Spring 2015 Anti-Austerity Movement in Quebec: A Critical Retrospective of the Organizing
Photo by David Gray-Donald
This piece was requested by activists/alternative media outside Quebec seeking to understand the Spring (Printemps) 2015 mobilisation and the way it ended; it was written during the summer months and the conclusion has been updated to reflect recent developments.
A wet snow fell in Montreal, Quebec, on March 21, 2015. Thousands of people walked in a demonstration through the streets that afternoon and 38 000 students went on strike two days later, March 23rd, launching a much-anticipated movement, Printemps 2015 (Spring 2015). Spring 2015 was to be a mass mobilization in Quebec against austerity and fossil fuels.
Quebec was at times heated in the weeks that followed as students blocked classes to enforce the strike, demonstrations took to the streets in Montreal nightly for a couple weeks, police clashed with protesters, and debates about austerity and the legitimacy of the Spring 2015 tactics dominated media space. An anti-austerity demonstration of 75,000 was organized by ASSÉ, a provincial umbrella organization of radical student associations, on April 2.
May 1st, International Workers Day, or May Day, was a great success and saw 35 labour unions and over 200 community groups on strike. Along with students on strike and others there were effective disruptions of business as usual around the province that day, including blocking office buildings, highways, a construction site, and marching through Montreal. These actions resulted from collaborations of historic proportions across sectors of society, joining students, unions and union base members, unaffiliated individuals, and community organizations like housing groups and women’s shelters in new ways.
But the warm, sunny May Day signified a symbolic end to the spring mobilization, a culmination of fall and winter organizing, not a launching point for the movement into a next, heightened phase. Not yet, at least.
Precious little, if anything, was actually won in the spring. The Quebec Liberal government, faced with these protests, showed no signs of slowing down or of changing course from their stated austerity agenda. So, knowing that the movement against austerity isn’t nearly over, what gains from the spring can be consolidated and used moving forward? And what can other social movements forming, organizing, and mobilizing to win today learn from Quebec’s Spring 2015?
Three years ago, the 2012 mass mobilization against tuition increases in Quebec had, after all, demonstrated one way to win against neoliberal politics, the pervasive ideology of eroding what is collective in exchange for a world wherein only those with money have access to services and control of resources. The spring and summer of 2012 brought hundreds of thousands into the streets and transformed a student strike into a popular struggle. As a result of the strength of that movement, the Liberal government in power at the time hastily called an election that backfired as voters removed the Liberals from power.
By spring 2015 the question in the movement was bigger than tuition and concerned the whole economic-political system, just as organizers three years earlier suspected it would. Since 2012, attacks on public services like education had continued, first under the nationalistic left-seeming Parti Quebecois and then again by the Liberals who were handed a majority government in an early election in April 2014. The Liberals quickly turned their sights to public-sector pensions and to healthcare, both highly controversial areas. Through those years an analysis critiquing austerity politics had been developing in Quebec, spurred on by think tanks, by well-networked organizations fighting neoliberalism, by student associations, and through media reporting on austerity at the local level and in Europe.
Keeping in mind the context of Quebec, Canada, North America and the world in 2015, one might ask: what would it take to organize and build a movement able to stand up to the powers that be? What would people be fighting for and what would the demands be? Would it be a class struggle within white circles, ignoring society’s systemic racism and colonialism, led by white men seeing gender struggles as secondary, or would it be intersectional, centring and amplifying marginalized voices?
Building Power Relationship Against Austerity
For this we must turn to how the Spring 2015 mobilization was organized. Our particular focus is behind the scenes in the student sphere.
At its tail end, the 2012 student movement was close to attaining its ultimate vision of reaching beyond students and becoming a common front of resistance throughout Quebec society. This felt especially near when popular revolt flared up and out into the streets against the unconstitutional Law 78 limiting freedom of assembly. And though the dream wasn’t quite achieved in 2012, it was certainly not forgotten. Part of the allure of Spring 2015 organizing was the promise of rekindling that spirit.
