In 2010 and 2011, several months before the strike, student unions were very active. They were encouraged to hold general assemblies to discuss the tuition hike and to take a position. Even though it was clear from the beginning that nothing less than an unlimited general strike would have any chance of effectively blocking the hike, many protests and actions were organized as part of an escalation of tactics.
On December 6th 2010, students protested against a government “consultation” of education sector groups (students, labor unions, administrations, etc.) about the tuition hike which was obviously skewed in favor of the policy. There was an attempt to storm the conference floor but it didn’t succeed.
In March 2011, the tuition hike was announced: it would come into effect in September 2012. Small, localized protests happened almost every day over a period of two weeks following the announcement. On the 20th, a meeting of the youth wing of the Liberal party (one of the groups pushing for the tuition hike) was disrupted. An occupation was organized with over 100 students in a finance ministry building on the 24th. On the 31st, student unions stage a one-day strike with a 3000-strong protest and an occupation of the offices of the university administrator’s lobby (also one of the groups pushing for the tuition hike).
Overall, the plan of action was simple: get people on board, launch a massive information campaign, stage a one-day general strike with a big demo and then put out a formal call for an unlimited general strike.
In 2010 and 2011, we focused on smaller-scale protests, training camps and other events with the objective of involving as many students as possible in their student union and in the committees formed around ASSE. By the end of 2011, not only were ASSE’s commitees packed, but cores of activists had gathered around many student unions.
In September 2011, we launched a massive information campaign on campuses under the slogan “Stop the hike”1 . All kinds of material was put out during that period: flyers, leaflets, posters, a website, video clips, research papers, etc. The goal was to get as much of this material into the hands of students as possible and get them thinking and talking about the upcoming tuition hike.
A one-day general strike was planned for November 10th, with a big rally in Montreal. For weeks, the date was stressed as a vital step in the campaign and as a means of building pressure against the government. On many campuses, that strike vote was framed as an ultimatum: a negative response from the government after that day would automatically trigger formal organizing efforts towards an unlimited general strike. In other words, even though talk of an unlimited general strike was widespread among activists at that moment, the November rally was considered as a kind of stepping-stone.
With 200,000 students on strike that day and 30,000 marching in Montreal, November 10th was a resounding success. Never before had so many student unions simultaneously gone on a one-day strike; expectations were blown away.
The rally also led to the very first media coverage of the student campaign to block the hike. Immediately, the government responded with its own pro-hike media campaign. A dedicated website along with radio ads promoted the hike as being essential to maintaining a quality education and claimed the lie that the hike, along with modest increases in student financial aid, wouldn’t hurt accessibility. This government reaction generated lots of anger among students : a storm was brewing.
As the threat of a student strike began to materialize, several opportunist groups in the mainstream left lent official support to the student movement. Chief among them was the Parti Québécois2 , which declared its opposition to the tuition hike and promised to abolish it if elected. As the party foresaw a possible student strike on the horizon, it sought to score political points with this move, even though ideologically-speaking, the party wasn’t opposed to tuition hikes in general, as its vote in favor of the first wave of tuition hikes in 2007 very clearly showed. Big labor federations also extended public support at this moment.