Local Protest, Global Resistance: The Montreal Student Movement

Note: If you are reading this in Montreal, please join us for the massive, and potentially historic protest tomorrow afternoon, June 22nd.

“This, as with the international occupy movement, has become a test of wills between a disaffected citizenry and the corporate state. The fight in Quebec is our fight. Their enemy is our enemy. And their victory is our victory.”

– Chris Hedges, veteran NYT foreign correspondent, in a recent piece.

While international reports have condemned the actions of the Quebec government (and we can include the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in those concerned) and placed the Montreal student movement squarely in the context of global movements like Occupy, the Canadian media continues to be conspicuously (read: shamefully) silent on these matters. While I will address the frightening implications of Canada’s horribly skewed mainstream media in the next post, it is clear in the contrast between local and international reports –  3000 news reports from 77 different countries in recent weeks – that there has been a concerted effort on the part of Canadian media conglomerates to negatively frame the student movement. The complicity demonstrated by media, government, police, and private interests in their aggressive action against this peaceful popular movement lends creedence to the idea that the Canadian corporate establisment has been shaken and now feels threatened by this show of solidarity in resistance to neoliberal policy.

Some have failed to grasp the connection between what seems like a modest increase in tuition and more general negative trends. Some have referred to Quebec universities as underfunded, and others have cited the current recession as a reason to augment fees. Not entirely different arguments depict Quebec students as a spoiled generation, unwilling to pay their fair share.

Many of these arguments cite the higher tuition fees across Canada before nodding to the colossal tuition in the US, apparently these people are thrilled with the US model. Last time I checked – and Stephen Harper’s government throws this label into serious question – Canada is a social-democratic nation. We invest in our future health, safety, prosperity and education. We do so at home and abroad because we are wealthy as a nation, and people within and outside our society are poor. This consistent historical investiture is responsible for our (once) glowing international reputation. Comparing Canadian tuition to the United States is a perfect example of the dominance of the neo-liberal model. Why not compare Canadian education costs to tuition in other social-democratic nations like Sweden or Germany? I suggest that this is because – as a society – we continue to be duped by the notion that corporate tax cuts and laissez-faire economics create a more favourable economy for all, while the truth is clearly the opposite. Here is a very concise video-explanation by Quebec research group IRIS on the myths of education funding, and the proof that the Quebec government’s position on this issue is dishonest, hypocritical, and regressive:

The video is in French, but there is an English translation here.

The truth is that Canada is becoming a more and more unequal society, and that the tuition hikes are just one aspect of our evaporating social democracy. Do these figures about Canada seem alarming to you?:  

– The richest 1 per cent increased their share of total income from 8.1 per cent in 1980 to 13.3 in 2007 and the richest 0.1 per cent doubled their share from 2 per cent to 5.3.

– The 100 best-paid CEOs made an average of $6.6 million, 155 times the average wage of $42,988 and the tax rate for richest dropped from 43 per cent in 1981 to 29 per cent in 2010. More interesting figures here.

Our government is giving out over 10 billion in corporate tax cuts annually, and yet it would take less than 1% of the Quebec government to offer free education in the province. This is the battle of our generation, this is our popular upheaval. The financial crisis and its disgusting revelations on the results of economic inequality and de-regulation have barely stalled the advance of globalized neoliberal policy. It is surreptitious, but it is everywhere increasing inequality and crushing the social democratic concept of a fair society.  

