Lessons from Quebec’s student strike

An ambitious seven-day, seven-city tour addressing the six-month student strike in Quebec, visited London, Toronto, Saskatoon, and Regina, before passing through Winnipeg on October 3.

The special tour addressed what happened in Quebec, but also how the hard-earned lessons of the longest student strike in Canadian history can be applied to organizing across the country.

Ethan Cox, rabble.ca’s Quebec correspondent and a former student organizer, opened the evening by giving an overview of “the longest student strike in Canadian history” and “the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.” He hopes that people will be inspired by what happened in Quebec to build more democratic structures in their own areas and challenge the austerity agenda.

“The most significant obstacle in making change in societies is usually our belief that we can’t do it,” he told the nearly 100 people in attendance. “The Quebec student movement started with a small group of students, but hard work and dedication made it the mass movement that it became.”

Cloé Zawadzki-Turcotte, a former executive member of CLASSE (the largest of the student unions involved in the Quebec student strike), was a key organizer behind the strike. She experienced first hand the amount of time and effort required to mobilize a movement of this magnitude.

“When we began the campaign, there was only 10 to 15 per cent of students that were actually against the proposed tuition hike,” she explained. “It took a lot of work for us to convince every person on campus that the hike was a bad thing. It takes a lot of work, and a lot of people, and a lot of time, but you have to persevere.”

However, as she explained to the crowd, the formula for getting students on side is not that complicated.

“The Quebec student movement is very structured and very democratic. That’s what makes the movement so strong. Every student in Quebec knows they have the political power to influence change in general assembly.”

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois echoed that point, and stressed that it needs to be a bottom-up structure that’s executed by the students themselves. As the former spokesperson for CLASSE, he battled the Jean Charest government publicly in the media and was often demonized. But for Nadeau-Dubois, the issue was one of values.

“Tuition increases change the very nature of university. When you raise tuition, you create student debt; you change the relationship between the student and the university and the way every student sees their education. Raising tuition fees not only destroys education, but destroys society.”

Though newly elected Quebec premier Pauline Marois wasted no time in cancelling tuition fee increases and repealing a law restricting public demonstrations, the biggest victory for Cox is outside the control of provincial politics.

“The real legacy of this movement is an entire generation of young people have learned the power that people can have when they work together and what they can accomplish.”

The next stop on the tour is Victoria on October 4, before finishing in Vancouver on October 5. For those who were unable to attend an event in their city, the final presentation will be live streamed on rabble.ca.

National tour sponsors included rabble.ca, CEP, and LeadNow.ca. Additional tour sponsors and endorsers, included PSAC Prairie Region and Ryerson Social Justice Week