Though student unions in Quebec have existed in their current form since the mid-sixties, they were only recognised by law in 1983. The law establishes various privileges for student unions such as automatic membership of and levy from all students, seats on various councils such as the administrative board, designated office space and a billboard provided by the campus.
In CEGEPs, only one student union exists per institution. This is important, because 60% of CEGEP students are enrolled in a technical program. Even though most of them don’t go on to university, and a hike in university tuition fees is unlikely to affect them directly, as members of the student union they’re encouraged to participate in discussions, decision-making and organizing. Each CEGEP student unions typically has a membership of 2000 to 6000 students. In total, CEGEP students make up about 200,000 of the 450,000 students enrolled in post-secondary education in Quebec.
In universities, the structure of student unions is less homogeneous; it varies from one institution to another. There are small departmental unions, unions based on the university programs and large, campus-wide unions. Some unions are structured as federations of smaller unions, others not. Some lump both undergrad and grad students into one union, while in other institutions they’ll have separate bodies. As a result of all this, university student unions tend to exhibit more sectarian dynamics, with unions in different parts of the same university that could have entirely different politics and practices, ranging from radical and anti-capitalist to complacent and conservative.
In addition to these local unions, there are also province-wide federations of unions. Three exist today in Quebec : FECQ, FEUQ and ASSE1 .
FECQ and FEUQ are sister organizations, the former grouping CEGEP student unions and the latter, campus-wide university student unions or governments. Both are quite conventional unions, similar to labour federations. Their organizing is top-down, highly centralized and bureaucratic. In terms of politics, they defend leftist values, opposed the tuition fee hike and supported the strike — in limited fashion. The two student groups are close to the Parti Quebecois, one of the two mainstream political parties in the province. Before the 2012 strike, together they represented over 180,000 students and were considered by politicians and media as the legitimate representatives of students.
ASSE, with its emphasis on direct democracy and direct action, is the more radical union. Before the strike, it had a membership of only 45,000 students. With an understanding that more unions would need to join to build a sufficiently large opposition movement, ASSE created a strike coalition, CLASSE by temporarily opening up its structures and conditions to join.
- 1FECQ : Fédération Étudiante Collégiale du Québec (Quebec Federation of College Students)
FEUQ : Fédération Étudiante Universitaire du Québec (Quebec Federation of University Students)
ASSÉ : Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (Association for Solidarity among Student Unions)