New York Holds Demonstration In Solidarity With Montreal's Student Strike

InfiniteStrike.jpg
Marching in the street last night in solidarity with the Quebec student strike.
Yesterday marked the hundredth day of Quebec student's strike, the fourth day since the Quebec government passed an oppressive law intended to break the strike, and, as hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets in defiance of the law, possibly the single largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.

In New York, student groups and other activists made common cause with the Quebecois strikers, picketing the provincial government's offices in midtown, holding a teach-in, and marching through Manhattan, filling the streets.

First, quickly, some background: Quebec has the lowest tuitions in Canada, a legacy of the province's quiet revolution in the 1960s. But a year and a half ago, the government decided to jack tuition up by 75 percent over five years. Student efforts to negotiate went nowhere, and the government ultimately revised the increase up to 82 percent over seven years.

In February, student groups launched what they expected to be a short strike, but it instead turned into a "limitless," open-ended strike. WIth negotiations still stalled, the strike turned into a rolling, day-and-night demonstration, and a massive police response filled the streets of Montreal with tear gas, sound grenades, and rubber bullets.

Then, on Friday, the government further upped the ante, passing BIll 78, which requires a permit for any protest of more than 50 people and institutes steep fines for engaging in protest activity. Under the law, even encouraging others to protest can lead to a penalty. Quebecois responded with defiance, staging the largest protests yet.

In New York, where educational debt is a growing issue and students at Cooper Union, CUNY, and across the SUNY system are facing their own tuition hikes, the Quebec strike clearly resonates. A crowd gathered yesterday afternoon outside the Quebec government's offices in Rockefeller Center, holding signs that read ""Quebec / CUNY students unite! Same struggle, same fight." and "Quebec, New York, Chicago -- police repression has got to go."

"The Quebec government doesn't want to negotiate," Marie-Héléne Graveline, a visiting student from Montreal, told the crowd. "Since Friday, it is illegal to protest against tuition hikes. We should always be free to protest."

redsquares.JPG
Making red squares, symbols of the Quebec student strike, in Washington Square.
Later in the evening, a few hundred people met in Washington Square, discussing issues of education funding and student debt on both sides of the border. Volunteers handed out red felt squares to pin to clothing, a symbol adopted by the Quebecois strikers to demonstrate that tuition hikes put them squarely in the red.

Gregory Rosenthal, a doctoral candidate at Stonybrook who teaches in the SUNY system, said it's a message he can identify with. His students are facing their own five-year "rational tuition increase."

"A lot of my students are the first in their family to go to college," Rosenthal said. "All these kids are working their way through college, working two or three jobs. You might say 'SUNY's only $7,000 a year,' but for a lot of students, especially students who are mothers or fathers, that's a lot."

A little after 8 p.m., the crowd, a mix of students, Canadians and Occupy Wall Street protesters, set off on a march, immediately seizing the center of the street and disrupting traffic. The handful of police on hand appeared unprepared for this, and the march swerved up Broadway, running north against traffic for blocks, before turning east, still in the middle of the street, all the way to Avenue A.

As the march moved south, the police presence began to grow. The marchers found Tompkins Square Park closed and garrisoned with police. An officer told legal observer Sarah Knucke the park was closed because "because a mob, a demonstration,
some kind of mob" was "on its way" and the police had been ordered to
temporarily close the park "for about an hour."

Gideon Oliver, New York President of the National Lawyers Guild, said the police action was unlawful.

"The summary closure of a public park, when New York City rules require that park to be open, flies in the face of those rules, and the rule of law more generally," Oliver said. "Here, the NYPD again used pre-emptive policing, at cost not only to the protesters' rights, but to the rights of others who may have wanted to use and enjoy Tompkins Square Park tonight.

QuebecIlluminator.jpg
The Occupy Wall Street "Illuminator" projector was in effect on the march last night.
As the march turned west again, police claimed the street, forcing protesters onto the sidewalks of St. Mark's Place. Then, on Great Jones just east of Broadway, police announced through a megaphone that "The sidewalk has been temporarily closed," and ordered the demonstrators to leave. The march turned around, ultimately making it to Union Square. Six people were arrested.

Danna, a former student at Concordia University in Montreal, said the importance of the march goes beyond showing solidarity for the Quebecois strikers.

"It's also about what's going on here," she said. "Here, there, and everywhere, the authorities are threatened when students begin to organize and stand up. It's a critical point, the time when people are introduced into the debt system. If you threaten that, it makes some people really nervous."

[npinto@villagevoice.com] [@macfathom]

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27 comments
NYC Infinite Strike
NYC Infinite Strike

NYC students have faced rising student debt for far too long. The strike in Quebec symbolizes a struggle for a system that provides everyone equal opportunity to achieve their full potential. Debt is slavery and education is the liberation that will help us win all our struggles. It is time to bring Quebec's infinite strike to the United States, starting in NYC.

