After several months during which the conflict between the students and the Québec government has dragged on, it is now clear that the latter never really wanted to negotiate with the student unions. As the crisis grew, the more the government maintained its positions and hid behind its guard dogs (this is the role of the police and justice system under capitalism). After more than three months of a conflict that they could no longer control, the Liberals decided to adopt their infamous special law —Bill 78, which became Act No. 12.
Basically, the government’s objective is clear: it certainly wants to implement its “user pays” policy for public services and has an obvious electoral interest by staying firm vis-à-vis the students, its primary objective is to defeat the student movement. Because the contrary would be catastrophic for the ruling class and a signal to the entire working class that it is possible to fight —and win— against the austerity measures of the bourgeoisie.
For more than three months, all sorts of manipulation strategies were used by the government to defeat the student movement. First, the government sought to stigmatize the CLASSE (the most militant student union) and its spokesperson, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. Then, it made phony offers, without ever considering any serious concession on tuition fees. Finally, when it turned out that nothing worked and that stopping the student strike was impossible, the government came out with a new special law, which closed the most militant campuses until mid-August.
Since then, the government put things in place to triggering elections, which could occur as soon as September 17. They thus hope to discourage students to resume the strike in mid-August; and if this is unsuccessful, the special law will be there to bludgeon the student unions, with the Education Minister having the right to practically dissolve them by decree.
While the Liberals are preparing for elections and mobilization is more difficult in those circumstances, student federations (FEUQ and FECQ) and student activists close to bourgeois parties (including the Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire) are seeking to bring the masses of students back into electoral politics. Some have already begun to discuss the suspension of the strike for the duration of the election campaign. This is a trap that the movement must absolutely avoid!
The Liberals have been saying for weeks that those who oppose their policies should “use their right to vote to signify their disagreement.” By starting an election campaign at the same time as the school year, the government clearly wants to use the student crisis in its own interest. But they are not alone: all the other parties are also seeking to profit from the crisis. The message of the bourgeoisie is simple: leave out your “direct democracy” and your general meetings, drop your demands and stop your struggle —the only realistic thing to do is to vote (for us, of course!).
The Liberal Party may be voted out, but another government will take place and whatever the outcome, the problems highlighted by the student crisis will not disappear after the elections. In the current context of crisis of capitalism, the bourgeoisie will require the next government to increase the tuition fees, and the latter will have no choice but to do that. And it is even possible that the Liberals will be re-elected…
The possibility of a real change is to be found in the student and popular mobilization. The change is slowly taking shape in student meetings and people’s assemblies in the neighborhoods, in the large and small demos and in the militant actions against those actually responsible for the implementation of austerity measures and attacks against students and workers.
When you attack a bank, when you block the headquarters of a big corporation, it is a thousand times better than voting. When we take the streets and organize the expression of the anger of the poor, it is a thousand times more useful than giving a 4-year blank check to bourgeois politicians.
It is sure that with the severe penalties provided for by Bill 78, it will be hard for the student unions to continue the fight. They must absolutely prepare for it (notably by accumulating the necessary financial and technical resources required); at the same time, working people must rise to support them.
Students must continue their strike in August. They should prepare to defy Bill 78, to make it unapplicable in practice. Therefore, student unions, the CLASSE and rank and file activists must send clear signals about their willingness to continue the fight. They must announce that the semester will not resume if the government does not concede.
At the same time, we need trade unions, people’s assemblies in the neighborhood, collectives and groups working to organize blockades on campuses; they should organize volunteers by the hundreds to support and directly help the student strikers. The idea of a social strike is certainly interesting, but we must not delude ourselves: for it to be realized, it is first necessary that the student struggle continues. Therefore we must prioritize the blocking and generalized occupation of campuses by students and their allies.
And if there is to be an election in September, suspending the strike is not an option. This would leave our fate in the hands of the bourgeoisie. If the bourgeoisie goes ahead with an election, we will have to respond with an offensive campaign that will affect the entire electoral circus. To the bourgeoisie we must say: No deal with student unions, then no election!