THIS IS NOT A STUDENT STRIKE: No. 1
Block the fee increase and then after
Refuse the blindfolds that we’re offered
Translated by Jill Richards
It would be unfortunate to see the strike only in terms of general assembly mandates, lists of demands, and plans of action, all proposed in due form. The “strategic considerations” often alluded to by the “specialists” of the student movement seem to us like blindfolds, there to make us follow a path drawn directly to the negotiating table with the government. However, we don’t want to surrender so quickly. We want to let ourselves be immersed in what the strike “is,” beyond its function as a “means of pressure.” We want to wander towards the secondary routes, to get off the beaten track.
The strike is threatening because it short-circuits the rhythm of our everyday lives. It’s in this moment of rupture that we want to anchor ourselves. We want to take advantage of this political space we’ve created, in order to push the thinking about the struggle against student fee increases towards a much vaster horizon. That is to say, we want to dig deep, to unearth the ideological foundations that underlie this umpteenth rise in fees, and focus on understanding the strike as something not exclusively about “student interests.”
Even though we are about to commit to more weeks of struggle, of anger, of rage and joy, let’s take a moment to reflect on the reasons pushing us to abandon the classrooms. Much of the rhetoric of the student movement focuses solely on the university and the increase in fees imposed by the government. According to this discourse, we are engaging in a sectorial struggle offered to us by the student organizations in order to defend our status as university students. We refuse the separations orchestrated by the narrowness of a rhetoric incapable of perceiving the different causes of our everyday misery.
We cannot center our shared revolt solely around this question of student identity. We are total beings and, at some time or another, each of these separate spheres affects our life. We must not fall into a corporatist position incapable of understanding the complexity of our society. We must not make the mistake of boxing in our multiple and constantly overlapping roles and identities. By avoiding the trap of corporatism, we avoid the trap that benefits the government, the rectors, the bosses, and the other owners. By refusing this separation that has been imposed on us, we can also critique more broadly the world in which we live.
Understanding the rise in fees from an anti-capitalist perspective
The world economy is currently attempting to manage a financial crisis that it created. Throughout the world, it’s the poorest who pay the price. In Greece, it’s the austerity measures that are creating turmoil. Elsewhere, it’s unemployment, or else the privatization of the commons that renders living standards precarious by depriving more and more people of fundamental rights and dignity. In Canada, we are told that we needed to slave away two more years before we can retire. We too are living with austerity measures in Quebec, through the imposition of the “Tariff Revolution” that is part of a wider privatization of the commons, from the education sector to health care.
This fee increase is not the product of our government’s failing imagination – it’s one of the responses to the economic crisis in which we are living. The commodification of education, recommended by several international economic organizations, takes place on a global scale. Western countries must restructure their economies to produce merchandise that has a high “intellectual” content, since material production has been progressively displaced to the exploited countries of the global South. It’s according to the needs of the market that our student fees are rising, to the detriment of our needs. Therefore, it is against the needs of the market, against the capitalist imperatives, and against the imperialism of the international division, that the student struggle must fight.
We need to be the bearers of social change, and we must not just claim this change for ourselves. The strike we are going to bring about must set into motion a social opposition that throws off the corporatist shackles that come with our status as students. That is the project that we want to bring about, that this publication hopes to build, along with those that will follow.
It is crucial that the students extend the struggle to our society as a whole, and that we seek to rattle it, down to the foundations.
*Down with Capitalism!
*Free tuition, but
How much longer will we fight against the fragmented effects, piece by piece, year after year, without putting our finger on the causes that hide behind them? Through fear of offending or frightening, are we going to keep ourselves from denouncing the wrongs, hiding our critiques in the cupboard? ? Under the blows of cuts regularly mete out across the decades, how to begin formulating what we want besides the guise of limited “reforms,” tinted with nostalgia?
Narrow struggle after narrow struggle, the laundry list of government attacks, one after the other, lengthens year after year:
* Increased costs of post-secondary education, due to rising tuition fees and incidental charges, beginning in the 1990s;
* Since 1996, an explosion of incidental fees for foreign students;
*After the pillage of the Axworth Reform (1994), the Legault Reform (2000), which chained the university budget to the logic of numbers;
*Shortening of student research budgets for the profit of private firms, as well as research centers subsidized through PPP, the Campus Ubis oft or programs called Club Med
*Repeated threats to abolish the Cégeps or to drastically reduce the general curriculum;
* 103 million cut (2004-2005) accompanied by conservative reform of financial aid;
* Law on the governance of universities (2008), veritable equation to running a business;
*Accumulated cuts in the dozens of millions in the Cégeps, orchestrated with the intention of eventually instituting fees as high as those at the universities
*Standardization of diplomas though “quality assurance” (inspired by the Process of Bologne) with the goal of creating a world market and competition between universities based on the American model
*More private companies butting in on campus: exclusive contract with Pepsi Cola, advertisements in the bathrooms, fast-food restaurants, chain restaurant, and private cafeterias.
Even if we sometimes talk about the “right to education,” by criticizing the “commodification of education” and the “economy of knowledge,” it is rare that we manage to get out of this language of numbers that supposedly makes our critique acceptable in the eyes of some fictive “public opinion.” Even when we are only talking about education, we are hesitant to link different attacks to get to the root of the problem.
