arnaud Thierry-Cloutier, a Université de Montréal student and CLASSE member, said that at the time of the huge March 22 demonstration the idea of a “Maple Spring” was a “wish.” “Then came Bill 78 and the casseroles (pots and pans protest) movement and it became a reality with masses of people responding to our call for solidarity. Never has our movement had less support in the opinion polls and never has it been more implanted in the streets.”
The crowd cheered loudly whenever Thierry-Cloutier condemned big business. He charged the elite without seeking to “create richness at any price” and of “managing a state like one manages a Wal-Mart.”
Responding to the media’s denunciations of the students as “selfish” and mounting a “corporatist” struggle (i.e. one just for their group), Thierry-Cloutier observed that the strike had already cost most students more than the extra they would have to pay should the full 82 percent tuition fee hike increase be imposed. “The ones who always act in their self-interest and only their self-interest are the big businesses. They are the biggest corporatists in Quebec.”
“This,” he continued, “is not a strike for students’ interests. It is for the redistribution of wealth and now for revitalizing democracy.”
Neither Saulnier nor Thierry-Cloutier made any reference to the big business PQ and the campaign of the unions to divert the student strike behind the campaign to elect a PQ government. Nor did they point to the austerity measures being imposed by the federal Conservative government or those being imposed by capitalist governments around the world, let alone call for a united struggle against them.
Supporters of the Socialist Equality Party distributed more than 2,000 copies of a statement advancing a socialist program. It argued that if students are to prevail in their struggle to make education a social right, the strike must become the catalyst for a cross Canada working class counter-offensive aimed at bringing down the Charest and Harper Conservative governments and developing an independent political movement of the working class to break the power of big business over socio-economic life through the establishment of workers’ governments committed to socialist policies.
The full statement can be read here: “The way forward for the Quebec student strike”.



function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Quebec students spearhead pan-Canadian uprising against austerity

Quebec students spearhead pan-Canadian uprising against austerity 

[Voltaire Network]

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’);}

The Quebec student strike and the need for a socialist program

2 June 2012

The Quebec student strike, now in its 16th week, has become a symbol and rallying point for opposition to austerity policies being implemented by all levels of government and all establishment parties across North America.
The collapse of the provincial Liberal government’s latest attempt to bully the students into submission through this week’s phony negotiations and the mass opposition that has erupted against the government’s draconian anti-protest law, Bill 78, are to be welcomed.
The pivotal question is: what is the way forward?
The Liberal government, egged on by Canada’s corporate elite, is determined to ram through the tuition fee hikes over mass opposition. To do so, it has run roughshod over basic democratic rights, criminalizing the student strike, placing sweeping restrictions on the right to demonstrate, and overseeing unprecedented police violence.
The single-issue protest perspective advanced by the student associations, which separates the students’ struggle against tuition fee hikes from a broader challenge to the austerity programs of the Quebec Liberal and federal Conservative governments, has not only failed. It has brought them into headlong conflict with the students they represent.

At the beginning of last month the student associations accepted a sellout agreement—subsequently overwhelmingly repudiated by students—that imposed the government’s tuition fee increase in full and would have made them auxiliaries in the drive to slash university budgets. During this week’s negotiations, they abandoned their call for the repeal of parts of Bill 78—legislation that sets a chilling precedent for restrictions on democratic rights across Canada and beyond—and accepted the Liberal government’s reactionary fiscal parameters.
Ultimately, their differences with the government boiled down to how to package the tuition fee increases. Determined to make its reactionary “user pay” principle the new Quebec norm for public services, the government insisted that that there be tuition fee increases in each year of a seven-year agreement. The student associations, in reply, proposed a two-year tuition-fee moratorium, to be paid through the elimination of a university tuition fee tax-credit, and agreed that in the five ensuing years (i.e. from September 2014 on) there should be annual increases of $254 per year.
On the student groups’ part, this formula is tied to their claim—explicit, in the case of FECQ or FEUQ, or implicit the case of CLASSE—that the youth have an interest in seeing the Liberals replaced at the next election by the Parti Québecois (PQ). In fact, the PQ is a big-business party, as tried and true an instrument of bourgeois rule as Quebec Premier Jean Charest and his Liberals or Canadian Prime Minister Harper and his Conservatives. Indeed, precisely because of their ties to the union bureaucracy and illusions that the PQ is “closer to the people,” it has frequently served as a better tool for the ruling class in imposing its right-wing agenda.
The fight against the tuition fee increases and to defend education as a social right requires a turn to the working class—the only social force that has the power and whose interests as a class lie in the reorganization of economic life so as to make social needs, not profit, the animating principle.
Students will find their strongest allies among the workers of both French and English Canada, the US, and around the world. The austerity measures being implemented by the Charest Liberal government—social spending cuts, privatization, and regressive tax and user-fee hikes—are part of a worldwide attack on the working class, aimed at destroying all that remains of the social gains won through the mass upheavals of the last century. Public health care and education, pensions, and collective bargaining rights are all under assault.
The federal Conservative and Ontario Liberal governments are implementing their own programs of sweeping austerity measures, including massive social spending cuts, a hike in the retirement age, and the gutting of jobless benefits. In Greece, Spain, and across Europe governments are dismantling public services, slashing the minimum wage, and removing all restraints on job cuts and speed-up. In the US, President Obama boasts about “reviving” the auto industry—that is making it profitable again for investors—by imposing draconian wage and benefit cuts, including dramatically lower wages for new hires.
This global attack is aimed at making the working class pay for the greatest crisis of global capitalism since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And as in the 1930s, the capitalist elite is turning to authoritarian methods of rule, to impose its agenda of austerity and war. Over the past year, Canada’s Conservative government has repeatedly used emergency legislation to break anti-concession strikes, including by Air Canada, Canada Post and, this past week, Canadian Pacific railway workers.
A turn to the working class means making the student strike the catalyst for the independent political mobilization of the working class in Quebec and across Canada and North America against all social spending, job, and wage cuts, as part of an expanding struggle of the world working class against capitalism.
It means assisting the workers in breaking free of the political and organizational stranglehold of the pro-capitalist trade unions. These organizations do not speak for or represent the working class. For decades they have suppressed the class struggle, imposing job cuts and contract concessions. When the presidents of Quebec’s three main labor federations joined with Charest in bullying and threatening student leaders into accepting last month’s sellout agreement, they were reprising a role they have played countless times over the past quarter-century.
The NDP, the party of the trade unions in English Canada, has openly worked for the defeat of the students, as part of its efforts to convince the Canadian ruling elite that it can supplant the federal Liberals as its “left” party of government. It has refused to support the student strike or denounce the draconian Bill 78. While declaring itself “neutral” in the battle between the students and the big business Liberal government, it facilitated the passage of the minority Ontario Liberal government’s sweeping austerity budget, abstaining on crucial budget votes.
The student strike has demonstrated that a struggle over any important social need or elementary democratic right brings youth and the working class in a frontal collision with the government, the state, its police and courts, and the entire capitalist social order. The working class faces a political struggle and the necessity of building a mass revolutionary socialist party to prosecute it.
The Socialist Equality Party fights for the formation of independent committees of students and workers to organize systematic defiance of Bill 78, fight for the development of a cross-Canada and international working class counter-offensive against employer concession demands and government austerity measures, and prepare working-class action to bring down the Charest Liberal and Harper Conservative governments.
These actions, vital as they are, can only serve to develop the unity, combativity, and strength of the working class if they are conceived of and organized as part of the struggle for the independent political mobilization of the working class to fight for workers’ governments and the socialist reorganization of society.
Keith Jones

