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French students on the march

by Archives November 20, 2007

Onlookers peered from high-rises, people stood still on sidewalks and traffic stopped as roughly 1,500 chanting students took to the streets on a rain-soaked Thursday last week to protest rising tuition, and to demand free education.
“What we are trying to show and prove is free education is possible with re-investment. It’s not just free schooling we want, it’s a re-investment to fix the problem of under-funding [in universities] and the renewing of quality and accessible education for all,” said David Tremblay, a marching student who spoke at UQAM before the rally.
Chants and cries were heard blocks away when marchers began their rally at Dorchester Square, 1:30 p.m., where small contingents from Concordia, McGill, and Dawson joined throngs of massing Francophone students from Universite de Quebec a Montreal (UQAM) and French schools outside of Montreal.
The event was organized by l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), a student group comprised of 17 French student associations from schools across Quebec. Their style of activism is “le combat syndicalisme” – tactics which are seen as more militant compared to those employed by Anglophone movements.
Events of last week seemed to support the militant view as students at the Université du Quebec en Outaouais in Gatineau boycotted classes and picketed on Wednesday. Police were called in to disperse strikers who barricaded themselves inside UQAM on Monday.
The march capped off a week-long strike at UQAM where five faculty student associations – les arts, sciences humaine, science politique/loi, des lettres and les sciences – representing 20,000 students organized “artistic events” and “direct action.”
An ASSE spokesperson stressed that the French protest movement has not yet reached the same height as it did in 2005, where students went on a month-long strike.
“There is no movement for an unlimited general strike, the point of this strike was to let the students know and participate in this week’s pressure tactics,” she said.
But according to Emmanuelle Sirois, coordinator for the linguistics and communications faculty association (l’AFELLE-UQAM), the stakes are higher for UQAM students. They are protesting not only the increase of fees, but lobbying for smaller class sizes and better daycare services. Moreover, UQAM is currently in financial crisis because of spiraling building costs.
These issues are part of the “plan de redressement” which they hope will be addressed by an increase of university transfer payments from the provincial government.
Dorchester Square emptied out after 2 p.m. as marchers took to Rene Levesques Boulevard, filling the road three-lanes-wide and guarded at the rear by a line of policemen on bicycles.
Turning north at Guy Street, the procession made its way past the EV building of Concordia, chanting for Concordia students to join the march. It stopped at the Norman Bethune Square just below Concordia’s John Molson School of Business building where student leaders again addressed the crowd by loudspeaker.
“Here is the wonderful John Molson School of Business” said a speaker of ASSE. “The Molson company has spent millions in this school to turn students into a marketing project so they can influence their consuming behaviour.” The crowd echoed with boos in response.
The speakers also called for solidarity between Francophone and Anglophone students in pressuring the government.
Concordia Student Union (CSU) VP Communications Noah Stewart was on his way to lunch, but stopped to gauge the size of the protest on Guy and Maisonneuve.
“I think it’s definitely worrying,” said Stewart of the roughly 1500 people who attended the march. “It can be used as a [way] to judge how next week’s protest is going to go. Obviously, the next protest is being pushed by different people.but I am genuinely concerned that we won’t be able to get the students out,” referring to the upcoming march this Thursday where the CSU will be joining 40 other student associations in getting students out for a march to Quebec premiere Jean Charest’s office.
“The French cegeps are essentially the core base for mobilizing protests. But there isn’t the same level of interest as there was in 2005,” he added.

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