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Students divided on protests, says PQ leader

by Archives November 27, 2007

PQ MNA Louise Harel last week was quick to criticize today’s student movement, saying it lacks solidarity and there are divisions within, creating an ineffective and weak structure. Her comments come after a series of month-long student protests denouncing the Liberal government’s increase in tuition fees.
Harel, considered a prominent student leader in the 1960s, said that such divisions leave student movements susceptible to divide and conquer tactics, like those being exercised by Premier Jean Charest’s government.
“Divisions prevent [student movements] from having the influence that it would have with solidarity,” said Harel.
“In 1968, all student associations of universities were part of UGEQ [Union Générale des Étudiants du Québec]. The strength of the student movement was immense because the movement was speaking with one voice. The pressure on the government was such that no government in Quebec even tried to raise tuition for two decades,” said Harel.
In its heyday, the union’s leadership consisted of Claude Charron, Gilles Duceppe and Harel.
According to Harel, ASSÉ (the Association solidarité syndicale étudiante) and FEUQ (the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec), two of Quebec’s largest student movements, disagree not only on ideology, but also on the means of pressuring the government.
FEUQ members have traditionally had a more conciliatory approach towards the government than ASSÉ.
Former CSU executive Peter Schiefke, a coordinator at Concordia for the major student protests in 2005, doesn’t deny there is a division and said this division within student lobby groups is the Achilles’ heel for the movement as a whole.
“At the worst possible time, we have the Canadian Federation of Students out of commission, you have FEUQ and ASSÉ who aren’t on the same page and you have the three parties in Quebec saying ‘We don’t want to listen to any of you, we want to raise [tuition],'” said Schiefke.
“ASSÉ promotes combat syndicalism whereas we promote traditional ways of unionism where we go through not only direct student action such as protests but also lobbying,” says Kate Boushel, a FEUQ spokesperson.
On the other hand, the ASSE considers this a softer type of approach.
“We think there is a problem with their democratic tactics in terms of how the FEUQ sometimes take decisions without actually consulting the members as they did in 2005 when an agreement with the Quebec government was signed, calling for students to go back to class,” said Jessika Boulanger, an ASSÉ activist.
“Last December, there was unity throughout the education system,'” said Harel. “Student federations said they backed the provincial government’s claim that the federal government should increase its financial contribution. But instead of facing the federal government with the widespread support of Quebec, the Liberals chose to face the students.”
She said that in order for protests to be effective, they need to be backed up by public opinion. However, the recent rioting which took place at the CEGEP du Vieux-Montréal will work against students as a whole.
“In a democracy, public opinion decides if protests are effective. I just think that events that happened such as what happened at the Cégep du Vieux-Montréal are just going to make public opinion hostile to student demands,” said Harel.

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