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Quebec government scuttles talks to end 16-week student strike

By Keith Jones 
1 June 2012
Quebec’s Liberal government broke off negotiations with associations that represent the province’s post-secondary students yesterday afternoon, saying talks aimed at ending the 16 week-long Quebec student strike had reached an “impasse.”
The negotiations, which were in their fourth day, were convened by the government following its passage of an emergency law that effectively criminalizes the student strike and places draconian restrictions on the right to demonstrate over any issue, anywhere in Quebec. Since the adoption of Bill 78, some 1,500 students and their supporters have been arrested in Montreal, Quebec City Sherbrooke, and Gatineau, most for the “crime” of demonstrating.
Speaking at a press conference convened shortly after Education Minister Michele Courchesne walked out of the talks, Quebec Premier Jean Charest claimed his government’s door remains “open” for further negotiations. He added that its hope is that there will now “be a period of lull that allows everyone to reconsider their positions.”
But just moments later, Charest lashed out at CLASSE (The Broader Coalition of the Association for Student-Union Solidarity), the student association that initiated the strike against government plans to hike university tuition fees by 82 percent. Government officials and the press have repeatedly sought to portray it as “extremist,” even “violent.”
Responding to CLASSE’s announcement of a mass demonstration Saturday in response to the government’s breaking off of the talks, Charest called the student association a “menace.”
“Yes,” said the premier, “these are people who threaten Quebecers,” adding that his government will “never retreat before threats.”
Earlier, student leaders accused the government of refusing to consider their proposals for a two-year moratorium on university tuition fee hikes that would have been financed by eliminating a tuition fee tax credit.
CLASSE spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, who on Tuesday evening praised Charest after he briefly joined the negotiations, said Education Minister Courchesne had acted “in bad faith from the beginning to the end.” He said that she had told student leaders that she could not accept a moratorium for political reasons.
In truth, the leaders of the government-accredited student associations, CLASSE included, ceded to the government right down the line— just as they did in the tentative agreement they reached with the government last month, that was then rejected overwhelmingly by striking students.
They continued the negotiations for four days, although from the outset the government made clear that it was not prepared to discuss suspending or repealing any of Bill 78’s draconian provisions.
Yesterday morning, the student associations announced as a “good will” gesture that they were asking the courts to put off a hearing relating to their challenge of the constitutionality of Bill 78.
Moreover, the student associations agreed on the very first day of the negotiations that they would negotiate within the “fiscal parameters” set by the big business Liberal government. These parameters included not only the government’s public proclamation that any settlement not cost the government a penny. But even more importantly, they were predicated on the government’s overall austerity agenda.
This agenda couples the continuation of years of tax reductions for big business and the rich with sweeping social spending cuts, privatization and increased user fees and regressive taxes.
The Montreal Gazette reported that one of those advising student association negotiators had described the government’s parameters—parameters the student associations agreed to work within—as “I give you a dollar, you give me back four quarters.”
Thus the common proposal submitted by all four province-wide student associations proposed that the government finance a two-year tuition freeze—to be followed by increases in excess of $200 per year the next five years—by eliminating the tax credit for tuition fees.
Initially the government proposed to reduce the tuition increases by a paltry $35 per year by reducing the value of the tax credit. Later it proposed reducing the tuition fee increase in the first year to $100, but this was to be financed by much larger fee hikes in later years.
The government, however, was adamant that tuition fees must rise every year. It is determined that it should not be seen to be giving way, even if only temporarily, on a key part of its austerity program—the systematic introduction and expansion of the “user-pay” principle for public services. This principle is a key element in the social counter-revolution that is being carried out by big business governments at every level in Canada and around the world. As far as the bourgeoisie is concerned, any and all social rights must be abolished.
The student leaders are themselves fearful of the mass movement of social contestation of which they are now the ostensible leaders. Repeatedly they appealed to the government to work with them in defusing the social crisis. “What we want is an exit from the crisis,” declared FEUQ (Quebec Federation of University Students) President Martine Desjardins.
After Courchesne broke off the talks, they pleaded for her to return to the bargaining table.
The problem in their eyes was how to convince students, who have been fighting for a tuition freeze and for education to be recognized as a social right, to accept a “settlement” containing the lion’s share of the government’s planned tuition increases and whose implementation would begin this September.
The student association’s call for a two-year moratorium is tied to their reactionary perspective that students can advance the struggle for access to education by supporting the big business Parti Quebecois at the next election, which must be held no later than December 2013.
The government’s torpedoing of the talks with the student associations underscores that Canada’s ruling elite is determined to inflict a demonstrable defeat on the students, to intimidate all opponents of its austerity measures. Workers in Canada and across North America must come to the defence of the students and make their strike and the burgeoning opposition to Bill 78 the catalyst for the development of an independent political movement of the working class against all job, wage and social spending cuts.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’ }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Mass repression in Quebec: A warning to the working class

