The CLASSE, Quebec's most radical student federation, just finished a tour of Ontario, which started in Ottawa on July 12th and ended in Peterborough on July 20th. Sympathetic individuals from all walks of life crammed into lecture halls across Ontario to discuss tuition hikes and social movements, hoping to inspire a sense of solidarity with those who have mobilized in Quebec among the broader student population.
The Prince Arthur Herald was fortunate enough to have attended the speaking events at Guelph and York.
Mobilization against private sector involvement in education
In both conferences, the speakers began by attempting to successfully pit private against public interests, portraying the former negatively and the latter positively. Speaker Hugo Bonin, the CLASSE activist and political science student at the University of Quebec at Montreal, was mainly concerned that a private education system would reduce enrolment and distort the student-university relationship.
Under a private regime, with respect to the relational distortion, Bonin said that certain fields—mainly the arts and humanities—would necessarily be underrepresented. Students in a totally privatized system, he said, would only opt for an education that promised a certain level of monetary success later in life. He argued that this pursuit of riches is somehow supposed to undermine society and to result in a net loss of some kind in terms of our well-being.
Bonin also worried about the allocation of funding among universities, and the purported exacerbation of such schemes should privatization develop any further. According to his own observations, commercial research is being prioritized over all else. He said, “There is less and less money in the universities for teaching and fundamental research…the professors are hired to do [commercial] research, and the part time are hired to teach…with worse conditions than professors.”
Speaker Sarah Jayne King, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students for Ontario, held similar views, claiming that Ontario’s “institutions have effectively been privatized.” According to King, tuition fees ought to be eliminated entirely.
Marxist and revolutionary agenda
The movement’s vanguards are attempting to mobilize students against tuition hikes, among other things, with Marxist rhetoric. Sentiments of oppression and of the proletariat supposedly being tossed under the jackboot of the ruling elite were asserted and justified at these forums.
For instance, the cover of the magazine Fightback: The Marxist Voice of Labour and Youth, which was distributed before and after the discussion kicked off, read, “From Greece to Quebec, Workers and Youth Fight Capitalism.” Another leaflet made similar affirmations, also calling for the ousting of the bourgeois dictators on Bay Street, Toronto’s financial district. The most militant of the student unions, La Coalition large de l'Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE), writes in its Manifesto that “we are daring to call for a different world, one far removed from the blind submission our present-based commodity system requires.”
Panellist Marianne Breton-Fontaine, editor of Jeunesse Militante magazine, paralleled tuition hikes to the doings of the former Apartheid regime in South Africa. The rhetoric employed by Breton-Fontaine, however, was overblown and excessive. The Black Education Act in South Africa racially separated universities and denied black South Africans access to many opportunities. To seriously consider a tuition increase of 64 cents per day to be an equivalent practice would be beyond imagination. Breton-Fontaine calmly suggested that, to begin striking in Ontario, students ought to deny the minister of education access to his office. Militancy is key, she argued, for meeting the students’ goals.
But Breton-Fontaine also criticized the government’s environmental, labour, and immigration policies. She railed against austerity and corporations, and hoped to “build a better world together.” Bonin, too, said tuition hikes do not necessarily have to engross the discourse, for Ontarians might have different issues. He pontificated about how student unions should seize upon any issue and run with it. This implicitly suggests that the aim of CLASSE is to encourage rebellion for the mere sake of it, to cloak militancy with the language of student struggle.
Violence and enforcing strikes
A common theme echoed by all panellists was the importance of “militancy” to advance the student cause. When questioned directly by an audience member who was worried about some of the violent tactics that radicals like the Black Bloc employ, two panellists neatly side-stepped the question while the CLASSE representative uttered a response of indifference.
In Breton-Fontaine’s opinion, the Black Bloc is not violent, and stories of violence are “fairy tales.” Audrey Devault, another activist with ties to the Canadian Federation of Students, argued that the Black Bloc is composed of mostly “medics” and is non-violent.
Bonin, on the other hand, denounced the government’s request for student leaders to condemn violence. CLASSE decries person-to-person violence, he said, but it is not up to CLASSE to police demonstrations and tell people how to behave. CLASSE also refuses to censure property violence and instead blames the government for the student violence. In the past, CLASSE has suggested that attacks on police could be justified as self-defence against acts of state violence.
Bonin also stressed that such protests are democratic, emphasizing that if a general assembly comprised of students passes a strike vote, the resulting strike can be duly enforced. And, he added, there are numerous tactics with which students can effectively impose their ideological beliefs on the dissenting minority if they refuse to adhere to the wishes of the general assembly.
The student leaders explicitly glorified a variety of dubious acts intended to enforce the strike, which mainly consisted of disrupting and vandalizing post-secondary institutions whose students rejected it. We were told by Bonin, for instance, that some students in Quebec “unleashed thousands of locusts in [a] university, and some people put red paint into the fountains so it looked like it was blood.”But Bonin also touched on a few methods of economic disruption, such as blocking ports and roads. Some have argued, however, that this does little to realize any worthwhile objectives.
The CLASSE manifesto states that “equal access to public services is vital to the common good.” By blocking access to the public service that education represents, CLASSE violates its principles and contradicts its own word. How can students trust this union and the movement it has facilitated?
Samuel Mosonyi and Alex Vronces
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