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Strike votes reach 30,000-student tipping point

Student pressure against austerity to escalate in the coming weeks

Twenty-nine Quebec student associations – representing over 32,000 students and spread over six campuses in Montreal, Quebec City, and Chicoutimi – have voted to go on strike in the next two weeks to protest the Liberal government’s cuts to education and other public services. Although start dates vary, most students will be on strike from March 21 until April 2, at which point strike reconduction assemblies will be held.

Attained last Thursday, the 30,000-student threshold is significant because many of the strike mandates include a clause making the strikes conditional upon reaching this level of support province-wide. Moreover, the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) Arts Faculty Student Association (AFÉA) was mandated to hold an early strike launch assembly in the event that the threshold was reached; the association, representing 3,843 students, could thus go on strike as early as today.

The strike votes did not go without resistance at UQAM, which houses over 20,000 of the to-be-striking students. In a letter sent to the UQAM community in late February, the dean of the Faculty of Political Science and Law, as well as 13 political science professors, claimed in French that acts like “disturbances of meetings and conferences” and “repeated strikes” create a “climate of intimidation” at UQAM and hurt the public image of the university. Students responded with an open letter denouncing the conflation of intimidation and political engagement, and law professors passed a departmental resolution distancing themselves from the views of their colleagues in political science.

A student in the same faculty also attempted to request a court injunction to prevent the holding of a strike general assembly, arguing that the obtainment of his degree would be unfairly delayed. The Superior Court of Quebec rejected the argument.

“[Austerity] is an issue that students want to mobilize on in the next two weeks.”

Intercampus communication and coordination during the strike votes was done largely through the Comité Printemps (Spring Committee) 2015 Facebook group and website, which includes an up-to-date strike vote tracker. The Comité Printemps – a decentralized hub to coordinate mobilization efforts between students, unions, and other community actors – has also called for a “popular demonstration” on March 21 to mark the beginning of the strike.

The Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), to which most of the striking student associations belong, has expressed support for the March 21 demonstration. In addition to the student associations with renewable strike mandates, over 14,000 students will be on a one-day strike for the ASSÉ-organized demonstration on April 2. An additional 125,000 students across the province are to be consulted on this matter in the coming days through strike assemblies or referenda.

“It’s not quite a surprise that there are that many people having strike votes,” ASSÉ spokesperson Camille Godbout told The Daily. “For us, seeing that many student unions mobilizing against austerity, it really shows that [austerity] does have a huge impact on the quality of our education and […] all public services, and this is an issue that students want to mobilize on in the next two weeks.”

A demonstration will also take place in Quebec City on March 26, to protest the presentation of the government’s budget planned for that day.

At ASSÉ’s February 21-22 congress, the federation’s member associations voted to frame the April 2 protest as an “ultimatum” to the Liberal government, demanding that the government roll back its cuts to public services and social programs. Based on developments in their local general assemblies, member associations are expected to crystallize ASSÉ’s course of action at the next ASSÉ congress on April 4 and 5.

“We want to send a clear message to the government that they need to reinvest in all public services – for us that should be a priority,” said Godbout. “After that congress, we should have a clear idea of what should happen in the spring.”