Interview With A Student Activist
Francis St Laurent is a student at Collège de Rosemont and a member of Association Générale des Étudiants du Collège de Rosemont and Alternative Socialiste (CWI – Quebec). He has been on strike from the month of March to August and shares his thoughts on the movement.
Why are students taking action in Quebec?
The primary goal of the strike movement was to stop the increase in tuition fees, initially 75% over 5 years, later raised to 82% as an arrogant response from the government to the movement. The hikes are a direct attack against the right to accessible education for all, another austerity measure against the 99%. The student movement, due to the extent of its mobilization and the balance of power in Quebec, looked further and took up demands that question the priorities of our society, from the co-management of universities, to demand free education, and the nationalization of our natural resources, which are solutions to the tuition hikes and the commodification of education.
It was also a great opportunity to show to other generations is that we are not only the high-tech generation, stereotyped as only caring about the virtual world, amorphous and having no interest in politics. We are a generation strong, united, and a force of change in society. As stated so well in the manifesto of the Coalition Large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE), "We are Future."
What tactics are the students using to try to win this fight?
Everything depends on the national association which the student is affiliated. The more moderate wing of the movement has called for pacifism and large scale demonstrations. The more moderate wing has worked to win public support and has unfortunately created a cult of worship around the media.
The more radical wing of the movement has used the balance of power created by the struggle and is betting on the tactics of the street. Ranging from creative events to “manif-action,” the term used for anything from occupations to economic disruptions. This wing is often marginalized, unfortunately, mainly by the media and the "public opinion".
The student movement in general, despite the fact that it could not bring true mobilization of workers, brought the population to participate in the nightly “casseroles” (noisy demonstrations with the banging of pots and pans). The casseroles movement is the largest movement in the recent history of Quebec and was a strong response to the introduction of Law 12 (formerly known as Bill 78).
How has the government responded to the strikes and protests? (law 78 and what else?)
As the civil disobedience and struggle was most affecting the balance of power, the government brought student leaders to the negotiating table. Negotiations were used as a tactic for the government to insult us with ridiculous offers. Law 78 (now Law 12) was a response to the power of the movement which was growing more and more. Recently, the government called for elections, a partially successful attempt to reduce the movement, as the moderate wing fell into this trap. In response, the anarchist and abstentionist tendencies have surfaced and pushed against the moderate wing.
Going forward, what can be done for this movement to achieve victory?
Maybe now the victory is out of reach, but the movement must restart its strikes and must go further than it has. The national student associations must explain that elections will not solve everything and that a social movement can win more than switching between the two traditional parties of capitalism in Quebec. The student associations should call on the unions and the working class for a general strike to defeat any tuition increases.
How are socialist ideas relevant to this movement?
Socialist and anti-capitalist ideas are in part responsible for the evolution discussion in the movement – from fighting against tuition hikes to fighting austerity measures and the privatization and commodification of education. These transitional demands are pertinent and well received by students, including the demand for free education and co-management of the universities.
In addition, the popularity of the idea of nationalizing natural resources in Quebec has allowed us to promote related ideas such as the nationalisation of the key sectors of the economy, leading many to the broader logic of social change and the need for a democratic, socialist society.
What message do you have for students and youth internationally?
Find out how to fight effectively against the injustices that rage in your life. Examine each government attack against your rights and living standards, and join workers in their struggles. You must develop concrete demands that put forward changes that will better peoples’ lives while posing the question of capitalism in a specific area, like education. From there you can move on to a full questioning of the capitalist system and the privileges of the 1%.
The most important part is unity and solidarity, without those we would not have been able to mobilize as many people as we have in Quebec.