Street Politics 101

2013, Politics  -  34 min Leave a Comment
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In the spring of 2012, a massive student strike in opposition to a tuition hike rocked the streets of the Montréal for over six months. Protests and militant street actions became part of the daily and nightly reality of this Canadian metropolis. Several times during this tumultuous spring, the numbers in the streets would reach over one hundred thousand. Police routinely clubbed students and their allies, and arrested them by the hundreds.

Some were even banned from entering the city. But every time the cops struck, the student movement got bigger and angrier. There were rumors that the police budget was going bust and that many cops were taking leave due to the intensity of the situation.

Premier of Quebec enacted a draconian anti-protest law that would impose massive fines to individual and student unions. The mayor of Montreal pled with citizens to intervene and ask the students to abandon the streets and go back to school. But every day people joined the strikers in the streets and the pressure would not cease.

Then an election was called. The sovereignist party Quebecois won with the promise of freezing the tuition increase and scrapping the anti-protest law. For many within the student movement this was a victory that they were aiming for and one that was obtained through the peaceful mobilization of thousands, but for anarchists this was no triumph.

This is a story about how the arrogance of a government under-estimated a dedicated group of students who through long-term organizing laid the foundation for some of the largest mass demonstrations in Canada's history. In Quebec universities and junior colleges have federations that represent students when dealing with the school administration or the government.

Of the three major federations the ASSE stands out for its mandate to achieve free education for all and for its affinity to radical politics, specifically something called "Syndicalisme de Combat" or Combative Syndicalism. Combative Syndicalism is premised on established a power struggle with a state or boss through means of direct action rather than negotiation or conciliation.

In 2010 the liberal Premier of Quebec Jean Charest announced he would increase tuition by $325.00 a year starting in 2012. This prompted the three major federations to issue a strike warning but also led to the ASSE opening up its membership to any students who wanted to strike under its directive of free education. This new incarnation of the ASSE became known as CLASSE.

Charest ignored the ultimatum and the strike officially kicked off in February 2012. Students and their supports started pinning red squares to their clothes. This was a symbol used in previous student strikes and it became a simple act for anyone to show solidarity with the students.