28 May 2012

More than 1,200 people have been arrested in Quebec since the provincial Liberal government adopted emergency legislation May 19 that criminalizes the more than three-month-old student strike and places sweeping restrictions on the right to demonstrate.
The mass arrests are testimony both to the depth of popular opposition to Bill 78 and to the determination of Canada’s ruling class to stamp out the student strike and run roughshod over all opposition to its class-war agenda of wage and job cuts and the dismantling of public services.
Last Tuesday, the 100th day of the student strike, more than 150,000 people marched through the streets of Montreal in one of the largest demonstrations in Quebec history. Protests against Bill 78 and in defiance of its draconian provisions are now taking place nightly in many working-class neighbourhoods of Montreal, as well as in other cities across Quebec.
In response, the government has intensified its campaign of repression. Within hours of last Tuesday’s demonstration, Montreal police invoked Bill 78 to justify the violent dispersal of “illegal” demonstrators. The next evening, riot police in Montreal kettled—surrounded and aggressively pinned—a peaceful protest, arresting more than 500 people. Quebec City Police staged their own mass arrests that same evening, charging 170 people for the “crime” of demonstrating.

Canada’s ruling class fully supports the state suppression of the student strike, just as they have supported the Liberal government’s steadfast refusal to discuss any changes to its plan to hike university tuition fees by 82 percent over the next seven years. The Globe and Mail, the traditional mouthpiece of Canada’s big banks, has taken the Liberal government in Quebec to task for not using Bill 78 to carry out an even more sweeping campaign of arrests and police violence. It complained in an editorial published last Thursday—after the mass arrests in Montreal and Quebec City—that protesters have yet to “feel the law’s bite” and that striking students “haven’t lost anything yet.”
The Quebec government’s use of the iron fist of repression and its brazen attack on civil liberties is an expression of a global process. Facing ever-widening popular resistance to their drive to place the burden of the capitalist crisis on the working class, governments are criminalizing dissent and trampling on the most basic democratic rights, just as they did in the 1930s.
Over the course of the past year, Canada’s national Conservative Party government has repeatedly used emergency laws to break strikes and impose concessions demands on workers. It has vowed to introduce similar legislation as early as today to outlaw the current strike by Canadian Pacific railway workers.
In Greece and Italy, the international financial elite organized the dismissal of elected governments after they proved unable to impose the banks’ austerity diktats in full. They then imposed unelected “technocratic” governments that rammed the measures through in the face of mass opposition. Now the same forces are trying to terrorize the people of Greece, threatening them with expulsion from the euro zone and economic ruin unless they vote for parties pledged to implement their demands for even more brutal cuts in working-class living standards and the destruction of public services.
The hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie knows no bounds. The ruling classes of Canada, the US and Europe wage imperialist wars in the name of democracy and human rights even as they adopt police-state measures to crush working-class opposition at home and lurch toward dictatorial forms of rule.
Workers and young people must draw the requisite conclusions.
The capitalist elite is intent on imposing a social counterrevolution, eliminating what remains of the social benefits the working class wrenched from it through the great social struggles of the last century.
Any struggle over a fundamental democratic or social need of working people, including the right to a decent education, inevitably leads to a headlong collision with the political representatives of big business and the capitalist state.
Democratic and social rights can be secured only through the independent political mobilization of the working class against the state and the entire moribund capitalist social order and the fight for workers’ governments and socialism.
These conclusions must become the basis for the expansion of the Quebec student strike and the struggle against Bill 78 on a fundamentally different basis.
The political perspective advanced by the student associations—the claim that students can secure the repeal of the tuition fee hikes through a single-issue protest campaign based on pressuring the big business politicians—has proven to be false.
The only way forward is to broaden the struggle and make the strike the catalyst for the mobilization of the working class in Quebec, across Canada and internationally against corporate job- and wage-cutting and the austerity measures being pursued by governments of every stripe in the official political spectrum. In opposition to the bourgeoisie, the working class must advance it own socialist program to resolve the economic crisis, based on the reorganization of economic life to make fulfilling social needs, not enriching the few, the animating principle.
A turn on the part of students to the working class means assisting the workers in rebelling against the trade unions, which for decades have suppressed the class struggle and imposed concessions and social spending cuts. The Quebec unions systematically isolated the student strike. Then, at the beginning of this month, they worked with the Quebec Liberal Party government to impose a sellout agreement that called for the government’s tuition hikes to be implemented in full.
Canada’s social democratic party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), has declared itself “neutral” on the Quebec student strike, while in Ontario, with the full support of the unions, it is facilitating the passage of a minority Liberal government budget that cuts spending by more than $15 billion over the next three years and slashes the wages of one million public-sector workers.
In the course of the strike, CLASSE (The Broader Coalition of the Association for Student-Union Solidarity) has gained support by professing to be a militant alternative to the two other province-wide student associations, which have long been patronized by the unions and like them are politically aligned with the big business Parti Quebecois.
But CLASSE advances the same protest perspective—i.e., appealing to the ruling class for reform—and is playing a vital role in preventing the development of a broader struggle of the working class to bring down the governments in both Quebec and Ottawa.
Even after the imposition of Bill 78, CLASSE continues to seek a negotiated settlement with the Quebec Liberal government. It promotes the fiction that the unions represent the workers and opposes making the student strike a means for mobilizing the entire working class against the austerity program of the Quebec Liberal and federal Conservative governments. Its orientation to the establishment and acceptance of the existing political structure are underlined by its policy of limiting the struggle to the parameters of Quebec, thereby helping to quarantine the Quebec movement and enforce the ethno-linguistic divide that the Canadian bourgeoisie has always manipulated as a key stratagem for maintaining its rule.
In opposition to these forces, class-conscious students and workers must take up the struggle for the independent mobilization of the working class in the fight for workers’ power. Above all, this requires the building of an alternative revolutionary leadership advancing a socialist and internationalist program—the Socialist Equality Party.
Keith Jones

