Saturday, May 5, 2012

The student strike gets grim, but may end soon

The student strike seems to have taken a nasty turn even as the three student federations, including the demonized CLASSE, remain in negotiations with the Quebec government.

The student protest at the Quebec Liberal Party meeting in Victoriaville escalated beyond anything we've seen in this massive 12-week student strike. Reports say seven students and four police were injured by rock-throwing. It's worth noting that the Liberal Party meeting was taking place next to a building site, so there's an element of staging to all this. Let's not forget the police cruisers conveniently abandoned in the heart of Toronto's financial district at the G20 protest in June 2010 (just sitting there, not even properly parked, in the middle of the street...)

Cop cars conveniently abandoned at King and Bay, the centre of Canada's finance district

Let's also not forget that this incident may have been provoked by rock-throwing police provocateurs. Remember the rock-wielding SQ cops caught in "black bloc" gear at the G20 Montebello protest a few years ago?

But the rock-throwing isn't the full story. A cop car was driven into the crowd of protesters at which point the cop was pulled from the car and beaten by several protesters. The cop got away, but SQ riot police responded by pummelling a student who is now in critical condition and is having eye surgery (a student lost an eye earlier in the strike courtesy of a police stun grenade).

One of the students beaten by police in Victoriaville and who is in critical condition (photo from Facebook)

The whole affair ended with well over a hundred arrests including, apparently, at least two busloads of students on the way back to Montreal from the action.

Several weeks ago, the question of violence was brought forward through mass arrests, heavy-use of tear gas, pepper-spray and batoning against protesters. A number of protesters have turned to property destruction and playing cat-and-mouse with the cops in the streets of Montreal.

The Charest government and its media allies have predictably condemned this as the actions of students, and used it as a phony pretext to break off talks in late April with CLASSE, the student coalition which initiated and continues to spearhead the strike, if they didn't condemn the violence. This blatant attempt to divide CLASSE from the two more conservative student federations, FEUQ and FECQ, was a repeat of what happened in the 2005 strike. But it didn't work this time as FEUQ and FECQ withdrew from negotiations after CLASSE's exclusion.

CLASSE's democratic structure prevented an immediate response to Charest, with its spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois stating that he could not speak out because he had no democratic mandate to do so. Charest and the mainstream media obviously couldn't grasp this concept of democratic accountability:
On Wednesday Beauchamp issued an ultimatum calling on the CLASSE to change its tune by the end of the day. "I will sit down and discuss with people who have clearly condemned the resort to violence," the minister said. 
In response, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson for the CLASSE, recalled in a telephone interview that two weeks ago, when Beauchamp proposed proportional payback of student loans and extending credit to students from families with incomes over $60,000, she called on the students to hold secret ballots. Now she is asking the CLASSE to change its position without even consulting its membership, he said. 
"Not only is it a lack of coherence but a lack of respect as well for student democracy," Nadeau-Dubois said. "We will not trample on our own democratic procedures to please this government." 
The CLASSE practises "direct democracy," Nadeau-Dubois explained. That means the decision would be made at its weekend meeting at CÉGEP Maisonneuve by delegates from the 60 campus associations making up the CLASSE. 
"Certainly a decision will be made," he added. "If Minister Beauchamp is serious about resolving the strike, she should stop her diversions by imposing superficial conditions."
In a statement, the CLASSE noted the government remained silent when a student protester lost an eye in a confrontation with police and Nadeau-Dubois said student violence is a result of the government's refusal to even acknowledge there is a strike, calling it a "boycott" of classes, and refusing to meet with students.
Eventually, CLASSE did respond at a meeting of student delegates who voted unanimously to condemn violence against people (see the full resolution here). They stuck by their guns yesterday and condemned the violence against individuals, both students and police, along with the two more conservative student federations, FEUQ and FECQ.

Fortunately, the violence in Victoriaville has not led to the Charest government breaking off talks with the three student bodies, and at 3pm today, all three student organizations tentatively agreed to a deal with the government. Details will be made public at 8pm. CLASSE will rightfully be taking the tentative agreement to its membership for a vote.

Regarding the violence, nothing can justify what the police did to the student in Victoriaville and the cops and Charest's government need to be held to account. I really hope the student pulls through for a full recovery. What a fucking horror.

That said, those throwing rocks at cops should speak up and be accountable for their actions. By this I mean providing a political explanation for such actions given the common knowledge of how brutal the SQ is. And how such actions jive with the democratic strike votes that have been at the heart of the scale, involvement and tenacity of the strike for these past 12 weeks. At what point do we take democratic responsibility for the tactics we employ at protests? Did the student beaten by cops and other students at the demonstration get a say on how the police would be confronted? If everyone votes to take on the police with rocks, fine, but if that's not the case, then what does that mean for the principles of direct democracy and mass participation in social movements?

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