When schools resumed session in September 2014, a motion to create a Printemps 2015 (Spring 2015), P15 for short, mobilization committee was voted at the general assembly (GA) of AFESH, the Faculty of Social Sciences Student Association at UQAM (Université du Québec à Montréal). The idea was to go beyond the traditional ASSÉ context of coordinating among student unions or associations and create spaces open to anyone building cross-sector solidarity and collaboration between labour unions, community groups, workers in precarious jobs, the unemployed, parents, etc. AFESH encouraged other student associations to take similar mandates so that a power relationship, un rapport de force, could be built against austerity.
Various other ASSÉ member associations voted in their GAs to create P15 committees, thus a mandate to support P15 committees was adopted at the fall 2014 ASSÉ Congress. While there were groups active at times outside Montreal, the meetings that AFESH had called initially continued to be the Comité Large P15, the large or broad P15 committee with various functional sub-committees. Though the large P15 committee included individuals from many different P15 local committees, this Montreal and UQAM centrism would have noticeable effects, discussed later.
The concept of mobilization committees was not new in the Quebec context. The idea was to build common mobilisation materials, plans and strategies, which would then be discussed in the GAs and other democratic instances. Thus the role of P15 was to help coordinate a broader movement. The unique idea was that “it was meant to be a mobilising space where different people could be involved, a structure where those who didn’t have an association - a union, etc. - could take part,” explains Jaouad Laroussi, a student organizer involved in P15. While the vision was commendable, mobilising and organizing students in this context posed a challenge and created divisions as detailed next.
“P15 was formed in response to the many criticisms of ASSE in recent years” says another participant of P15. This action was partly as a result of the dearth of activity and planning on the part of ASSÉ (its executives and members) after the Liberals announced their austerity plans leading up to their elections in April 2014. Although P15 became an ASSÉ mandate, a part of the membership and a great majority of ASSÉ executives were not in favor of the idea. But in principle it shouldn’t really matter if the executives agreed or not, particularly in the direct democracy context, as they had a mandate to support it.
Throughout the 2012 tuition mobilization, mobilisation for which began in 2010, students had moved forward through a defined process of direct democracy. This involved discussing, debating, and voting on positions and actions at individual student associations’ GAs. Simultaneously there was communication between member associations and individuals through ASSÉ structures like the listserv and training camps. Grassroots decisions would be brought to ASSÉ’s congresses, and, if supported through member delegate votes, would become ASSÉ mandates, building a rapport de force at the provincial level. This was also the case in the expanded version of ASSÉ created for the 2012 strike, CLASSE. This system of direct democracy, flavoured with combative syndicalism provided accountable structure both at the level of associations as well as ASSÉ overall. Though slow at times, this process ensured wide buy-in among students at the grassroots for actions, particularly a strike.
P15 was different. Though it had been created by student associations and was financed by them, “it wasn’t meant to be a democratic structure in the student milieu,” says Jaouad Laroussi. It was created as an autonomous space, to complement existing ASSÉ structures, and was not meant to be a decisional space. All decisions were to be made by general assemblies and other democratic instances.
Given that ASSÉ had a P15 mandate, at the least it was expected to provide support on the communications and logistics front, in addition to mobilisation. In late fall 2014, many, including elected ASSÉ committee members, noted the lack of collaboration on the part of ASSÉ. ASSÉ, as an organization, was not following in step with P15’s mobilization pace. ASSÉ focused on mobilising for and organizing a massive demonstration and strike in Montreal on April 2nd, their annual demonstration when ASSÉ members traditionally vote for a strike of a day to a few days. Its website and mobilization materials were noticeably disconnected from P15, whereas ASSÉ could have as well mobilised for the strike that began March 23rd.
Adding to this dynamic, communication between the two groups was sparse. “There was in general a division between people who were working in ASSÉ committees and those working in committees of P15,” says Laroussi. “People weren’t going to each others meetings.” Aspects of pride, difference of opinion over tactics and politics, and interpersonal conflict further frayed the relationships.