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’, layout: google.translate.TranslateElement.InlineLayout.HORIZONTAL }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Quebec police mount mass arrests in bid to break student strike

By Keith Jones 

25 May 2012
After Tuesday’s 150,000-strong demonstration supporting Quebec’s striking students and opposing the provincial Liberal government’s draconian Bill 78, the state has intensified its campaign of repression.
Police arrested almost 700 protesters in Montreal and Quebec City Wednesday evening.
Quebec City Police arrested 176 people for demonstrating in violation of the sweeping new restrictions Bill 78 places on protests. Passed in less than 24 hours late last week, Bill 78 makes all demonstrations–whatever their cause—illegal unless organizers submit to the police in writing more than eight hours in advance the demonstration itinerary and duration, and abide by any changes demanded by the police.
In Montreal most of the arrests came when riot police suddenly turned on a peaceful three-hour protest, allegedly because demonstrators did not follow police instructions as to where they should proceed next. Having “kettled”—penned in and squeezed—the protesters, the police arrested all present, some 450 people. “The swift police action squeezed the mob together tighter and tighter as the officers advanced and some people begged to be let out,” reported the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “One photographer was seen to be pushed to the ground and a piece of equipment was heard breaking.”

Those arrested in Montreal were not charged under Bill 78, which carries a minimum $1,000 fine for a first offense, but under a municipal bylaw imposing less drastic penalties.
Also Wednesday, Quebec Public Security Minister Robert Dutil indicated that charges under Bill 78 may soon be laid against the student organization CLASSE and its leaders. CLASSE (The Broader Coalition of the Association for Student-Union Solidarity), which represents about half of the over 150,000 striking students, has vowed not to submit to Bill 78. Shortly after Tuesday’s march began it led tens of thousands on a route different than that set by police.
“This law must be applied,” said Dutil, adding that if CLASSE “has decided not to respect the law, then they’ll have to live with that.” Dutil also criticized the Montreal police, which has invoked Bill 78’s provision about prior approval of demonstrations to justify violently dispersing protests, but has thus far refrained from charging people with violating its draconian provisions.
Since Bill 78 passed last Friday, police across Quebec arrested well over 1,000 striking students and their supporters on various charges, ranging from participating in an illegal assembly to resisting arrest. Several were charged with wearing a mask while demonstrating. The same day that Quebec’s National Assembly adopted Bill 78, Montreal’s City Council, also meeting in emergency session, adopted a new bylaw making it illegal to participate in a demonstration while wearing any form of face covering, including face paint, a hijab or a scarf.
The Liberal government hoped that Bill 78 would “shock and awe” the students, who have been striking for over 100 days against the government’s plan to raise university tuition fees by 82 percent over the next seven years. Instead, the government’s criminalization of the student strike and its blanket attack on the right to demonstrate has galvanized opposition to the government.
Significant numbers of workers participated in Tuesday’s mammoth demonstration, although the official union delegations, which included teachers and Montreal blue-collar and transit workers, were relatively small.
In recent days there have been evening protests in many working-class neighborhoods of Montreal announced by the clattering of pots.
The government, which initially dismissed further negotiations with the three province-wide student associations as futile, now claims to be open to further talks, while insisting that it will not discuss any changes to its tuition fee hike plan or of Bill 78. The student associations, CLASSE included, have nonetheless indicated that they are eager to resume discussions with the government, and back-channel talks are already underway.
The Canadian ruling class strongly supports the Liberal government’s repressive measures against the students, viewing their opposition to the tuition fee hikes as an intolerable challenge to their drive to impose the burden of the world economic crisis on working people.
The tuition fee hikes are part a of a battery of right-wing measures that the Liberal government of Jean Charest has implemented over the past two years, including steep social spending cuts, increased user-fees for public services, the imposition of a new health tax and hikes in already existing regressive taxes, and incremental privatization of health care.
With its March budget, the federal Conservative government cut federal discretionary spending by over 6 percent, raised the retirement age to 67, and rewrote Canada’s unemployment insurance program so jobless workers can be press-ganged into accepting 30 percent wage cuts. Even before Canadian Pacific railway workers began their strike Wednesday, the Conservative government announced that it stands ready to pass an emergency strike-breaking law.
Prominent voices in the media are pressing for a confrontation with the students. Canada’s most influential newspaper, the Globe and Mail criticized the Charest government for being too “soft.” In its lead editorial Thursday, theGlobe—owned by Canada’s richest family, the Thomsons—wrote that the students “haven’t lost anything yet. … Until protesters and leaders feel the law’s bite, it’s hard to see how talks will lead anywhere but to a capitulation that will harm the province’s universities and the province’s long-term interests in resisting mob rule.”
The Globe also denounced “outsiders” such as Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) President Sid Ryan for supporting the students.
In reality, the Canadian trade unions have systematically isolated the Quebec student strike. Three weeks ago the presidents of Quebec’s three major union federations prevailed upon the student leaders to accept a sell-out agreement that was subsequently massively repudiated by the students themselves. While striking students are defying state repression, the NDP—the party supported by the unions in English Canada—has facilitated passage of the Ontario Liberal government’s austerity budget.
