News  Tuition freeze set as end goal for student strike

Student movement seeks to overcome past divisions

The Coalition Large de l’Association pour la solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE) has publicly stated that it would not look to negotiate with the Quebec government regarding tuition hikes unless Minister of Education Line Beauchamp agreed to discuss tuition freezes.

“Our campaign this year is not to obtain immediately the abolition of tuition fees; our strike today… is really in opposition to the tuition increases so our concrete goal this year is to win the tuition freeze,” said CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.

About 191,676 Quebec students in CEGEP and university are currently on strike, as part of the province’s six-week-old general unlimited strike. About 84,000 students are represented by 45 student associations that are members of CLASSE. The strike is against a tuition hike of $1,625 over the next five years.

CLASSE’s position became public Friday, the day after the demonstration, La Grande Mascarade, occurred. One of the protest’s themes was the reclamation of the student movement from other student federations.

Mathieu Melançon, a student from the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)  whose student association is a member of CLASSE, was present at Thursday’s demonstration. He described the student movement as divided. “The movement is divided but not only [a] useless fight, it’s because we have different ways of seeing what should be the [aim of the student movement],” he explained.

“If this struggle was only about $1,625 of a tuition hike it would be a true waste of energy, time and public space,” he added.

CLASSE is the temporary coalition of the Association pour la solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) founded with the goal of “opening the structures of ASSÉ to non-member student associations so as to construct a large movement and so as to combat the tuition hike,” according to their website.

ASSÉ views education as a fundamental right. The association’s website states that “each member of society [has] the right to free public education, accessible, quality and secular, free from all forms of discrimination.”

The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) is one of two major student federations in the Quebec student movement. According to its website, its mission is “to represent, by an intermediate of its associations’ members, university students so as to study, promote, protect, and develop their interests as well as their academic, social, cultural and economic rights.” McGill’s Post-Graduate Students’ Society is a member of FEUQ.

FEUQ president Martine Desjardins spoke to CLASSE’s statement. “They [CLASSE] are sending the message that we are all united behind the same message right now,” she said.

She referred to all student associations agreeing on a tuition fee freeze as a “great thing.”

At Thursday’s demonstration, a new student federation, the Front or fédération des étudiant(e)s collégial ou universitaire révolté (FECUR), claimed that student federations FEUQ, and its collegial counterpart FECQ, did not represent them. Later in the demonstration a banner bearing all three student associations’ names was pelted with food.

Nadeau-Dubois spoke about the demonstration organized by FECUR. “I think it’s legitimate for people to express publicly their fear of losing control of their movement … As an organization we call for solidarity in the student movement with the other student organizations,” he said.

Desjardins spoke to concerns regarding FEUQ’s governance strategies and tactics.

“There’s a lot of people who are angry because in 2005 there was a roundtable, so they’re saying it’s going to be history repeating itself in this conflict, but everyday I’m trying to say that we can agree on something, and we’re working together,” she said.

In 2005, FEUQ went to the negotiation table without ASSÉ’s temporary coalition – known at the time as the Coalition de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante élargie (CASSÉÉ) – because the minister of education had denounced their occupation tactics.

Nadeau-Dubois said he felt many people feared a repeat of 2005, “but I think that for the moment we are on the road of solidarity within the student movement. We hope that it’s going to stay like this.”

“We want to benefit from the mobilization of this strength to talk about free schooling to put the debate on the public face that free school is a choice … we think it would be possible for Quebec to do this choice, but our strike this year concretely is not to obtain free school,” he added.