Presented with this situation, the masterminds of P15 took it upon themselves to move things forward. However, in the heat of organizing, from fall to winter P15 transformed from being an inter-sectoral mobilisation committee to a sort of a group unto itself. It became a group that had a media line, spokespersons and a presence as an organisation - all of it with neither proper processes nor an accountability structure. Pointing to the phenomenon referred to as a “phantom exec” of P15, an organizer active in a local committee of P15 said that “[t]here were organizers of P15 meeting outside of the P15 large committee and bringing the results of their work session there to be “approved” [at the P15 meetings] so it could go fastest. The result was no real discussion, but mostly rubber-stamping. Although, many local P15 committee worked very well on local campuses or workplaces, to mobilise, to bring people together.”
It is a regular practice in the student movement that a small group, mobilisation committee or not, mastermind the strategies and write motions, which are then brought to democratic instances for debate, discussion and votes. P15 was being the mastermind, but the problem was that it also became a representative body, with no real representation and without any accountability. Further, it mostly became a space for self-selected group of people in Montreal who had connections, who were in certain networks, or for those who felt comfortable enough to attend. This, predictably, became a space dominated by white francophones, and by their analysis of the situation. In general it was not a welcoming nor available space for those not in the “in-crowd”, people of colour or marginalised communities.
At the height of the spring mobilisation, P15’s processes had become more centralised, bordering on being top-down, rather than largely bottom-up as one would expect in a direct democracy. “The tyranny of structurelessness”, a concept immortalized by Jo Freeman in the 1970s, was commonly referenced when speaking of P15.
“P15 had no legitimacy to speak for the base, and the spokespersons had no accountability” says Benjamin Gingras, another student organizer and a then member of ASSÉ mobilisation committee. “It had no coordination - people didn’t know what was going on and who to talk to. Collective decisions weren’t really there, and it was very UQAM-centric. It’s these few people that decided the media line, and decided upon events.” This was in stark contrast to the direct democracy to which the 2012 student movement owed much of its success.
Divisions between student organizers about P15 and the mobilization for spring grew through the cold winter months. It is important to note that a great number of people and groups participating actively in P15 were also members of ASSÉ, which is the reason why P15 was also a mandate of ASSÉ, though it was largely ignored. A prominent contingent active in the P15 committees were anarchists (some called them post-structuralists, but in terms of praxis they were more spontaneist/autonomist/insurrectionist), seeing the group as not bound by processes, cumbersome regulations and bureaucracy. This group pushed for swift action in the face of the Liberal’s deep austerity cuts and called for a strike at very short notice. Many in the ASSÉ membership including a majority of ASSÉ executives, who could be termed as syndicalist/unionist/anarcho-communist (some P15 proponents refer to them as socialists, social democrats, Trotskyites and so on), instead favoured a cautious approach, suggesting to wait for unions to take first steps. People with this tendency favoured a strategized escalation, pointing to the necessity of taking time to mobilize if the movement was to be strong and impactful.
Compared to 2012 general unlimited strike (GGI, grève générale illimité), which was two years in the making/escalating, six months for spring 2015 (October 2014 to March 2015) indeed seems too short of a period to call for a general strike. Still, it was referred to as unlimited (GGI) or renewable (GGR) strike.
In this organizing context, the question of “was there a suitable escalation of pressure tactics?” must be asked. People, students in this case, need to be politicized – need to understand the issue, and be convinced that all other means of pressure tactics (eg. symbolic actions, local actions, sit-ins, small and large demos etc) were tried before asking them to go on strike - to miss classes and sacrifice their studies, and maybe a semester (see figure). A student strike, on previous occasions, like 2012 and 2005 and regularly before that dating back to the 1960s, had been the ultimate step in a process of increasing pressure tactics. A combination of steady escalation of pressure tactics and direct democracy in the past (like in 2012) insured little opposition from students when voting and implementing a strike. It also serves to mobilise the base (see figure). Benjamin Gingras, a member of the ASSÉ mobilisation committee adds that “a GGI is the ultimate tool we’ve got, it’s our last resort. We should use it carefully, and with full preparation, mobilisation, and escalation of pressure tactics.”