That said, the Globe’s attempt to label Canadians from outside Quebec who support the students as “outsiders” speaks to their extreme fear that mass protests could spread beyond Quebec, Canada’s only majority-French-speaking province, into English Canada and the United States. It exemplifies how the Canadian ruling class manipulates Canada’s ethno-linguistic divide to try to split the working class and push through its reactionary policies.
But rather than make the student strike the catalyst for a mobilization of the working class across Quebec and Canada against the ruling class’ austerity agenda, the student associations, including CLASSE, are trying to confine it to a single-issue protest, limited to Quebec, and with the aim of coming to terms with the Charest government.
Workers across Canada must intervene to ensure that the Quebec student strike is not broken and that Bill 78 does not stand thereby creating conditions for the ruling class to accelerate its austerity drive and criminalization of working class struggles.
This requires the development of an industrial and political offensive of the working class, organized independently of and in opposition to the pro-capitalist unions and NDP, to oppose all wage and job cuts and the dismantling of public services.

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’, layout: google.translate.TranslateElement.InlineLayout.HORIZONTAL }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Police state bill passed to suppress Quebec student strike

21 May 2012

Quebec’s National Assembly adopted emergency legislation last Friday that imposes draconian restrictions on the right to demonstrate and criminalizes the fourteen-week, provincewide student strike against plans to raise university tuition fees by more than 80 percent.
Passed in less than 24 hours, the Quebec Liberal government’s Bill 72 includes a series of police state measures:
Striking students and their supporters are banned from picketing within 50 meters of university and CEGEP (pre-university and technical college) buildings.
Teachers are dragooned into the government’s strikebreaking drive. Bill 72 legally compels them to perform their work duties in full, in defiance of a democratically decided boycott of their classes, and to make no accommodations to striking students.
Student associations and unions representing teachers and other university and CEGEP employees “must employ appropriate means to induce” their members to abide by the law, i.e., act as auxiliaries of the state in suppressing the student strike.
Demonstrations of fifty people or more—no matter the cause—are illegal, unless protest organizers submit to police in advance the proposed route and duration of the demonstration and abide by all changes requested by police. Organizers are legally obliged to enforce the police-prescribed route.
Persons convicted of violating any of these provisions are subject to massive fines.
Canada’s ruling elite has enthusiastically welcomed Bill 72, dismissing concerns over the legislation’s assault on the rights to free speech and assembly. Quebec’s most influential daily, La Presse, backed the legislation as a necessary weapon to kill “the snake of violence and disorder.” Alongside an editorial endorsing Bill 72, the Globe and Mail, Canada’s newspaper of record, carried a comment titled “Tuition Protesters are the Greeks of Canada.”
The legislation is the culmination of a campaign of state violence against the student strike. Police have provoked violence, then used tear gas, baton charges, sound grenades and rubber bullets to disperse students and their supporters.
Speaking in the National Assembly debate on Bill 72, Natural Resources Minister Clément Gignac compared the student strike to an “insurrection.” Earlier in the week, Finance Minister Raymond Bachand blamed “Marxists” who “use intimidation tactics” for the mass pickets that have frustrated government efforts to break the strike.
Behind the ruling class’s frenzied response to the strike is their recognition that it represents an implicit challenge to the austerity measures being implemented by governments at every level and of every political stripe in the spectrum of official Canadian politics.
Their greatest fear is that the student strike could become the catalyst for a mass movement of the working class against their drive to place the full burden of the capitalist crisis on working people.
The events in Quebec exemplify a global process. Capitalist governments the world over are responding with state repression to mounting resistance to their class-war program of wage and jobs cuts and the dismantling of social services. They are trampling on democratic rights and criminalizing working-class opposition.
Over the past year, Canada’s federal Conservative government has repeatedly use emergency laws to break or prevent strikes, including by Air Canada and Canada Post workers, and to strip workers of their collective bargaining rights.
In response to riots that erupted last August following a police murder, the British government ordered police to invade inner-city neighbourhoods across the country and told the courts to set aside normal due process in order to impose exemplary punishments.
The Spanish government mobilized the military to break an air traffic controllers strike and the French government mounted a massive nationwide police operation against striking oil refinery workers.
When the Greek and Italian governments proved unable to impose the staggering cuts demanded by international financial markets because of popular opposition, they were replaced with unelected “technocratic” governments and the austerity measures were imposed in full.
Taking place in the wake of elections in France and Greece in which voters repudiated austerity governments, this weekend’s NATO summit in Chicago has been the occasion for yet another massive state security operation. The aim is to intimidate opponents of big business and social reaction and acclimatize the population to the gutting of civil liberties.
As in the 1930s, the bourgeoisie’s response to the global breakdown of capitalism is to turn toward dictatorial methods of rule, even as it invokes democracy and human rights to justify imperialist wars in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and other countries.
Two vital conclusions must be drawn: the working class faces a struggle for political power against the capitalist social order and the defence of democratic rights requires the revolutionary mobilization of the working class.
Keith Jones