We have created a Facebook page and Twitter to help us organize actions around NYC infinite strike Quebec solidarity marches, please like, follow, and share:

Tonight and every night, infinite student strike! Solidarity with students in Quebec and around the world. It is time to end debt. Washington Square Park at 8PM:

Facebook: http://on.fb.me/JDGC75

Twitter: http://bit.ly/ML0cM7

rEVOLutionnary Angel
rEVOLutionnary Angel

 @Nick:twitter Pinto: If it's possible for you to correct the title as it's not only a "Montreal's sutidents Strike". This is been happening all over Province of Quebec as mentionned by Claude below...

"It is a provincial issue and strikes have been voted in numerous colleges and universities throughout the province.

Massive demonstrations took place in Montreal (and hundreds more smaller ones) but hundreds of marches took place everywhere else.

In Montreal there has been a march every night for 30 days. In Quebec City, 25."

Laura
Laura

Keith, it is not true that only 4 out of 16 German states have no tuition. As I posted in another comment, by 2013 15 out of 16 states won't charge any tuition. (Even if you don' understand German you can probably read this chart ("keine" means "none"): http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/S.... I have studied/study in Germany (Bauhaus-University) and the US (The New School, NYC) and sadly find the quality of my German alma mater much higher than that of my current school (ranked 128 in the 2012 edition of Best Colleges is National Universities (http://colleges.usnews.ranking.... Cost for my education in Germany: 0 Euros for a BA vs in the US: 40,000 Dollars for a MA.

Laura
Laura

- Education is a right, not a privilege. The introduction of "relatively low" tuition fees takes this right away and must be strongly opposed, as thousands of students and education workers righteously do all over the world (most recently Quebec, Spain, New York...). The existence of other government benefits does not influence this right at all.

- An example for a country that provides free education is Germany, my home country. German students fought successfully against the introduction of tuition fees of 500 Euros/semester in the second half of the 2000s - by 2013 education will be completely free again in 15 out of 16 German states.

- Bill 78 does not "add a thin layer of bureaucracy to large assemblies", but imposes high fees on anyone who demonstrates in Quebec without a permission by the police.

Here an excerpt from a summary of the bill, taken from Wikipedia: "Bill 78 declares illegal any picket or "form of gathering" by strike supporters within 50 meters of the "outer limits" of the "grounds" of any university or CEGEP building. The bill requires student associations, unions representing teachers, and CEGEP or university employees to "employ appropriate means to induce" their members to comply with its provisions, or face prosecution.

The bill furthermore declares illegal all demonstrations of over 50 people, organized for any purpose and at any location in Quebec, unless the locations and routes of those locations have been submitted to and approved by Quebec police.

According to the provisions of the bill, any infraction against its prohibitions require offenders to pay fines, which are paid for each day of infraction. Those fines amount to $1,000-$5,000 for individuals, $7,000-$35,000 for student or union leaders, and $25,000-$125,000 per day for student or labor organizations. Fines are doubled following a "second offence." Universities or institutions which do not comply with the provisions of Bill 78 are subject to the daily fees paid by student or labor organizations.

The bill establishes a date after which all education employees must return to work, and prohibits them from striking should this, "by act or omission," prevent students from receiving instruction, or indirectly impede services."The full article can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B...

- While this article is one of the most accurate reports on an OWS related protest I have ever read, I want to add: I took part in the march and was absolutely shocked by the police violence. Knowing that arrests in my home country are respectful and non-violent, I cannot understand why arrests in NYC have to look like fist fights. But seeing three officers kneel on a handcuffed protester, twisting his knees and ankles, only re-enforces my determination in my fight for the people's right to protest. 

To the people in Quebec and their supporters: keep on the good fight!

Claude
Claude

Please note that the strike is not taking place in Montreal, as the title can suggest.

It is a provincial issue and strikes have been voted in numerous colleges and universities throughout the province.

Massive demonstrations took place in Montreal (and hundreds more smaller ones) but hundreds of marches took place everywhere else.

In Montreal there has been a march every night for 30 days. In Quebec City, 25.

H.R. Alyanakian
H.R. Alyanakian

Nice article. Bear in mind that while Quebec tuition fees are the lowest in Canadian terms, other countries have tuition-free options. This article seems to have been prefaced with a limited comparison. Of course, somebody has to pay the cost of higher education, but Germany and Norway, as societies, have managed the trick. They offer more subsidized options. A subsidy is only society investing in something-- and it may or may not pay off let alone be efficient. Societies have the right to choose their own model, but this is not the case in Quebec. Protests are ignored. The real, broader protest in Quebec is, in fact, against mismanagement, expediency and corruption. The Charest government is justifiably apoplectic about the massive protest movement marching into voting booths.