Escalation of pressure tactics (An illustration, inspired by numerous drawings on the blackboards by various organizers).
The student body in 2015 included many who were involved in the strike of 2012, and a few from the 2005 strike, who were impatient to get to the next stages of collaborating with labour unions and the community sectors. However, campuses in 2015 mostly had a new cohort of students who had seen 2012 from afar but had not organized it nor been on the ground through it. The work of mobilization needed to be done almost from scratch for this group. The hasty preparation for spring 2015 risked rushing through this process. “Some student associations weren’t ready, and yes its partly true [that we didn’t have a proper escalation of means of pressure]” says Laroussi. The strategic reasons for the expedited mobilisation are discussed later.
“Many CEGEPs [junior colleges] outside of Montreal had a 3-4 day strike,” says student organizer Benjamin Gingras, “which was a huge accomplishment for them. But people from P15 were disappointed that it wasn’t long enough. Similarly, local sovereignty was undermined at different times throughout P15. That is not solidarity!” The examples of CEGEPs Drummondville F-X Garneau in Quebec City, and St-Jérôme are pertinent here. P15 organisers mobilized for a renewable strike (GGR) on these campuses, which were not mobilised enough and were not ready for a long strike (GGI/GGR). This was done without consulting with local student association executives, who were mobilising for a one-day strike (assisted by the ASSÉ executives – internal and mobilization committee). Reflecting these actions, Gingras, who was part of ASSÉ mobilisation committee, explains, “P15’s mobilization for a GGI on campuses that couldn’t possibly vote for an extended strike undermined the mobilization that was being done by the local activists. […] Students were often confused and angered by what they saw as dishonesty on behalf of their executive. Saint-Jérôme and Garneau didn’t go on a one-day strike, they lost their vote. Drummondville however did succeed in voting a one-day strike for April 2nd (their first since 2012).” Gingras concluded, “they [P15] did more harm than good to any potential strike movement.”
As early as November 2014 there had been troubling signs in the way mobilization was being done. A few actions had been organized, seemingly only through Facebook events, with the expectation that people were mobilized enough and would come en masse to actions, sometimes risking confrontation with police forces. Myriam Tardiff, active in the 2012 student movement, and in a local strike committee at university level, Solidarity Concordia, wrote a widely circulated critique following these instances, “A Monumental Flop”. Tardiff noted that Quebec was not in the heated summer of 2012, and that the actions need to be organized with care and inclusiveness. She later adds, “I like the concept of combative care,” and that political organizing requires the hard work of creating intersectional solidarity networks and relationships between people based on social justice and accountability. It was a much needed reminder in the context of frantic P15 organizing.
A Strategic Move? What Really Happened?
In order to understand the quick escalation to a strike, which was called in January, only after a few months of mobilisation, to be launched in March, one needs to parse out why events unfolded as they did.
P15 early mobilization materials called for a two-week strike to begin in the spring. This would lead up to and extend beyond April 1st, 2015. April 1st was significant as it marked the ending of the contracts between the Quebec government and the province’s major public sector unions, representing hundreds of thousands of workers. As the P15 material said of March 21st: “that date seems to be the most symbolic and strategic for the most mobilized campuses to initiate the coming strike. In launching a strike a few days before April 1st, students send a clear message to unions and the entire population of Quebec: we are ready to make the government back down, and to struggle together with workers.”
The stated objective of the strike, a sound one if it had happened, was to free up time to carry out actions of solidarity and make space for the unions to act, ideally going on strike, and creating a broad, united front against the government. But due to Quebec labour law, public sector unions, particularly those working in essential services, are prohibited from striking during the first few weeks after their collective agreements expire. Adding to the improbability of a widespread labour strike in early spring, contract negotiations were distinctly absent from the campaign of the public sector unions, Refusons l’austérité (Let’s Refuse Austerity!).