function googleTranslateElementInit() { new google.translate.TranslateElement({ pageLanguage: ‘en’, layout: google.translate.TranslateElement.InlineLayout.HORIZONTAL }, ‘google_translate_element’); }

Quebec authorities seeking to criminalize student strike

By Richard Dufour 

9 April 2012
Quebec’s Liberal government is using repression—arrests, court injunctions and the threat of cancelling the winter semester—to force an end to a nearly two-month-long strike of university and CEGEP (pre-university and technical college) students. Nevertheless, almost 200,000 students are continuing to boycott classes to oppose the Charest Liberal government’s plan to raise university tuition fees by 75 percent over the next five years, beginning in September.
Early last Wednesday, riot police chased and arrested more than 60 students who continued to demonstrate in downtown Montreal after the police had declared their demonstration illegal. The reason given by the police for dispersing, and later arresting, the student protestors was that they had perpetrated acts of “vandalism”, such as toppling tables and displays while moving through the chic Queen Elizabeth Hotel and the Eaton Shopping Centre.
Despite police statements to the contrary, there is no evidence to prove that the students committed any criminal acts. The arrests were filmed by CUTV, the Concordia University students’ community television station. The video, broadcast on the Internet, shows police shoving students prior to their arrest and ignoring students who questioned why they were being manhandled and arrested.
Montreal’s riot police have repeatedly used batons, tear gas, pepper spray and sound grenades to attack protesting students.
CUTV cameraman, Laith Marouf, was arrested for filming Wednesday’s arrests. CUTV reporter Sabine Friesinger, who was with Marouf, recounted what happened later the same day: “We were broadcasting live. Students were surrounded and pushed by police. They were also hit. The cameraman said several times: ‘I am media, we are on live.’ They definitively did not want us filming that. I have finally been able to retrieve the camera, but he (the cameraman), is still under arrest.”
While the police are illegalizing demonstrations so as to allow them to make arbitrary arrests, the courts are moving to illegalize student protests and even laying the framework for the outlawing of the strike itself.
On March 30, a Quebec Superior Court heard a motion filed by a student from the Collège d’Alma that claimed his right to attend his courses had been violated because the strike vote initially conducted by the local student association had reputedly been marred by irregularities. Although the disputed strike vote had been re-held a week later with a clear majority voting in favor of the strike, Judge Jean Lemelin upheld the student’s claim that his rights were being violated and ordered the resumption of classes as part of an injunction banning any strike at Collège d’Alma until at least April 10.
In his ruling, Lemelin called into question students’ “right” to boycott their classes. “The legality of the strike”, he wrote, “appears dubious considering Quebec’s labour law regime, which only gives the right to strike to certain people and under very strict conditions”.
A few days later, on April 3, Superior Court Judge Bernard Godbout ordered students to lift picket lines blocking access to an anthropology course at Quebec City’s Laval University, following a petition filed by a student enrolled in the course. The student’s lawyer was later interviewed by the media and stated that he had received some 150 e-mails from students seeking to initiate similar court orders.
The next day, the administration of the Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM) filed its own motion in Superior Court seeking an injunction outlawing picketing by its 23,000 striking students. Representatives of the striking students offered to voluntarily cease “militant” picketing, but the UQAM administration insisted on proceeding with its injunction request. Justice Micheline Perrault promptly issued a court order designed to intimidate the striking students and facilitate the administration’s plans to break the strike.
The injunction, which is in effect until April 19, orders picketing students to refrain from interfering with access or traffic near UQAM pavilions and to be careful not to “intimidate” or “threaten” any person wishing to enter them. Those found guilty of contravening the injunction are liable to a fine of up to $50,000 and imprisonment for up to one year.
Education Minister Lise Beauchamp has meanwhile threatened that if the strike continues much longer, many affected CEGEPs and university departments will be forced to cancel the semester.
With all but unanimous support from the corporate media, Beauchamp, Premier Jean Charest and Finance Minister Raymond Bachand have steadfastly rejected any modifications, let alone the rescinding, of the government’s plan to raise university tuition fees by $325 per year.
