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. 

 


American…socialism? Dubious.


I’ve been perplexed this week as to which of the multiple issues I wanted to address and, rather than writing several entries, I had all but given up entirely. As I’ve said in previous entries, the need to further investigate macroeconomic principles founded on either a Keynesian or Hayekian basis becomes increasingly clearer with each passing day of GOP debates (and their conservative followers’ Facebook posts) and EU budgetary talks.

Fiscal conservatism, e.g. cutting back spending to reduce debt, seems like sound advice. However, in times of economic downturn, think about what austerity measures really do for the economy. By reducing government spending, be it in the form of direct stimulus plans or indirect benefits, people are wont to save. You cannot grow an economy if no one is willing to purchase. While I admit that certain packages may not inspire the degree of confidence needed to jumpstart consumer habits to pre-recession levels, they do more than reducing government spending would do. After all, folks, it’s called a stimulus package, not a climax package. So let’s curb our seething criticism for a moment (which consequently is doing nothing to encourage consumer faith and as such is contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy) and re-evaluate some claims that have been made recently.

Why, oh why, can my fellow Americans not understand that the Obama administration’s approach to taxes is not socialist? The quips made on everything from Fox “News” to social media platforms such as Facebook continue to liken Obama to European style socialist democracy. I have a few complaints with this: his proposed tax scheme is nowhere near what I would qualify as socialist (especially when compared to European counterparts) and, frankly, with moral questions of fairness aside, in global recessions it’s in the long-term interest of those wealthier citizens for short-term tax increases.

“Comrade Obama” proposed in his State of the Union Address that millionaires should pay no less than 30%. Let’s take a look at tax structures on the other side of the pond. The UK, which in many respects is the ideal EU counterpart to the US, structures its taxes as such:

Income Tax band Income Tax rate on non savings income Income Tax rate on savings Income Tax rate on dividends
£0 to £2,560Starting rate for savings Not available 10% Not applicable – see basic rate band
£0 to £35,000Basic rate 20% 20% 10%
£35,001 to £150,000Higher rate 40% 40% 32.5%
Over £150,000Additional rate 50% 50% 42.5%

(*http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/incometax/basics.htm)

Aside from glaring differences in the percentages themselves, the groups are shockingly smaller ranges than Obama’s millionaire bracket. Please stop haphazardly praying on an anemic American educational system that associates Socialism with nothing but negative connotations unless you’re prepared to defend how “no less than 30%” for millionaires is at all close to 50% for earners of roughly $237,000 (unless of course, in addition to social sciences, history and philosophy, you want to further contribute to an already inarticulate and often imprecise teaching by adding, if you can, mathematics to the list). This is not to say that the UK doesn’t have its skeptics, but perhaps that’s the only thing the UK and US share in terms of socialism: a disapproval from the conservative side.

Moreover, it’s corporate tax structures that need to be evaluated. If we follow trickle-down theories for personal taxation, the money all but dries up the minute wealthy citizens buy foreign-made goods. And in a globally competitive market, it’s the companies that are liable to move operations abroad, rather than the individuals themselves. Think of it as a basic causation. In other words, companies are taxed out of competition within borders and move elsewhere, and as unemployment rises, the individual tax pool becomes smaller. If the wealthy wanted to reduce the burden they ought to pay over the longer-term, they should be funding ventures that bring job growth, and thus, potential taxable income. In the short-term, then, having to offset government spending that instills confidence in the consumer and gets the economy growing again is a small price (especially when compared to our European counterparts) to pay. For those who knock stimulus spending, I need only point to Ford’s recent success in Detroit, reported a few weeks ago in The Financial Times. In this case, not only did it prevent the collapse of an industry, but actually caused a rebirth of sorts.

Of course it cannot be stated clearly enough that government expenditure is a dangerous game. When the question of socialist tax structures is raised, the debate ought to be focused around spending programs rather than mere percentages. It is not enough to assume on good faith that programs created and funded will have the impact intended, and I would strongly disagree with the assertion that Obama’s intention is merely a redistribution of wealth–mainly because those who talk of redistribution use it in the sense of equalisation, and that is obviously not happening. Either way, corruption is always a worry in the public as well as private sector. But perhaps, with Congress approval ratings hitting all-time lows, they’ve never had more motivation to insure these steps, from taxation to smart government programs, succeed for posterity as much as this current suffering generation.