by Barry Weisleder
About two thousand people braved persistent rainfall and cool temperatures on September 22 to celebrate the recent partial victory of the Quebec students’ movement. They rallied at Parc Lafontaine and marched through the streets of downtown Montreal, flanked by riot police armed with shields, truncheons and rifles. The cops arrested two people for ‘launching projectiles’, and used pepper spray on some demonstrators.
Speakers at the opening rally, organized by the largest students’ federation, CLASSE, emphasized that the struggle for free post-secondary education continues. This was in the wake of the Parti Quebecois minority government decision to annul the five-year 75 per cent fee hike imposed by the Jean Charest Liberal Party regime defeated in the September 4 provincial election. Premier-elect Pauline Marois said her government would substitute inflation-indexed fee increases – counter to the demand to eliminate fees.
The PQ voted in Cabinet to rescind Law 12, with its heavy fines for demonstrations without police permission, for picketing near colleges and universities, and its threats to decertify students’ unions that fail to comply.
Sadly, two student federations did not endorse the September 22 demonstration. Union banners were scarce too. But Professors Against the Hikes, along with several civil rights, feminist, environmentalist and political organizations were highly visible. They were joined by a troupe of drummers who enlivened the somewhat soggy procession.
Seven members of Toronto Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste travelled to Montreal to participate in the action. They distributed hundreds of leaflets in French urging a continuation of the campaign for free education. Socialists also demand that charges be dropped against the over 3,000 people arrested in the Spring and Summer student protests. The LAS stresses the need to mobilize against the bosses’ agenda at all levels. This was clearly expressed on its bright yellow banner bearing the slogan “A bas l’austerite capitaliste. Pouvoir aux travailleurs / travailleuses !” (Down with capitalist austerity. Power to the workers!)
The LAS held a public forum, conducted mostly in French, on the Saturday evening. A number of Quebecois activists attended and signed up to learn more about the Pan-Canadian revolutionary organization.
The PQ moved quickly in its first days in office to announce the closure of Quebec’s only nuclear power facility, to end shale gas development, to cancel a loan to reopen the province’s last asbestos mine, and to remove a health care premium. But the PQ budget, expected in early 2013, will show how the bourgeois nationalist government actually chooses to relate to the interests of students and workers. Pundits predict major cuts to social expenditures, and more subsidies to business. Thus the struggle for a just, equal, democratic and sovereign Quebec continues.