Quebec: We have to stand up to fight to win

Leaflet given out in the student demonstration in Montreal on 26 February 2013

The greatest student strike in the history of Quebec broke out scarcely a year ago. This strike was also the first massive and sustained movement in North America against the austerity measures caused by the sub-prime crisis of 2008. This mobilisation was a tremendous example of a rank and file movement which created an unprecedented crisis in the social history of Quebec. It also demonstrated the limitations of the student movement, and that of all isolated movements, where reformist illusions still have a hold on militants.

This strike was a gigantic school of class struggle for thousands of people. In the struggle we discovered the violence of the police, contempt for bourgeois institutions, especially the capitalist media, the courts that applied “class” justice and arrogance of the bourgeoisie themselves! Many of us will surely remember with some cynicism the rich kids who begged for police intervention so they could go to “their courses”; how some politicians and small time careerists took our six months of sacrifices and sold them out to buy a seat or to get their arses into parliament, as “leaders” they have done well thanks to our injuries and our sleepless nights. This strike taught us those things for sure but we also came to know the courage of those grey mornings on the picket lines. The power of the crowd in actions and demonstrations, was revealed to us whenever we were made to understand time and again by the State’s watchdogs that, yes, we were capable of defending ourselves. We also learned how to hit the bourgeoisie in their wallets by blocking ports, banks and bridges. We have learned what it means to organise ourselves, to see the solidarity in the eyes of hundreds of workers taking to the streets alongside us with cooking pots in their hands. Some of them voted for an illegal or what they called “social” strike to support us (it was only the union bureaucrats who stopped them).

Our chests swelled with pride when we realised it was ourselves, not Leo nor Martine, nor even Gabriel[1], who had given courage to these proletarians, our class brothers and sisters. We have seen these same workers, male and female, organising themselves in autonomous assemblies in each locality, in committees of a support network to aid us. Also we stopped the Liberal tuition hikes, we were not “fucked” by the special law[2], we prevented the college cuts and we won an increase in loans and grants. We have even won what at the time of this sad farce is the main gain, a massive rise in student costs has been probably been set completely aside. We fought, we dragged out of the ruling class each gain with our courage and our guts. You could almost say we won … But …

Unfortunately the strike had a less than glorious end. Not surprisingly, the student mass was tired and the militants terribly weakened by arrests. This contributed to finish off the strike. For a lot of radicalised elements, the reasons for the strike’s failure, the more than likely threat of indexation[3], the implantation of quality assurance, the absence of clear political perspectives was at the end of the struggle due to electoral recuperation. The “Pyrrhic victory” could not be down just to a leadership that had betrayed us.

Sure, the stab in the back of the union bureaucrats who aborted the social strike, or the betrayals of the social democrats and “left” nationalists who sabotaged the struggle in order to gain votes, killed the strike, but there are other reasons. We lost and the only ones to blame are ourselves. If the strike which we had so supported, organised and radicalised was reduced to ashes to serve dirty electoral manoeuvres, it is because we let it happen. Why were the chauvinist Option Nationale and the Parti Quebecois and the social democrats of Quebec Solidaire the big winners of the struggle? Simply because they were organised. We have had nothing better to do than accuse them of behaving like the reformists they are.

We fell into idealism in the belief that the student movement, inter-classist, idealist and liberal, was a terrain on which we could win simply by our presence. We fell head first into the trap of “life style” libertarianism, preferring the adrenalin of the breaking of windows instead of the long and patient work of joining the rank and file to the rest of the working class. We pleaded for tactical diversity rather than unity of action. We spoke a lot about “direct” democracy detached from its social context, rather than prepare to face the bourgeois state directly. We have misled the student federations rather than explain or lead concerted actions. We have criticised the idea of oppression which is often necessary in the middle of a struggle but too little of its material basis. We have spoken and still speak of “humanist”, “non-commodity” education when we know that such an education is only possible under socialism.

Let’s stop nourishing illusions. Our future bosses are in our AGs (general assemblies), our future deputies are in our organising committees. The caretakers in our establishments often have more potential for struggle than many of the people in our classes. We have often feared the students in technical colleges who have shown themselves to be rather distant when faced with demands which don’t seem to affect them rather than trying to join with them. We have to solidarise a lot more with the working class in their struggles. We must get ourselves ready to face the bourgeoisie in its entirety as a class not just the “right”, not just the Parti Quebecois. We have bitterly established what a cul de sac it was to be led by the party of “the ballot box and the streets” that is Quebec Solidaire. We are in a war. It’s time to act as if we were.

For several comrades today is the beginning of the struggle against indexation. We have to go further. Today must be the beginning of a real movement against austerity. The struggle against the odious form of the unemployment insurance as well as all the other measures of various tax extortions by the state has to be better led. Furthermore the Parti Québecois will attack the public sector workers in the next contact negotiations. A class opposition must be built against capitalist austerity. It won’t be the reformist parties, nor the union bureaucrats, nor the false opposition of the nationalists who will do it. We must organise ourselves together, whatever our sector of activity inside structures completely autonomous of any

bureaucracy. This is why I am making the choice to join a revolutionary, internationalist and communist organisation. We want to defeat a system which deprives us of everything, even a future. We know that its managers are ready and willing to defend it once again. The world will not be changed through an artificial consensus or half-measures. We need an international proletarian revolution and to lead it we need a class party.

A student sympathiser of the Internationalist Workers’ Group

[1] All the first names of student leaders in the struggle of 2012.

[2] So-called Law 78 brought in by Prime Minister Charest to prevent protests.

[3] Indexation is the policy of the new government of the Parti Québecois which means linking the student fees to the cost of living, or in short, another form of attack.

Sunday, April 7, 2013