When asked to explain our struggle, we say that we are involved in a “strike against the rise in student fees,” even if we are convinced that it is reductive to describe it that way. While the battle cries resounding in the general assemblies are otherwise engaging—the people talking about society, poverty, dependent children, and insurgency against this network of oppressions—our struggle remains trapped within the university, held back from joining other social struggles. This goes on as though education existed in a world by itself, without ties to other attacks carried out by the elite, on the backs of the working class.
We are tired of repeating, every seven years, this theater imposed on us from outside, in the form of defensive, corporatist struggles, almost always ending with a sinister return to normal. The strike gives us an opening and through this opening, the realization that the world could be otherwise.
By leaving the classrooms of our Cégeps and universities, we do not exile ourselves in a separate and idyllic sphere. First, there’s the precarious job that awaits us, where our boss regards us all as interchangeable pieces. Devalued, precarious, alienated: there is no lack of words for defining our jobs in restaurants, retail, hospitals, call centers … Leaving work, we return to our neighborhoods where the price of our poorly maintained apartments has skyrocketed due to the building speculation of landlords. We are not the ones living in the condos. Since our apartments are often poorly insulated, we are the first affected by the skyrocketing electricity costs, leaving us with an abrupt choice between poverty or cold.
With this return to the private sphere, we do not leave aside the relations of domination in society. In private, women are the first affected by the acceleration and the precarization of our lives; in effect, women will be the hardest hit by indebtedness, mostly because they often occupy the most precarious and poorly paid employment.
Another pitfall that threatens us is our tendency to criticize the obstacles baring the right to education solely at the university level. The reform of education at the primary and secondary levels participates in the same process of commodification of education, in which students are considered as a future workforce. In this way, students failing several courses are invited by the school system to do “vocational training” in precarious forms of employment, so as to be initiated into the exploitation of the wage. At the middle school level, the process of commodification can be seen through the cuts of millions of government dollars. One begins to suspect that the latter will justify, in so many years, the imposition of scholarly fees for the Cégeps, to combat the under-financing created by the state itself.
 I’d like to thank Vanessa Brutsche for her thoughtful editorial comments and assistance with the translation.
 Cégeps is an acronym for Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel. These are publically funded post-secondary vocational colleges exclusive to the Quebec province of Canada. Cégeps are somewhat similar to community colleges in the USA, except they traditionally have little or no tuition fees.
They tell us to respect the choices of others, to respect the liberty of others. But at what point does a choice become respectable? At what point does an act take for granted our own liberty? From the moment when this particular act is registered, sanctioned as a right?
She tells me: “You have the right to make your choices, but not if they interfere with mine.” But her choices, and the choices of everyone else, don’t they interfere with my choice, my act, my will?
My act, my choice – she would like to reduce it to this: don’t go to class. And yet, when I’m on strike, the question I’m faced with is not about going to class or not. My choice, that’s to interfere with the normal course of things. It’s to interfere with the choices of the government that denies my choices. And if this happens through a blockage of the university or of anything else that can harm it, I will do the best that I can to support it. And she has just given me the lessons of democracy: that the decisions of a minister or of her boss are the choices of the people who elected them!
Her act. She would like to reduce it to this: go to class. Her choice, her right: to be able to cross the Champain Bridge “like the old days.” And yet, all this, her world, all of the conditions of possibility of her choices, also rest on a permanent balance of power, on an ability to take over, to take over a certain use of the world, of the city, of everything.
Private Property. What has been and what is still necessary is violence and contempt—if that’s really the opposite of respect— to assert the value of private property and to respect the famous liberty that it makes possible. How many tricks have they used to convert everything into property, so as to be able to say afterward that all the transformations of urban space and semi-urban space, all the exploitation of “forest” space, and of the so-called Quebec “underground,” are the result of the freedom of choice? How many dirty blows have been necessary to guarantee that in all places, questions of use are solely the business of an owner and a buyer, of a landlord and a renter, or rather of a customer – that is to say, in all cases, of a legally “entitled party”?
There is no choice whether to respect private property. No one ever asked us if we agreed. It was never negotiated, never voted upon, but only justified, by the best and by the most asinine ideologues in history. So tell me. Why would I respect you? Because you have rights? Because we all have the right to be a landlord? Because everyone has the right to be a customer and to consume freely?
Freely …. To navigate from one property to another, without anyone asking us for any account besides the invoice. To have all things at your disposal without having to discuss their uses, their meanings, or how to relate to them. That there is your liberty: to be able to take possession of what you have the means to buy, and to renounce all the rest. According to this, there wouldn’t even be respect for those with rights.
She talks to me about the bridge that we blocked. She says she respects our opinion, but that we do not respect hers. But crossing the Champlain Bridge twice a day to go live in a tranquil suburban house built freely on beautiful, arable land or ancient woods that were made to disappear, just as freely – that’s not an opinion. It’s a way of life.
Someone blocked you on the bridge. But haven’t you ever wondered what you were blocking, as many as you are, each time that you cross over in your big cars like a thirsty hoard, so convinced of its rights?
Then leave me alone with respect. There is no liberty of choice. There is war.