In an attempt to confuse the public about the issues at stake, Finance Minister Bachand did announce last Thursday that the government is ready to extend its loan program to “middle class students” and consider setting up a new repayment scheme that takes into account post-graduation income.
But neither of these measures addresses the striking students’ main demand—guaranteeing access to quality postsecondary education for all. Their only impact would be to further increase student debt.
Despite the Government’s hard line, and despite police and court intimidation, there is strong sentiment to continue the strike, which is now the longest in the province’s history. There is a general feeling among young people that their future is at stake and outrage over the government’s indifference to their concerns.
Some 180,000 students are on unlimited strike across the province, some for more than 50 days. Underscoring their belief that education should be a social right, students from at least one CEGEP—CEGEP du Vieux Montréal—have voted not to return to classes until the government abolishes all university tuition fees.
However, to advance their struggle in the face of the determined opposition not only of the Liberal government, but the entire big business elite, students require a new political perspective, based on opposition to the ruling-class drive to make the working class pay for the crisis of global capitalism through job and pay cuts and the dismantling of public services.
The Liberals’ tuition fee hikes are part of a wide-ranging austerity program, involving social spending cuts, privatization and new and increased user fees and regressive taxes.
Moreover, similar austerity measures are being implemented by all levels of government and by parties of every political stripe across Canada.
If the government and elite have been so intransigent in face of the groundswell of support for the strike and have increasingly resorted to state repression, it is because they recognize that the students’ opposition to the tuition fee hike and their insistence that education is a social right constitutes an implicit challenge to their entire class strategy.
This implicit challenge must now be made explicit. Students must not struggle alone, but should instead turn to the working class and fight for a working class-led counteroffensive against the entire program of social reaction being advanced by the ruling elite. A turn to the working class requires above all a struggle to break the political influence of the trade union bureaucracy, which for decades has smothered worker resistance, quarantined the struggles of Quebec workers from those of workers in the rest of Canada and internationally, and sought to tie the working class to the big business Parti Québécois.
This socialist perspective is rejected by the student unions leading the strike, including the one that initiated the strike movement, CLASSE (“The Broader Coalition of the Association for Student-Union Solidarity”). The leaders of CLASSE seek to limit the student strike to a single-issue protest aimed at convincing the Charest government to negotiate. They never mention workers as a potent social force that students should mobilize.
To the extent that they speak of broadening the students’ struggle at all, it is to appeal to and join with various and sundry middle-class protest groups and the trade unions. The official guest list for a “large popular rally” being organized by CLASSE for today consists of representatives of several unions, including the United Steelworkers Union, the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), the Confederation of National Trade unions (CNTU) and the National Federation of teachers of Quebec (FNEQ).
The latter has already offered its services to the government to help derail the student strike. According to an article published on Radio-Canada’s website: “The FNEQ believes that a moratorium of one year on tuition increases and the holding of a real public debate on education would be welcomed by students and could put an end to their pressure tactics.”
The other danger which threatens the student strike is its diversion behind the Parti Québécois (PQ). Its leader, Pauline Marois, recently promised that her party would cancel the increase in tuition fees if she took power. This is a fraud. The indépendantiste PQ is as devoted to upholding the interests of big business as is the federalist PLQ (Quebec Liberal Party). The PQ governments of Lucien Bouchard and Bernard Landry that held power between 1995 and 2003 carried out the greatest social spending cuts Quebec history, including eliminating tens of thousands of jobs in the health care and education sectors. Moreover, the PQ has repeatedly denounced the Charest government for not cutting the provincial budget deficit more quickly.
Silent on the PQ’s history of drastically cutting social programs, the leaders of the FECQ (Federation of Quebec College Students) and the FEUQ (Federation of Quebec University Students) have announced that the “next phase of the student struggle” will be to target ten Liberal Members of the National Assembly considered most vulnerable in the next provincial election.
This author also recommends:
[27 March 2012]