The student strike was a show of solidarity with union membership, but it was wishful thinking that unions would be mobilized enough to jump into a strike the day their contracts expired. In any case, anticipation for the spring grew, largely a product of P15’s mobilization, and as actions were carried out in late winter, expectations for a wide-ranging strike rivaling the scope of 2012’s Maple Spring took hold in some spaces.
While competing visions for the spring surfaced early that season, they became starker as the strike progressed. Before the first two weeks of the student strike were over and the University semesters were coming to an end, the ASSÉ executive sent out a reflection note/proposal to its members. In it the executives suggested a “strategic withdrawal” in the spring, shifting focus to a fall mobilization. P15, at this point led by the mysterious “phantom exec”, quickly released a statement, “The ASSÉ won’t bring the Spring”, blasting ASSÉ for suggesting a momentary de-escalation. P15 instead called for full-steam-ahead mobilization through the spring. This was discussed during protests in the streets and among student organizers. Ultimately, after a few days the ASSÉ executives were fired during their congress by the votes of delegates of member associations, who had mandates from their general assemblies.
The suggestion of the ASSÉ executives was obviously not well received. In their stated system of direct democracy, the executives should not be directing students, but taking mandates and direction from the base, the membership. So it was not acceptable that the executives and committee members of ASSÉ actively and publicly spoke against the strike. That should have been a grassroots decision in association’s general assemblies, which are meant for discussions and deliberations and, ultimately, to take informed decisions. ASSÉ’s public opposition to the strike was quickly picked up by the media to broadcast an anti-strike discourse to the public sphere.
The mobilization noticeably contracted at that point and, as of April 2nd, strike numbers dwindled, reducing to near zero outside Montreal. UQAM was one of the few schools with associations still on strike, and partly due to a lacking rapport de force, the administration had obtained a court injunction to stop classes from being blocked, thus to stop students enforcing the strike.
An occupation of a prominent UQAM building was sparked because the administration had called police on students picketing a class on strike, but the occupation was quickly brought to a close when the university administration allowed riot police into their premises to drive people out. This was perhaps the height of force used against protesters in the spring, but was not an isolated incident, and repression on the part of the UQAM administration, including expelling students and having cops arrest students, added to an atmosphere where dissent was criminalized and stamped out by the powers that be. Professors, on the day UQAM called the police to campus, made a line of defense between riot cops and students, and supported students in various ways at other times.
Interestingly, a student at UQAM whose arrest became the most public, featuring photos on first page of newspapers, was a person of colour (POC). Even more interesting is the fact that not many POC are activists or “militants” at UQAM, unlike say at an Anglo university like Concordia. Visible minorities comprise roughly 25% of population in Montreal proper, but French-speaking activist groups are disproportionately white and faculties such as Social Sciences at UQAM are even more white. While this arrest was considered political profiling by the defense lawyer, one wonders if there was a hint of racial profiling too, as seen in many other facets of life in Montreal.
These incidents at UQAM had the effect of shifting the focus of P15 towards that campus and the repression and expulsion of students there.
Overall, P15 was trying to incite a mass movement on a population (including the students at UQAM) which was not mobilized at the level they wished. Many people didn’t know about the dangers of austerity, or simply its definition and what it means. It is difficult to successfully skip the slow, laborious steps of popular education and base-building in a mass mobilization process.
Due to considerable efforts on behalf of P15 organisers, student activists and many other groups, International Workers Day on May 1st was a strong showing for the movement.
The base membership of several unions, notably CEGEP (junior college) teachers, successfully pushed to go on strike that day, overriding the leadership of the big union federations. Leading up to and through the spring there was a mobilizing of union membership that in turn radicalised the central union organizations. For example, CCMM, the Montreal grouping of major union CSN, joined the May 1st anti-capitalist demonstrations instead of participating in what are usually polite flagship union rallies.
In addition to constant coordination with the union executives as well as the base by P15 organizers, students and community groups holding joint or solidarity actions at union locations and hospitals helped mobilize this union base.
“The biggest victory of the movement,” Laroussi says, “was the creation of convergences, new alliances; some were created, and it’s these connections that I think need to be successfully preserved.”
