The students of Quebec are not only fighting tuition hikes in their own province, they are leading the charge against crippling austerity measures forced upon citizens throughout the capitalist world. The importance, the vital necessity, of fighting austerity is reflected in this single issue.
If we fail to succeed in this fight, we will be aiding and abetting the criminal and wholesale theft of and destruction of a standard of life that is rightfully ours and it will be lost to our children. The legacy of this will be a legacy of barbarism. The importance of this struggle cannot be overstated. The students are fighting one of many fronts.
The Right to Education
Prior to Sputnik, access to higher education was almost exclusively a privilege of the monied classes. The Russians beat the Americans into space and as a result, the National Defense Education Act of 1958 was established in the United States. Other Western nations followed suit and the importance of higher education was widely recognized. Funding into scientific research and development and education in general was now a top priority.
It is no coincidence that access to education, health care, and the erosion of public infrastructure throughout the Western world follows the collapse of the Soviet Union. Competition between the two superpowers was directly and indirectly beneficial to citizens in many countries, most notably in the West. The disappearance of the evil Red menace, our collective nemesis, has ended the compulsion of Western governments to provide for a healthy 'commons'.
Access to higher education should be based on the individuals capacity to succeed. It should never be based on financial means. The latter only entrenches class privilege and divisions and it assigns scores of highly intelligent members of the working class to a life where they do not utilize their capacity. This is not only detrimental to the individual, it is detrimental to society as a whole; the end result being an educated class, many of which are in over their heads and an uneducated class, many of which resent their occupations and lives. Most of us know many examples of both in spite of access to student loans and bursaries for working class people.
The principle we need to uphold is that if an individual has the capacity and desire to be a doctor, an engineer, or a rocket scientist the individual should be granted the means and the encouragement to do so.
The Student Strike
The intensity and the breadth of the strike is impressive. It has been energetic and sustained now for almost three months and shows no signs of slowing down. The protests are not only shaking the Liberal government of Jean Charest, it is becoming internationally recognized a force to be reckoned with. For his part, Charest has conceded that tuition hikes will proceed at a slower pace than was planned. He aims to appear to kick the can down the road and let the less formidable ten year olds deal with it. Charest is offering to spread tuition hikes over seven years instead of five, adding a paltry $35 million in bursaries, linking student loan payback to post graduation income, and several other fuzzy concessions that amount to lies. The offer is right called by student organizers what it is; an insult.
In spite of attempts by establishment media to divide students and turn public opinion against them, the students of Quebec are showing remarkable integrity, solidarity, and collective intelligence. The ruling Liberals had aimed to separate the largest of student groups, the CLASSE, by forcing them to humility after a constituency office was invaded. The Liberals demanded they denounce the incident. Charest is refusing to negotiate with CLASSE. Student federations involved responded by supporting CLASSE. They point out that such a denunciation would require an agreement by their congress.
This type of divide and conquer strategy is used by the state to divide strong social movements and to gain control of them. The issue is not violence on the part of the students. It is about government gaining control. In all protest and political movements, the state will utilize several strategies to weaken movement and control the outcome. They will be infiltrated by agent provocateurs, they will be criticized as extremist and unreasonable by the media, they will be arrested and attacked by police and/or military. The state will do its utmost to break solidarity. The student strikes in Quebec are certainly the targets of such campaigns and the insult offered up by Charest is a tactical move to divide the students.
For its part, CLASSE appear to be a highly sophisticated organization. Their aim is beyond freezing tuition rates. Their aim is la gratuite scolaire, free and universal access to post secondary education. They are well organized and appear to be on top of state strategies and tactics that aim to crush them.
These are days of increasingly aggressive attacks on unions and the working class in general. Wages are being slashed and infrastructure is crumbling. Profits are at an all time high on the backs of average citizens. Unions and the Occupy movement need to join in solidarity with the protesters.
Canada and Quebec
In spite of established Canadian media and politicians proclivities, Canadians and especially the people of Quebec are not subservient, docile, quisling whores. Canadians see inequality as 'the' major social issue. A recent poll suggests that Canadians are willing to pay more in taxes to lessen the advantages the wealthy enjoy over the working class. 64% of Canadians are willing to pay more taxes to save social programs. Even Conservative voters tend to agree. 58% of these agree that they would pay more taxes to save social programs.
Right wing organizations like the Fraser Institute, CTV News and other established corporate media have been working overtime for decades to indoctrinate Canadians to their way of thinking. Canadians have been hearing the corporate right scream hysterical about the evil of taxation, the pernicious nature of the 'welfare state', the glories of unbridled free enterprise and so on. In spite of all this, Canadians remain even more vigilant about maintaining socialized health care and are highly sensitive to fairness and the public good. The more the corporate right and their politicians establish unbridled neo liberal financial anarchy, the more left wing Canadians turn.
The protests will likely ensure that Quebec will remain the province in Canada and region of North America with the most accessible post secondary education. The citizens of Quebec will have the greatest potential for the Sputnik of the 21st century. Through access to universities, is they that will receive the greatest quantity and as a result, the greatest quality education.
They are already teaching us a valuable lesson.