Student movement to become more radical

Quebec has been holding its breath since the three major student associations promised to push things further following the massive demonstration against tuition hikes last Thursday.
After the March 22 protest that saw 200,000 students marching the streets of Montreal, student leaders warned the Liberal government they were now taking the movement further.
Organizations like the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec and the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante announced increasing actions of occupation and “economic disturbance” in order to hit the Charest government where it hurts—in its pockets. One of the leaders even showed signs of support to actions like blocking traffic on bridges.
“We are now going to speak the only language [the Charest government] understands, and that is the language of money,” said CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. “We have tried with symbolic actions but now it’s time to take it to the next step.”
Reacting last Friday to the march, Education Minister Line Beauchamp refused to call it historic, as most of the province’s media did, and declared that her position had not changed.
In the plans announced by FEUQ, FECQ and CLASSE, the associations’ leaders promised they would increase the number of protests, hold regular sit-ins and occupation-type demonstrations in government offices and ministers’ press conferences. They also aim to launch awareness campaigns to influence future voters, particularly in the regions where Liberal candidates were elected by slim margins in the last provincial election.
“We’re now switching to a pre-electoral mode,” said FEUQ President Martine Desjardins. “We’re going to target the 10 Liberal MPs who won with the lowest majority in the last elections and we are going to campaign in their districts telling people that their MPs are against accessible education.”
When it comes to actions of economic disturbance, however, the different organizations don’t all agree on the methods to use. While CLASSE praised actions like blocking bridges and commended the participants in these actions for their “bravery,” the FEUQ and the FECQ questioned such methods and said they wished to avoid losing public support for their cause.
“Our belief is that we should target those who are responsible and in that case it’s the government,” explained Desjardins. “Public opinion is very fragile and it doesn’t take much to turn people against us. We need to make sure the general population supports us and we need to keep those families and professors who marched with us on March 22 supporting us.”
The Concordia Student Union sided with the FEUQ, and said they would not follow other students organizations in any actions that would put Concordia students at risk.
“The CSU’s position is that we endorse positions that are peaceful,” said VP external Chad Walcott. “We will only advertise actions that we feel our students can go to and come back from without being arrested or getting fined.”
However, CLASSE, FEUQ and FECQ admitted that if the Liberal government maintains its refusal to negotiate with students, these types of extreme actions would continue to happen. The associations are informally respecting an agreement of non-denunciation and non-negotiation, where associations cannot question the legitimacy of other student groups’ actions, nor can they initiate negotiations with the government without the presence of all the major associations.
“Blocking bridges is not the type of actions we support since we don’t think it targets the right people,” said FECQ President Léo Bureau-Blouin. “But we have showed good faith in organizing peaceful demonstrations so far and at some point, if the government still doesn’t listen, we have to take it to the next step.”
This is not the first time the FEUQ and the FECQ have disagreed with the CLASSE over strategies of mobilization. The three student organizations have been continuously quarreling since 2005 over campaigning methods.
During the speeches at the end of the March 22 demonstration, CLASSE leaders refused to also let FEUQ and FECQ representatives speak, claiming their congress mandate kept them from sharing the stage. The leaders of the two associations had to climb on the roof of their sound truck to speak to the thousands of protesters.
“We found it unfortunate considering our movement is supposed to be a unified movement but it’s not the time to show signs of division,” said Desjardins. “Our cause goes beyond the associations that we represent.”
It remains to be seen if the student organizations will agree on the strategies to adopt in pushing the student movement further, but all have assured they aspire for unity in their message and in potential negotiations with the government.
“It’s important for us to stay unified because the enemy is not among us, it’s the government. Having a unified movement with different and complementary strategies is the best way to go for now,” said Desjardins.
The next major protests are set to take place on March 27 in Montreal, and then on April 4 in Premier Jean Charest’s home riding of Sherbrooke. The CSU has announced it will be sending a bus full of students to the demonstration.

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