Austerity protests have become part of the new global landscape, a reality underscored by a wave of recent protests in Philadelphia and Quebec.
More than 1,000 people rallied Wednesday to protest the Philadelphia District’s plans to “transform schools,” a pleasant euphemism generally meaning school closures and mass layoffs. The Philly district plans to possibly lay off 2,700 blue-collar workers, including every member of SEIU B2BJ Local 1201, the city school union representing bus assistants, cleaners, mechanics and other workers.
Philly.com reports that all these workers have received pink slips and could be let go by the end of the year.
Eleven men and three women were arrested during Wednesday’s protest, including B2BJ president George Ricchezza, union health and welfare administrator Dennis Biondo and retired teachers Lisa Haver and Ronald Whitehorne, among others. They were later released and are to be arraigned in June.
The individuals were arrested for “clogging traffic,” according to a local CBS affiliate.
Earlier in the month, the school system announced that it expects to close forty public schools next year and sixty-four by 2017, shocking figures that received little national attention, prompting Black Agenda Report’s Bruce A. Dixon to publish an article titled, “Why Isn’t Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News?”
Shannon Lane, a bus aide for 16 years, faces being laid off at the end of the year. She’s angry that “wealthy corporations aren’t being taxed fairly, and public schools are being cut.”
And she doesn’t like the plan.
“This is privatization,” Lane said. “Children will lose.”
Students’ being on the losing side of austerity has become something of a global theme, prompting a massive student-led backlash in Quebec that so terrified officials that the government essentially tried to ban protests.
Needless to say, this censorship strategy did not work.
For over 100 days now, protests have raged in response to Quebec Premier Jean Charest and his Liberal Party’s plans to raise tuition fees at universities by a whopping 82 percent, or $1,700, over five years, a move that would price many students out of an education.
The police have responded by making mass arrests. More than 300 protesters were arrested overnight on Sunday following the passage of the draconian law, Bill 78, that places restrictions on demonstrations and suspended classes at strike-bound universities, the AP reports.
Wednesday night, the mass arrests continued with police taking 400 people into custody, alleging that some protesters threw stones at officers following a large protest.
In perhaps the understatement of the century, the AP reports, “Rather than quelling the unrest, it appears to have made things worse for the embattled premier.”
A poll released this week by the Journal de Montreal showed an 18 percent shift in favor of the students.
Last night’s demonstration was the thirtieth mass demonstration since the protests began at Parc Emilie-Gamelin.
May 22 marked one of the largest protests ever to be recorded in Quebec’s history with anywhere between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of students taking to the streets, depending on the news sources.
The event also served as a demonstration of students’ ability to organize and defy the government’s attempt to stifle dissent.
Education Minister Michelle Courchesne said Wednesday she’s willing to speak with student groups, but warned they must be prepared to make concessions.
She’s not willing to eliminate the province’s proposed tuition hikes, according to The Canadian Press.
“I’m not giving up. I’m very tenacious, very determined,” she said, CP reported. “I want to talk to them, and it’s up to them to take some steps so that we might talk.”
If negotiations fail or are delayed, students warn they will continue protesting into the summer tourist season, potentially disrupting cash cows like the Montreal Jazz Fest, Just for Laughs and the Formula One Grand Prix.
“Rich douchebags are going to be disrupted by night demos,” activist Jaggi Singh told CP.