Looking forward, a video by a member of P15 states that the “spring mobilisation served as a base to escalate for the fall”. And that was the gamble of calling a strike in the spring, one which proved short-lived. If it worked, the student strike of spring 2015 will be seen as a spark that prompted unions to use their collective power to oppose austerity measures throughout all sectors of Quebec society. If the gamble failed, it will have diminished the gravity of a strike action, contributed to burnout among organizers, and diminished the credibility of students organizing to take oppositional stances with the government.
Racial Justice and Decolonizing in the Movement
The anti-racist, anti-colonial mandates voted by ASSÉ/CLASSE at the peak of the 2012 movement have remained largely unapplied over the years. Some initiatives were made to bring the discussion to the forefront, notably during the Montreal Student Movement Convention in summer 2014 with a discussion on how the movement can be anti-racist, in solidarity with people of colour and in general be more open and inclusive. A similar workshop was also offered at the ASSÉ feministe training camp in March 2015 at the initiative of one of the authors.
Such initiatives leading up to and during P15 bore little fruit with regards to the inclusion of people of color in the movement. The organizing space, as in the past, remained dominated by white people, for the most part Francophones, and the mobilisation did little to take into consideration the fact that regressive measures such as austerity in the end hit and affect the marginalized communities more than anyone else. The spring 2015 mobilization in Quebec, like that in 2012, was not a welcoming organizing space for marginalized communities, though it had shown some signs of promise.
An attempt was made to bring attention to the effects of austerity on both people of colour and Indigenous peoples during the early stages of P15. While the analysis about POC never came out, a flyer on “Austerity and First Nations” educated people on how important it was to be in solidarity with Indigenous peoples:
“The austerity agenda also hits Indigenous peoples the hardest: funding for their social programs and services are cut first and deepest […] But the frontlines of impact are also the forefront of change. In territories across Quebec, First Nations have been the fiercest opponents of this elite’s agenda.”
Some similar progress can be seen as a result of P15, as ASSÉ voted in their annual congress in April 2015 a mandat to be in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples resistance to colonial practices. This was an upgrade to the existing anti-colonial mandate from 2012. To what extent this mandate will be put into practice remains to be seen.
Melissa Mollen Dupuis, a prominent member of the Indigenous community and spokesperson of Idle No More movement, states on the progress of Indigenous solidarity that “solidarity isn’t built instantly, and the good thing is that the dialogue is started! And let’s say that it’s an immense progress from 1990”, referring to the Kanehsatà:ke siege. The events of that summer 25 years ago centred around the resistance of Mohawk people to colonial practices when Quebec’s military, the SQ, opened fire on the indigenous people in a confrontation over land commonly referred to as the Oka Crisis.
Indigenous peoples in Quebec and Canada have been at the forefront of oppositional social movements, including the impressive 2013 mobilization dubbed Idle No More. With these communities rising up, one is left wondering why we, who are on their land, haven’t been working with them in movement building.
Another gain in spring 2015 was the fact the struggle against fossil fuels was linked to austerity. Though this was not an easy pairing nor an obvious connection to organizers and onlookers alike, a number of actions were organized to this aim. These actions and this overall attempt were commendable, however one fundamental critique has been put forward. Front-line and indigenous communities directly affected by fossil fuel exploitation were not prevalent in this discourse.
A women’s sub-committee was created as part of P15 committees but ran into problems and by February 2015 had separated from P15. A different group named FUCA (Femmes Unis Contre l’Austérité; Women United Against Austerity), a new group that formed in February 2015, showed some signs of intersectional analysis of what was unfolding in society. FUCA, formerly a women’s sub-committee of P15 who left the P15 fold stating domination by men and lack of feminist analysis, was promising in several ways. It wanted to be a women’s movement and not a student’s. It attracted more than students to include workers, poor women, women at home, people from LGBT community, in particular some trans folks. People of colour, when present, would be very much the minority. At one event, a brunch, people from Women of Diverse Origins were able to talk about how austerity was affecting marginalised communities.