Mark Brosseau
Mark Brosseau

Hello from Montreal.  I am a high school teacher in the south west of Montreal and I would like to thank New Yorkers for their support.  I teach in a low income district and see the results of poverty in our schools.  I would like to address many of the issues that Mr. Lardeck has brought up. Things that Mr. Lardeck might not know.  The 1980s and 1990s teachers salaries were put on a fifteen year freeze, making us the lowest page teachers in North America.  We have come through a decade of reforms that were poorly planned and implemented (created By Mr Legault-one of the opposition leaders).

Concerning the negotiations, the students never walked away.  The government spoke one thing and wrote a different contract.  Student unions wanted clarification. When the Premier Charest proved unwilling to provide that clarification, they rejected the deal.

Concerning Montreal's history of Violent protest.  The Federal, Provincial and Municipal police have infiltrated the protests as the provocateurs in order to incite violence.  The Montreal police have also been investigated on a few occasions by international bodies (like amnesty international) due to their heavy handed tactics.  I was once arrested in a G7 protest, wear several tourists, children and elderly were "kettled" and arrested with the peaceful protesters.  Anyways, I would like to spell check my little essay and write more.  Their is a lot to say but I have to get ready to teach a class in twenty minutes.  Hasta la victoria siempre.

 

Keith Lardeck
Keith Lardeck

After the total 7 year increase, tuition will be ~$3200 / year. Coupled with very generous provincial bursaries and free provincial healthcare and a provincial drug insurance plan, Quebec is an American student's wet dream, tuition hike or not. We also have very strict price control on rental properties - e.g., the provincial board sets rent increases at under 1% per year; meaning rent is incredibly cheap in Quebec. The enormous social spending in Quebec is unparalleled in North America and this issue must be discussed in this context.

I also want to point out that the student associations walked away from negotiations with the government because a tuition increase was on the table. Tuition has been frozen in Quebec since the 70s and this is evident in some of our largest universities. We also have very democratic admission requirements, meaning, anyone can attend but there is an annual user fee. Admission standards in Quebec are TERRIBLY LOW. We also have a junior college system that is completely tuition-free and offers 3 year trade school diplomas. 

Quebec also has the highest high school dropout rate in North America, graduation from junior colleges hovers at 30% and less than 50% of university students complete their degree. Numerous studies have shown that in Quebec, the main barrier to university participation is attitude and greater than 50% of the population sees university as useless. Another important correlate to attendance is parental education --- this is not necessarily the case in the rest of Canada. The point is, tuition is not the main barrier to participation. If it was, the solution is easily rectified by the bursary program which was increased to cover the tuition increase for 64 000 students per year. That is the maximum bursary - those not qualifying for it still can get very generous bursaries. For the duration of my degree, the government paid me $8000/year (free money). 

I will close this diatribe by also informing the reader that Montreal is a city replete with violent protests and rallies. For example, there are annual hockey riots and lootings and there is an annual anti-police brutality protest whose only objective is to incite police brutality. In this context, it is not surprising that the daily and nightly marches are infiltrated by violent provocateurs and therefore there needs to be some level of intervention. Furthermore, the student movement has made it clear that the intention of the protests is to disrupt the downtown and ruin the economy. 

Sacre bleu!
Sacre bleu!

You've just inspired me to watch the clip of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog wreaking havoc in Quebec. Merci!

Stvickers123
Stvickers123

The student negotiators did not leave the table because the tuition increase was on the table, they left because the government negotiators would not place it on the table for discussion.  The government refused to discuss the increase whatsoever.  Please get your facts straight, the government has openly declared that they will not discuss the increase or the rate of increase.

Alex B
Alex B

Annual hockey riots and lootings??? What planet doyou live on!

Qatzel Ok
Qatzel Ok

 How reactionary and ethnocentric that you compare Quebec university tuition to ANGLO REGIONS ONLY. Doesn't the rest of the world exist? Do the traditions of other nations have any value at all?

diceytroop
diceytroop

All to defend a law that bans public protest, which means you're indicting yourself more than anyone else.

JM_PhD
JM_PhD

For your ignorance, M. Lardeck, here's some facts to consider: tuition fees increased by 33% since 2007, or $100 by year. It's not at all what we can call "frozen tuitions". And it's only 141 997 of 455 908 college and university students who can benefit of your incorrectly so-called "very generous provincial bursaries" which is much more loans than bursaries, by the way (see http://www.afe.gouv.qc.ca/fr/p....It's so easy to talk... without numbers!Sorry for my "not perfect" english writing, I'm a "minority-immignant-child-not-intolerant-but-prone-to-bill-101, which protect our culture and traditions against massive intrusions of others, and who LOVE Quebec and their social-democratic policies.

