From Printemps 2015
Revolt is stirring all across Quebec, and is spreading on a daily basis. 66 student associations have already voted a reconducible strike. Night demos are adding up. At the Vieux Montréal and the Université Laval, campuses are being taken hold of and transformed into political spaces. The UQAM was blocked today. While it took the 2012 Spring a few weeks to really get in gear, the 2015 Spring has taken off in the space of a few days. The movement begins at the point where 2012 had stopped. The strike is on the march.
Repression, too, has struck fast. Massive arrests have taken place, both in Montreal and Quebec city. Dogs have jumped at the most peaceful of demonstrators. A young student was even shot at point blank range by the cops. And the UQAM management is now threatening 9 militant students with political expulsion.
It is in this tense but invigorating context that the ASSÉ’s executive committee throws its cobblestone : a call for the end of the student strike, even as it is in full swing in universities, belying the many pessimistic forecasts. Here the ASSÉ executive committee’s voice should be understood as the reasonable and paternal voice calling us back to strategic evidence. The executive committee would seem to have its own agenda, its own ultimatums : a mega-demonstration on the 2nd of April, calling for a strike in the Fall that would act in tandem with a public sector workers’ strike, more particularly within the education sector. According to this « reasonable » voice, we would be lacking today the power to strike – without worker allies – and would therefore be facing the danger of a defeat with heavy consequences.
And yet, with this reasonable and paternalistic call, the ASSÉ executive has just undermined its legitimacy, as it puts into a question a strike that was adopted by over half of its member associations.
Ever since the birth of the 2015 Spring movement, this same executive committee has been hammering the same strategy in every general assembly and congress, reminding us every time that the strike would only be efficient in the Fall. And yet, these same assemblies have refused their watchword by initiating a strike on the 21st of March. So much so that it is now beyond any doubt that this same executive committee is not respecting the very minimal conditions that would allow it, today, to call for the end of the strike. Supreme irony : the ASSÉ used to repeatedly denounce the student federations (FEUQ-FECQ) when they made use of the mass media to influence their members’ votes. It is now dirtying its own hands in similar manoeuvers.
The 2015 Spring strike has been organized upon a framework other than the ASSÉ’s traditional structures. By calling for the end of the strike under the pretext of a strategic withdrawal, the executive is attempting again to muzzle a base that is increasingly evading its hold.
With every one of its manifestations, the contestation does not wear out its forces. The opposite is true : our strength feeds, and becomes contagious. Would we be speaking of a social strike in 2015 if there hadn’t been a strike in 2012 ? And yet, during the first weeks of 2015, nobody could have predicted the breadth of what occurred. A strike now does not rhyme with the impossibility of a later strike in the Fall. That is precisely what a « rampant spring » means : a movement that inscribes itself in duration, that takes different forms and knows many moments of effective power. What is most important is that in this movement allies may meet, tactics be invented and forces get organized. Instead, the ASSÉ executive cultivates a vision of forces that should be saved, as if we were single use little soldiers that should only be sent to fight at the right moment (and to the great trade unions’ advantage).
But to delve deeper, this blind trust in these trade unions’ mobilization is puzzling. These same unions that, in 2012, at the peak of the greatest social movement Quebec had ever known, never considered the strike. These same unions that are against any form of illegal strike, that supported the Charter and do not take positions against oil and gas production. What if the trade unions didn’t go into strike in the Fall of 2015, as their logic seems to indicate, what is ASSÉ’s plan then? Are we going to put our political destiny into the hands of trade union leaderships ?
The ASSÉ executives responsible for this « proposition » might answer that they too have never believed in the trade union leadership, but count on local union members to bypass the leaders in a movement against austerity. Still far from exhausting its own contradictions, the ASSÉ executive makes the same gesture as the great trade unions : out of fear of being bypassed by its fierce members, the executive calls them back to reason and order. Moreover, this focus on the public sector unions’ agenda puts aside all of those that the call for a social strike is trying to reach. Community organizations, the unemployed, workers of the private sector : so many forces ready to mobilize themselves and who are just as affected, if not more, by austerity measures.
In the current context, abandoning does not only mean putting an end to a movement hitherto unseen in terms of the radicalism of its demands and the autonomy of its forms, but most importantly means abandoning necessary struggles : what could come to the rescue of the nine comrades over whom hovers the threat of expulsion at UQAM, if not a combative movement that puts pressure on management so that it may drop its charges ? And what about those wounded by the police ? Who will spread their word, who will defend their dignity ?
Being overtaken by its base should always be good news for a union, rather than a threat to the strategic plan of a paternalistic leadership. We are betting on a social strike : that is a bet on the combativeness of the base, on people who are already now resisting the threats, the repression, and the well-paid trade union leadership. But more than anything, we are betting on the impetus that has already brought thousands of people to take the streets, many times in a single week.
This impetus is not strictly limited to the student strike. It will be prolonged into the 11th of April, at the demonstration against the Council of the Federation meeting on climate change, during the May 1st social strike, and then during the summer in local struggles against gas and oil production projects.