As if this set of troubling realities were not enough, the  legitimate and democratically expressed outrage at this issue has been met with violence, repression, politically motivated arrest, and illegal detention by a government engaged in the mass suppression of democratic rights. In one of the most outrageous examples of this, journalists from French daily newspaper Le Devoir went undercover wearing red squares (the symbol of the movement) to Montreal’s F1 race. What their article detailed was a series of run-ins with the public servants known as the Montreal police (SPVM), who aggressively searched and illegally detained them while admitting to criminal profiling. The implications are obvious and damning: there is publicly-funded  army of armed men and women in Montreal who are protecting private interests by arbitrarily arresting those who display their sympathy with this movement. Call it political repression if you want, it runs counter to all that the free society claims to be. I repeat that this is the same government that passed a law to repress the student protests that a constitutional expert has said “contavenes the [Canadian] Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] on all kinds of grounds” here (more on exactly what rights are being contravened below). Again, I ask you to read my friend Ethan Cox’s article on the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights’ reaction to this law. If these actions do not outrage you, I urge you to reflect on the ideas of democracy and civil society.

As a city, as a province, and as a nation we cannot stand idly by while our basic rights are being actively repressed by a callous and corrupt government. Our MOST basic rights:

The right to freedom of peaceful assembly (Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Fundamental Freedoms 2C) and freedom of association (Fundamental Freedoms 2D).

The right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure (Legal Rights, 8).

The right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned (Legal Rights, 9).

Let us all take a stand aginst this tomorrow and for as long as it takes to wake up this irresponsible government. A victory here goes toward the fight worldwide against repression, corporate domination, and neo-liberal policy. Let us all stand for our democracy and our rights, let us all engage in the fight of this generation. 



In Case You Did Not Hear The Music

“[A]nd those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” – Friedrich Nietzsche

I have had a post brewing for a while now, and while I’ve had trouble getting back on track, recent events have made it difficult for me to delay any longer. I may have drifted a little, but I began this blog with a series of posts on the perils that confront social democracy in the midst of an international financial crisis.  As I see it, the perils are two-fold: firstly coming in the form of a regressive return to dangerous kinds regionalism, ethnocentrism, and repressive authoritarianism, and second, as an abdication of our social democratic principles in the face of a globalizing neoliberal ideology dominated by multinational corporations that masquerades as objective good government. Now, a growing protest movement in my native city of Montreal has come to represent a powerful form of popular resistance to this trend.

What began as a small student resistance to tuition hikes on March 18th, 2011 in Montreal has blossomed into a movement that has garnered international attention from the press (see articles in The Guardian and the NYT), and parallel solidarity protests all over the world (including TorontoLondon, and New York). More importantly, it has seen marches of over 250 000 people – the biggest protest rallies in Canada since the Iraq War – and on May 22nd, the 100th day of the student strike, I was present at the largest display of civil disobedience in Canadian history in response to a repressive law passed to squash the protests.

Moreover, what began as a group of students organized by their unions has attracted the sympathy of people of all ages and walks of life who understand that this movement cannot be divorced from the false austerity that our irresponsible government has imposed. Our provincial government – like the Canadian federal government, and many other governments around the world – has given away billions in corporate tax cuts while cutting social programs in a bid at austerity. I will touch on this notion of false austerity in a coming post, but suffice it to say: Canada is not Greece, and important questions must be asked about where the money we DO have is going.

The reason that this movement has accrued so much varied and international support is that it resonates with those who are dissatisfied with the political failure to represent actual citizens (the Occupy movement is one such example). It is absolutely unthinkable that Jean Charest, the premier of Quebec (or any other major leader for that matter), would have waited 100 days to address the concerns of the business community (a point made in an excellent short article in the Toronto Sun), but it took him that many days to sit down with students who had put 250 000 in the streets twice. The youth of Quebec have called our societal priorities into question, and they deserve our dedication and support as they call their government into question. A government that has mismanaged public funds, bullied and condescended to their own youth, and attempted to restrict the civil liberties of their citizens. This is democracy in action, and a population prepared to fight for their social democratic principles in the face of a false austerity that would continue to expose us to the whims of multinationals rather than address the needs and desires of whom it is purported to serve. The music is ringing through the streets of Montreal, and it is being heard all over the world. Through collective action we may take a stand against domination and repression.

In coming weeks I will continue to post on this subject. If you’d like to read more, check out this great piece by my good friend Ethan Cox.