The 2012 Quebec student strike has demonstrated yet again the potential and power of democratic and combative movements. Unions and social movements that seek inspiration from the strike need to start thinking about moving towards direct democracy and focus not just on building appropriate formal structures, but also on fostering a culture of horizontalism. Just as importantly, they must do away with any illusions they might still have about dialogue and collaboration with state institutions. Any leverage students had against the government, they got by disrupting business as usual through paralyzing campuses with the strike and direct action.
Above all, the strike could not have begun or survived without the sustained engagement and dedication of students who have continued to organise even through defeat and deception. Movement-building is a task that needs to be conceived over the long term, with failures anticipated along the way.
We must also warn the reader who might be tempted to think, after reading this, that CLASSE (ASSE) was the perfect embodiment of the ideals and principles we have sought to highlight – it was not. Whatever the perspective, CLASSE was not the holy beacon of democracy and radicalism that it was made out to be in some quarters.
In this sense, we might be accused of glossing over the contradictions of the movement. But the aim here was to provide a toolkit, not write a full, thorough assessment of the strike. We hope, nonetheless, to be able to improve it in the future with extra material and debates.
It is perhaps fitting, then, to end this endeavor by touching on such a debate. The outcome of the strike seems to have comforted some in their view that a parliamentary party should be part of any strategy aimed at profound, widespread social change.
Yet, since being elected and abolishing the tuition hike and Bill 78, the PQ has reneged on many of its progressive proposals. It has implemented an austerity budget complete with cuts in social programs, including in the education sector. Furthermore, after rallying major labor unions and the two student federations at a special summit on higher education, it has reintroduced the tuition hike in a “softer” form, establishing a permanent increase of 3% per year.
The PQ is showing once again that election campaign promises are far too often the victims of ruling class realpolitik, and that left-leaning or leftist parties cannot be trusted with the outcomes of our struggles. Our stance is that any electable political party, once in power, would follow the elite’s political program, regardless of the radical origins of its own program.
Instead, we propose that we should rely on nothing but ourselves, building our own capacities to resist austerity and institutionalise change through self-organisation. We did not achieve complete victory over the neoliberal agenda or against tuition fee increases, but we forced a serious slow down. It is now the duty of the next student generation to continue the fight and push toward a free education – and a free society.