What Should You Know About the Quebec Student Strikes and Occupations?

Apr 17, 2012Mike Konczal

One thing to remember about Occupy is that it has much of its current origins, successes, and most intense interactions with authority around the spaces of college campuses. Its activism is particularly innovative when it comes to direct actions, occupations, and student strikes, all to combat college tuition increases, privatization, and the creation of student debt markets. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on the Puerto Rico student strikes, where they were protesting massive waves of layoffs of government workers and campus faculty and an estimated 100 percent tuition hike. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on the Chilean student strikes, which date back to 2006, where students fought high application fees they couldn’t afford. And, of course, there's what is going on at University of California, with the pepper spray at Davis and the beatings both in 2009 and 2011 at Berkeley.

But the most interesting resistance happening right now is going on in Quebec, Canada. There are, according to one representative report, over 165,000 students on strike from class out of 495,000 in the student body.

Quebec is looking to increase its tuition 75 percent over the next several years. Students responded by starting what is now the longest strike in the province's history. It's gone on even though the government has offered to make student loans a nicer, kinder form of debt, with income-contingent repayments, while not budging on the tuition hikes.

This image by Tina Mailhot-Roberge shows tens of thousands of people marching through Montreal on March 22nd, 2012:

And here's an amazing video of two and a half hours of the protest time-lapsed down into 50 seconds on YouTube. And with a h/t to The Nation, here's the Real News Network's coverage of the protests.

The strike is heading into a dangerous time. The administration isn't looking to make concessions on tuition and students are approaching the point where they won't complete the semester. This will be worth watching in the weeks ahead.

Why are these sites so potent for activism? The college campus combines several issues into one: the privatization of public services, the dismembering of social insurance and its replacement with a regime of debt and risk-shifting, and the dismantling of the primary means of social mobility with one designed to entrench inequality, which all builds toward a lack of freedom to fully develop one's talents and abilities and be full, productive citizens.

These students are right to fight this battle at the beginning, during the initials cuts. Privatization creates its own justification; the more public universities are defunded and reconceived as a private good, the less civic interest there is in defending them as a public good. And they are also fighting at the beginning of their lives, both for what kind of world they want to live in and against the constraints of indenture that we see when this process of privatization and debt reaches its ultimate conclusion -- a path the United States is much further along.

Mike Konczal is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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