Keith Lardeck
Keith Lardeck

Yes, nearly every year with the largest recent examples being in 2008 and 2010. Nevertheless there have been hockey related street violence even in the interceding years.

Keith Lardeck
Keith Lardeck

It's ethnocentric to compare Quebec with its closest economic, cultural and political partners? And what worldly traditions are you referring to exactly? By the way, there is rampant cultural and linguistic intolerance throughout Quebec society, so the traditions of other nations are often not very welcome here ;)

I should also point out that individual rights are not as central to Quebec democracy as they are in the United States; many collectivist laws that infringe on minority rights are on the books.

Keith Lardeck
Keith Lardeck

It does not ban public protest. It adds a thin layer of bureaucracy to large assemblies --- as is the case in other major cities. Reactionists might disagree but I am a moderate.

Alex B
Alex B

Keith, cut your losses and call it a day. Your racist and superficial observations are old fashioned.  I used to live in the UK, where people laugh at North American accents all the time. But laughing is one thing, despising is another. There are many successful Quebecois artists in France and vice versa. There are thousands of French students in Quebec universities and vice versa. Sure there is bigotry and especially rivalry on both sides - but no more no less than between Anglo America and the UK. Do you speak by experience by the way? I do - I am a consultant and work with French nationals all the time. They LOVE Quebec. I can't speak for the masses of French people, most of whom have never been to Quebec, but again, despise is a very strong word. I've heard that a lot from Anglos wishing to put down Quebec. OMG, if you were to hear what I heard about your accent in the UK...

As for Bill 101... may I ask if you were in Quebec prior to that law? I was, and so was my (French-Canadian) father. Let me tell you that Montreal was a very different place, almost foreign to Frenchies. You want to go back to that? Well we don't. If you had any appreciation for what it means to be a 7million minority in a 300 million English-speaking country, in an English-dominated world, you would agree that Bill 101 is a very small price to pay for cultural survival. And guess what: I know many immigrants who speak perfect French today and are thankful for the law.Anyway, instead of being angry I should probably apologise for what happened to you in Quebec as you obviously had a bad experience here. 

... and regarding German universities, you may have a point there. I'm not saying university should be free... perhaps we need a combination of free and paying universities (as in Japan). Or free universities that have much higher entry standards. Just blindly increasing the tuition was a stupid idea though.

Mike_zappa
Mike_zappa

 Well, I'd like to see a "Bouchard-Taylor" commission being done in the rest of Canada and in the USA to see the results. Does spreading lies like your doing count as racism and intolerance?In fact, you're not totally lying, but you mention facts in a way only to serve the purpose of your twisted vision of Quebec. It shows only your own ethnocentrism.

Keith Lardeck
Keith Lardeck

Quebecois do not feel a close allegiance to France, and the French certainly do not feel any kind of allegiance with Quebec. Ultimately, while there are cultural similarities and a shared language (although the French despise Quebecois french), Quebec culture is North American.

Keith Lardeck
Keith Lardeck

hey, I didn't make that up

look up the Bouchard-Taylor commission of a few years past. they found endemic racism and intolerance throughout Quebec society.

and need I mention bill 101 as the most legitimized form of discrimination in north america (well maybe a close second to the defense of marriage act)? but that'll open a can of worms....

As for Scandinavia, Sweden charges tuition. Also Norway and Finland have much higher taxes than Quebec and they have mandatory military service. Only 4 German states have no tuition and the university quality is laughable (see economist 2011: German universities Mediocre, but at least they're free).

Ren_H
Ren_H

Cultural would be France, and there university tuition fee is non-existant.Anyways, just because elsewhere is worse Quebec should not emulate that. The canadian Anglo and US should emulate Quebec and not the otherway around. The world should try to be better and not worse.

Alex B.
Alex B.

Speak for yourself, my mother immigrated from New York State, my step father from Nova Scotia, my sister's boyfriend from Peru, my friend's parents from Sri Lanka... ALL LOVE QUEBEC! The rampant intolerance you mention is just your personal experience - I'm sure you will hear the same thing in Toronto, NYC, Paris or Timbukutu. We want facts, not anecdotes. Fact: why don't you move to another province...As for the Anglo regions: Qatzel is absolutely right, we don't care what the tuition is like in the rest of Canada or the US, I personally consider Germany and Scandinavia to be far more inspiring models, not only for university tuition but a whole range of issues.Sadly, I'm not sure that Quebeckers (or indeed Canadians) have the discipline and productivity of these countries though.

Stvickers123
Stvickers123

Declaring yourself as a moderate doesn't make you a moderate

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