Photo by Zachary A. Bell
This article was originally published by Alternet and is reprinted here with the permission of the author.
On September 4, Quebec’s student movement, admired for its 300,000-person protests, provided a less sensational model for youth worldwide—of a movement struggling with the contradictory effects of a hotly contested election.
After six months of protests against Premier Jean Charest’s 75 percent tuition hike and anti-assembly Law 12, Quebec’s citizens marched to the polls to oust Charest’s Liberal party and install Pauline Marois and her separatist Parti Québécois. Marois surprised many who were skeptical of her support for students with her first ministerial decrees, promising to cancel the tuition hike, repeal Law 12 and hold a summit to renegotiate education financing. As a bonus for students, Charest lost his local race, ending his political career altogether.
Nonetheless, CLASSE, Quebec’s most influential student union, remains vigilant in its monitoring of the new government until reforms are implemented, and many point out that Marois’s plan for education financing is based on indexing tuition with inflation—still a significant bump from current prices. Furthermore, with a measly fifty-four of 125 seats, Marois’ minority government will have to be frugal with its political capital, and it has expensive items on its wish list (namely, Quebec’s independence) that might edge out education as the focus of political attention.
Most students declare Marois’s win a modest victory for their cause, like former CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois who said, “In politics, the victory is never as bright as you would like.” But whatever the wins this election may eventually deliver for students, they are dimmed in large part because the election broke the back of the strike, paralyzing the movement in the process.
Quebec’s movement was built on an alignment against a specific tuition fee, but many mobilizers connected the chants against student debt to deeper critiques of the neoliberal state. In August, the election bitterly divided students along these political lines in General Assemblies, debating whether to trust politicians, keep striking until demands were met, or build independent power. The discord so diminished the movement’s leverage, decimating the number of students on strike from 150,000 to 35,000, that by September 4, students could do little but cross their fingers and hope that Marois would fully repeal the tuition hike, despite having only promised to temporarily freeze it.