Jacob Remes on the student strikes in Quebec; plus, a well-deserved prize for Katha Pollitt


STUDENTS STRIKE IN QUEBEC: In late May, a Montrealer met a neighbor at one of the local casseroles, the boisterous marches that have captured the imagination of cities and towns across Quebec. Beating pots and pans to create the protest music that has filled the city’s streets, the neighbor asked: “When does the demo end?” There was only one possible answer: “It ends with the revolution.”

It is hard to imagine how the loud, joyous, spontaneous and illegal demonstrations that have been snaking their way through Quebec can end in any other way than with the fall of Liberal Premier Jean Charest. The initial spark that lit the protests was a plan to raise college and university tuition by a massive 75 percent over five years, ostensibly to better fund higher education without raising taxes. Students went on strike, refusing to go to class and blocking colleagues who tried. At its height, some 180,000 students were participating. After a dozen weeks, protesters augmented the classroom pickets with nightly demonstrations in Montreal, marked by occasional vandalism and considerable police violence. On May 18, the government tried to break the movement by passing the loi matraque, or “truncheon law,” which suspended the semester until August and imposed severe restrictions on the right to protest in groups larger than fifty. But Charest and his ministers grossly miscalculated.

Four days after the law was passed, as many as 500,000 protesters marched through Montreal, violating the government’s decree and thus participating in the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. In protest of tuition hikes, students donned red felt squares to signify being “squarely in the red” while offering a broader critique of neoliberalism. Education should be neither a luxury good nor an individual investment in future earnings, the students argue, but rather a social good that the state provides to create a stronger nation.

Support for Charest’s tuition hike dropped from 68 to 27 percent in the week following the special law’s passage. Negotiations between the student unions and the government restarted May 28 but collapsed again on May 31. This means the ongoing protests will have a chance to broaden to include other neoliberal policies, including Charest’s Plan Nord, which would commodify the province’s natural resources. “The strike is the students’,” a graffitied slogan reminds onlookers. “The struggle is everyone’s.”   JACOB REMES

MORE KUDOS FOR KATHA: A hearty congratulations to Katha Pollitt for earning yet another prize in recognition of her sharp pen. The American Sociological Association has given Katha its Award for Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues, which recognizes the work of people who promote “sociological findings and a broader vision of sociology.” A win for feminist journalism!

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