The analysis, among some, acknowledged that what white middle class circles call austerity is a day-to-day reality for other communities. It was also noted that what some protested as isolated incidents of police brutality were regular occurrences in other parts of Quebec. However, this instance of intersectional exchange wasn’t built upon, and the movement as well as subsequent events by FUCA remained fairly white and francophone, leaving issues of race and that of marginalised communities in the audio recording of the intersectional brunch.
P15 was against a fossil fuel economy in its core messaging, but did little to work with indigenous communities. Some promotional materials mentioned indigenous peoples, but little was done to, for example, work with Mohawk communities whose lands are still occupied and who continue to be denied the right to self-determination. One way to go forward would be to open spaces so that diverse voices are heard and that organizers themselves have a chance to learn and understand the effects of austerity on the marginalized peoples and integrate that in their analyses. The effect of this would be seen in popular education materials but also, with sufficient internal reflections, has a potential to intrinsically transform the perspectives beyond those of the organisers and activists.
Perhaps the main success of P15 was the creation of convergences and networks as the demographic involved went beyond students to include union members, people working precarious jobs, those working in the community sector, the unemployed and so on.
The task ahead is to maintain these links and networks as we mobilise towards a general strike in fall 2015.
The popular motto for leading a strike mobilisation so far has been to Unite the Left, Rally the Center, and Isolate the Right. Had there been enough time, the divisions between ASSÉ and P15 could have been probably resolved. Austerity, also, was not a straightforward issue, unlike a tuition hike, or some other student related issue that is focused and contained. The mobilisation for Printemps 2015, however, can be considered as an escalation process towards a potential general student strike this fall.
In their annual congress in April, ASSÉ voted to mobilise for an unlimited general strike in fall and have created a mobilisation hub http://unmouvement.org (One Movement) laying out the problem and reasons why the pressure needs to be escalated to a strike. This strike mandate is confirmed in the September congress. ASSÉ also initiated an informal coalition, Rassemblement Syndical en Education (Union Gathering for Education) to unite and strategize anti-austerity efforts of various unions in the education sector.
The mobilisation advanced at a number of fronts over the summer months and concrete outcomes are seen this fall, such as the militant members of ASSÉ have already voting a number of one-day strikes and have mandates for unlimited strike later in the semester. As for the labour unions, Autonomous teacher’s federation (FAE), representing 34,000 teachers, was on strike on September 30th. The 150,000 strong demonstration on October 3rd by the Common Front, composed of a number of public sector unions, gave an ultimatum of general strike to the government.
Despite the spectre of special law that could force labour back to work, the steps towards a general (social) strike are firm. Starting with the week of October 26, Common Front member unions in health care, social services, school boards, colleges, government agencies and the public service will be on rotating strikes. Some are working for improvements of working conditions through contract negotiations and others are trying to push a society-wide rejection of austerity in all its forms.
Intensifying the pressure, the community sector also gearing up for a strike on November 2 and 3. ASSÉ is mobilizing for a massive demonstration on November 5 - thousands of students already have a strike mandate for the day or longer. Public sector unions have a number of strike mandates for the rest of November building to a massive strike early December for which almost half a million already have a strike mandate.
Thus, students, the rank and file of public sector unions, community sector, and activists from various social sectors are all now working to resist austerity. What began in the spring, and was unable then to reach its full expression, is being continued this fall in a more strategic, organized and intensified fashion. The struggle against austerity in Quebec for sure isn’t over.
We would like to thank all the student organizers who spoke with us, helped shape the analysis and gave feedback on this article. Also we would like to note that the issue at hand and the dynamics involved were complex, and that its possible that some points may have been left out.
Rushdia Mehreen is a graduate student at UQAM and has been involved in student and community organizing since 2010. She contributed to building the unlimited student strike at Concordia University in 2012 and was a member of Social Struggles Committee of ASSÉ/CLASSE.
David Gray-Donald is a journalist based in Montreal and Toronto focusing on social movements and privilege.