[24 March 2012]

[29 February 2012]

Quebec: Mammoth demonstration in support of strike against university fee hikes

By Keith Jones 

24 March 2012
Two hundred thousand people took to the streets of downtown Montreal Thursday to demand that the Quebec Liberal government rescind its plan to raise university tuition fees by 75 percent over the next five years.
demonstration

Thursday’s demonstration against the provincial Liberal government’s plan to raise university tuitions by 75 percent over next five years was one of the largest in the history of Montreal.

The vast majority of the demonstrators were striking university and CEGEP (pre-university and technical college) students. Many of them had traveled to Montreal from Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Gatineau, and other smaller cities and towns across Quebec. But there were also significant numbers of high school students and CEGEP and university teachers, as well as many individual workers and retirees. Several, admittedly small, delegations of workers—including nurses, construction workers, and provincial civil servants—joined the protest march.
Thursday’s demonstration was among the largest ever held in Montreal, equaling if not surpassing the massive protests held immediately prior to the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003. At one point the crowd stretched for nearly five kilometers, with almost everyone wearing something in red, the colour which has come to symbolize the anti-tuition hike movement.
section

A section of the march

Among the demonstrators there was much anger and indignation at the government’s intransigence. Less than 48 hours before the protest began, the Liberal government of Jean Charest presented a budget that reaffirmed and expanded its austerity program of social spending cuts, regressive tax and user-fee hikes, university tuition fee increases, and electricity rate rises.
But Thursday’s protest also had a festive air as the sheer scale of the crowd and its representative character became evident.
Many of the demonstrators bore handmade signs. Most denounced the government of Premier Jean Charest and/or asserted that education should be a right, by definition open to all. “Education is a right, so why pay for it,” read one sign. “Students aren’t clients,” proclaimed another. A third, “Education is a common good”. The placards also made frequent reference to the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, including “The student Spring” and “Printemps érable” (Maple Spring).
Thursday’s demonstration came after weeks of a mounting province-wide student strike. On Thursday an estimated 300,000 students, including for the first time many high school students, boycotted classes. And well over 200,000 of them—considerably more than half of all Quebec’s post-secondary students—remain on strike.
As the demonstrators gathered in downtown Montreal late Thursday morning, Premier Charest reiterated that his government will not repeal or brook any changes to its plan to raise university tuition fees by $325 per year. “Hopefully,” added the premier, “those who choose to express themselves today will do it peacefully and respectfully.”
This was a calculated slur. From the beginning of the strike movement last month, the government has sought to paint the students as violent. In reality it is the police, following the orders of their political masters, who have provocatively intervened at student protests, using pepper spray, sound-grenades, and baton charges to disperse demonstrators. Earlier this week, police issued close to a hundred striking students $494 traffic tickets for blocking access to the Champlain Bridge, which connects Montreal Island with the South Shore, for an hour.
Within the Quebec and Canadian elite there is overwhelming support for Charest’s hardline stance against the student strike, including the government’s refusal to even meet with leaders of the three main student associations.
The corporate media has churned out reams of editorials and commentary denouncing the students as “selfish” and “utopian.” Under conditions where big business is seeking to gut public services, including pensions and health care, the ruling elite is incensed by the students’ insistence that education is a right. Moreover, big business recognizes that the student strike is an implicit challenge to the austerity policies being implemented by governments at all levels and of every political stripe across Canada.
In an op-ed column Friday in La presse, Quebec’s most influential newspaper, its former editor, Alain Dubuc, underlined the importance that the ruling class attaches to prevailing over the students. Dubuc concluded his list of the “principled” reasons for the Liberals’ running roughshod over popular opinion so as to dramatically raise tuition fees, by declaring, “There was another principal at stake … it’s that of breaking a mold, that of the attachment to the status quo. It’s as if the youth had fallen in the holy water of the Quebec model [of an expansive welfare state] and had taken up from their elders the defence of acquired rights.”
While the government and ruling elite base their strategy on a clear recognition of the connection between the university tuition fee hikes and their overall drive to destroy what remains of the social gains that the working class won through the social struggles of the last century, the leadership of the strike movement is deliberately confining it to a single issue protest and adamantly opposed to making it the catalyst for a working-class counter-offensive.
The two trade union-supported student associations—the Quebec Federation of University Students (FEUQ) and the Quebec Federation of College Students (FECQ)—held a joint press conference Thursday morning with Pauline Marois, the head of the big business Parti Quebecois (PQ) and leader of the official opposition in Quebec’s National Assembly.
Marois claims to support the students’ cause, calling for the government to drop its fee hike plan. But this is patently pre-electoral political posturing. Marois has not ruled out a PQ government introducing its own program of tuition fee hikes, after convening a forum or summit meeting to discuss the issue of university financing. Even more significant was the PQ’s condemnation of Tuesday’s budget for not cutting social spending fast or deep enough.
Also present at Thursday’s press conference were the co-leaders of the ostensibly “left” Quebec Solidaire, the leader and sole legislator for Option Nationale, a PQ split-off, and the heads of Quebec three main trade union federations. The unions, it should be recalled, played a major role in short-circuiting the last major student strike in 2005. They offered their organizational support to the students, then prevailed on them to “compromise” with the government so as to uphold “social peace.”
There is no question but that the FEUQ and FECQ leaders, to say nothing of the PQ and their trade union bureaucrat allies, are anxious to see the current strike movement brought to a quick end. On Friday, FEUQ and FECQ announced a campaign of protests targeting Liberal MNAs (Members of the National Assembly) who were elected by only a narrow margin. They clearly intend to point to the Liberals’ intransigence to argue that the strike has exhausted its usefulness and that the way forward is to “punish the government at the ballot box.”
But they also fear the consequences of being openly perceived as opposed to the continuation of the strike. Speaking like a trade union bureaucrat in training, FECQ president Léo Bureau-Blouin pleaded Friday for negotiations with the government, “At a certain point, it’s going to become a veritable social crisis,” said Bureau-Blouin. “People will demonstrate every day. They’re going to disturb MNAs’ offices and I will no longer have any control.”
CLASSE [“The Broader Coalition of the Association for Student-Union Solidarity”], the student association which initiated the strike movement, opposes FECQ’s and FUCQ’s alliance with the PQ. But its perspective is entirely within the framework of a protest politics that accepts the current political framework and the immutability of the capitalist social order. Speaking at the conclusion of Thursday’s mammoth protest, CLASSE’s principal spokesman, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, declared, “To make the government move, it will be necessary to disrupt, to occupy. It will be necessary to stir things up in Quebec.”
CLASSE is to determine at a conference this weekend its strategy in the wake of the Liberal budget and Thursday’s march. But everything indicates it will choose to broaden its campaign of blocking bridges and transport so as to “disrupt” the economy.
What CLASSE opposes is a turn to the working class—the one force that has the social power to oppose the subordination of all social-economic life to big business’ profits and whose fundamental interests lie in the fight for social equality and for the preservation and extension of social rights.
Undoubtedly the young people who are rallying behind CLASSE’s “economic disruption” campaign, despite the very real threat of police violence, are exhibiting commendable courage and self-sacrifice. But in the absence of a perspective for mobilizing the working class in political and industrial action against the austerity programs of the Charest and federal governments and in defence of jobs, such actions will prove to be a blind alley.
Supporters of the International Students for Social Equality and the Socialist Equality Party distributed more than 2,000 copies of a brochure Thursday containing a statement “Students must turn to the working class” and a critique of the politics of CLASSE, “Protest is not enough: the need for a new strategy.”
This author also recommends:
[29 February 2012]

http://www.wsws.org/articles/2012/mar2012/queb-m24.shtml
%d bloggers like this: