More than 50 people attended a recent event at the University of Toronto, on Thursday 8th June, to hear two Quebec student activists. Nichola R. and Mohamed B. are students at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and supporters of La Riposte, Fightback’s sister French-language paper. Nichola and Mohamed were invited by Fightback and the Toronto Young New Democrats to come speak to students, workers, and those interested to learn about their experiences in the midst of the largest movement in Canadian history. The speakers shared their experiences, went into the theoretical approach necessary to build, and outlined the right methods to spread the student movement across the country.
Both students analyzed the history of the student movement in Canada. The inspiration from May 1968 in France, which spread from the students to the working class, was crucial not just for Quebec but student resistance across the world. Student resistance throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, helped explain the contemporary situation in the province. In Quebec the movement’s leadership, typically associated with the ASSÉ student union, openly promoted the culture of fighting student unionism. Strike tactics, were seen historically as an effective tool against the state. This helped contextualize what needs to be done in English Canada to build an effective student movement.
Police repression by the Charest government was also discussed. Mohammed and Nichola were witnesses, and victims, to the brutal practices carried out by Quebec police over the past 16-weeks of struggle. Tactics were proposed on how to resist state repression and how to understand the root problems which leads to the injustice. Self defence against the state cannot be won through individual methods, for example, and need to be discussed and democratically organized by student unions and groups.
The speakers discussed the importance of a Marxist analysis of events in order to understand and develop solutions for the movement. The austerity measures which are being implemented under the current capitalist framework are affecting every sector of society, not just students. Considering the intransigence of the Jean Charest government, it is vital for the student movement to reach out to the working class. The student unions need to send delegations of students to the different factories and workplaces; this is one of the key lessons of France 1968 and which helped to turn a student movement into the largest general strike in the advanced capitalist countries. The students need to speak to their parents, friends, and family members who are facing the same types of cuts and austerity as students. The students have put tremendous pressure on the Charest government by going on strike. Nichola and Mohammed asked the crowd to imagine the effect of a Canada-wide strike that also included working-class Canadians. Only with the involvement of the broader sector of society can students win in this struggle.
Nichola also focused on the role played by the mass student unions in helping to give the guidance and tools for student activists to reach out to the general student population. In particular, CLASSE was organizing general assemblies and meetings with students for months before the strike began. Because of CLASSE’s status as a mass organization of students in Quebec, this greatly helped to focus the forces fighting for a resistance to the tuition hike in Quebec. Both Nichola and Mohammed said students in Ontario must reach out to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and push for the CFS leadership to speak out for free education and be prepared to help organize a student strike in Ontario and the rest of the country. Speakers from the crowd mentioned that progress was actively being made, particularly in Toronto. Student union leaders in Toronto have already, in recent days, come out and mentioned the need for “free education”. Nichola and Mohamed commended the developments, and asked that we continue to increase the pressure. Both activists praised the “Open Letter to the CFS” which had spread across the country, and put pressure on various student unions to respond. It has inspired not only students in English Canada, but students in Quebec who are finally seeing a real step towards solidarity in this struggle. Nichola explained that our student unions have the resources and they have the power; therefore, it is our duty to push the leadership of these bodies to actually represent (and fight for) the demands of rank-and-file students.
The enthusiastic questions and commentary from the crowd was evident of the appreciation that was there for Nichola and Mohammed’s appearance. In the subsequent collection, nearly $100 was raised to help fund their trip to Toronto. There is a sense of urgency for us to act now — both to help our brothers and sisters fighting in Quebec, but also for us to be able to fight for our own rights and standards. Get involved with Fightback and be part of this growing movement!
For more pictures from this event, please visit our Flickr site!