The Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE) – a Quebec-wide teachers union representing more than 34,000 French-language teachers in Quebec – held a rally on January 16 to protest recent budget cuts to Quebec’s public school system, which have forced some schools to close due to lack of maintenance or funding.
At least a hundred teachers, parents of students, and other supporters gathered in front of the historic Maisonneuve market, and subsequently marched through the streets of the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district, stopping by several schools in disrepair, emphasizing what they claimed were the repercussions of the government’s actions.
“The failure of the provincial government to protect public schools by not providing for funding is a threat to social progress.”
Rallying cries from protest leaders could be heard before the march began.
“The failure of the provincial government to protect public schools by not providing for funding is a threat to social progress,” said one speaker in French to the crowd.
Despite a January 15 announcement from Quebec’s Minister of Education François Blais of a new $500 million investment in funding for Quebec’s schools, many teachers at the demonstration agreed that it was not enough.
Several demonstrators carried signs that caricatured various Quebec ministers and the premier.
In addition, the members of the FAE are also dissatisfied with the collective agreement negotiations happening with the provincial government.
The FAE, which represents one third of Quebec’s teachers, has yet to reach an agreement. Despite this, public sector unions including the Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement (FSE) and the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) have been able to reach tentative agreements with the government.
Orlando, an affiliate of the Trotskyist League, one of the many far-left groups that attended the demonstration in solidarity, criticized the current government for its actions.
“We are here to support the teachers who are not happy with the settlement the government has recommended to them because it doesn’t meet their basic demands,” Orlando told The Daily. “The austerity attacks are not just confined to Quebec; Greece, Britain, South Africa also see a lot of attacks. There are a lot of lessons to be drawn from here.”
The FAE has accused the Quebec government of neglecting public school teachers, claiming that the government’s austerity measures leave teachers with little support and not enough funding to properly teach their students.
“We are here to support the teachers who are not happy with the settlement the government has recommended to them because it doesn’t meet their basic demands.”
Among the demonstrators was a contingent from McGill, organized by the campus group McGill Against Austerity.
In an interview with The Daily, Adam Mac Kenzie, a member of McGill Against Austerity, explained that the group focuses on “spreading information about austerity and how it affects greater Quebec society.”
“We went to the demonstration to stand in solidarity with the teachers and their continuing struggle against […] cuts to their salaries, increasing class sizes, decreasing help to special needs students [and] school closures,” Mac Kenzie continued. “This is an issue that affects everyone. Austerity is being felt all over the globe […] and without more pressure tactics, I don’t expect the Quebec government to give in much.”
“I can’t accurately predict what their next move will be, but I think they’re going to continue to play hardball.”
Speaking to what he thinks the outcome of the negotiations will be, Mac Kenzie said, “I can’t accurately predict what their next move will be, but I think they’re going to continue to play hardball […] at least until the spring, and then we’ll see what happens.”