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Québec Education Minister Resigns, Says Not Because of Strike, Everyone Laughs

Québécois student strikers roll deep. The months-long strike is down to around one third of all students (still numbering more than 150,000), but it hasn't lost its potency.

Students at dozens of universities continue to picket campus buildings to prevent classes from being held — standing firm often in the face of police intimidation and violence. For example, strikers are out right now at College Lionel Groulx, arms linked and symbolic red fabric squares flapping on their clothes, preparing for a police assault against their blockade of the main entrance to their CEGEP.

During last month's ultimately fruitless negotiations between the major student union federations and the provincial government, the most radical group, CLASSE, was kicked out due to their inability to magically stop any strike action or vandalism on the part of their member students for a 48-hour period. This after they already required CLASSE to issue a statement repudiating acts of violence (which they ultimately issued, noting quite correctly that property damage is not violence). When the government used this flimsy excuse to boot CLASSE during the previous strike campaign several years ago, the two smaller reformist student unions, FECQ and FEUQ, were more than happy to sell out their erstwhile "comrades" and stay at the negotiating table. This transparent opportunism and sycophancy decimated their ranks as students flocked to CLASSE. Come 2012, the reformists knew better, and quit the negotiating table in protest of and in solidarity with CLASSE's ejection.

Québec Premier Jean Charest's "six-point plan," which negotiators originally tried to strongarm student union leaders to accept behind closed doors, has been almost unanimously rejected by students in their local assemblies. The message to Charest is clear: low-interest loans won't cut it. Tuition hikes spread out over a few years won't cut it. 

Despite mass media's dogged attempts to pigeonhole the strike movement to be simply kneejerk anti-tuition hikes (granted, one of my favorite kinds of kneejerk protests), CLASSE-affiliated unions have some pretty solid suggestions for how to rearrange university finances:

  • Cut the percentage of university funding directed toward private for-profit research
  • Cut the practice of universities advertising to attract students, saving $18 million a year
  • Freeze the salaries and hiring of university administrators, which they have exploded over the past several years
  • Halt the construction of satellite campuses far from university main campuses
  • Add a 0.7% tax on banks and financial institutions to ensure tuition-free education

And now we have the resignation of Québec's Minister of Education, Line Beauchamp. Beauchamp, in her desperation to avoid it being framed as the huge student victory it is, said she was not resigning because of the student strike. Right. Let's get real here:

“I am resigning because I no longer believe I’m part of the solution.”

She said she had spoken to student groups about letting a parliamentary committee study the issue of university funding.

Beauchamp, who was also the deputy premier, said she asked the students whether they trusted the people’s elected representatives to study the question — and that on Monday they had refused.

This leaves the ruling Liberal party with an even more tenuous hold on a majority in the provincial Parliament, holding 63 out of 125 seats with the balance of power potentially decided by 3 current vacancies. Beauchamp will be replaced by her predecessor Michelle Courchesne — the very person who spearheaded the push for the current proposed tuition hike in the first place.

Protests continue every single evening, often drawing thousands of students and other Québecers in solidarity, leading up to the next massive demonstration on May 26th. Beauchamp's telling farewell confession, “I am resigning because I no longer believe I’m part of the solution,” is something we can't wait for the rest of the politicians to realize. We've got to show them, and that's exactly what Québec's student strikers are doing.

This printemps québécois is teaching activists and organizers across the continent how important it is to avoid falling in line behind milquetoast compromise — especially when the wind is at your back — and the combined voices of 150,000 students mean that such a lesson won't soon be forgotten.


Quebec Student Unions: History, Structure, and Strategy

Simon Gosselin, François Carbonneau, Richard Huot & Caroline Bourbonnais came to the Students for a Democratic Society 2009 Northeast Convention to speak about radical student unionism in Québéc.

They make important distinctions between the situations in Québéc and the U.S. - but just as important are the commonalities we all face as students in universities, and it's those commonalities that demand we learn what we can from their past and current struggles (especially because they have a much better knack at winning). Below is the first of 8 segments: you can view them all in a row here on YouTube.

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