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Quebec Spring

Jesse McLaren

April 5, 2012

On March 31, 8,000 people—including workers from across Quebec, Canada, and the world, and striking Quebec students—converged in Alma, Quebec to support workers fighting a lockout.

Quebec students have been on strike since February, against government plans to increase tuition by 75 per cent. Despite media and government attempts to divide them, and police attacking them, the strike wave has continued. For the first time anglophone students at Concordia and McGill have joined the strike wave, and Québec solidaire, Quebec’s left-wing electoral alternative, has been a vocal supporter.

There has also been solidarity from students on campuses in the rest of Canada—at McMaster, University of Toronto, Carleton, and University of King’s College in Halifax—in addition to support from the Canadian Federation of Students and the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

A high point of the strike wave was the magnificent demonstration on March 22, when 200,000 students and their allies marched in Montreal—the largest demonstration in Canada since the 2003 protest that stopped Canada from going to war in Iraq.

The last mass students strike in 2005 was started by a smaller coalition of student unions, CASSÉ, but grew to involve the larger student unions FEUQ and FECQ. This forced the government back on its plans to cut $103 million, but a debate opened up in the student movement—with the larger unions declaring victory but the more militant sections insisting on continuing the strike and even denouncing the end of the strike despite its winning its initial demand. This time around, CLASSE is larger and more rooted than CASSÉ; but similar debates are emerging about goals and also tactics—about how to continue the strike against a government that so far refuses to budge.

Printemps érable

The sheer size of the strike is already building broader movements, from April 22 Earth Day protests to May Day workers protests. Some have called the movement “le printemps érable”—which means “Maple spring” but in French sounds similar to “Arab spring”. The involvement of workers has been key to the Arab spring—it was mass strikes by workers, inspired by student protests, that finally drove out dictators in Tunisia and Egypt—and the Quebec students could also act as the spark for the labour movement.

On March 19, Aveos workers blockaded a road outside Air Canada offices in Montreal to protest a mass layoff, and only moved after they were attacked by riot police. On March 22, the same day as the mass student strike, Air Canada workers in Montreal and Quebec joined the wildcat strike in solidarity with workers in Toronto.

On March 31, 800 workers in Alma, a town of 30,000 people three hours north of Quebec City, who have been locked out since New Years by mining giant Rio Tinto, welcomed a mass solidarity rally of 8,000—including the leadership of the CLASSE, buses of workers from every corner of Quebec, and a contingent from Québec solidaire. From outside Quebec there were buses of steelworkers from Hamilton and Toronto, solidarity from the Canadian Labour Congress and financial support from CAW—including workers from Kitimat, B.C., who are contributing $60,000 a month to Alma workers. There were also workers from Kentucky, Los Angeles, South Africa, Mexico, the Netherlands, Turkey, New Zealand and Australia.

The day of action in Alma was the second time in a month that Toronto steelworkers travelled 12 hours to give their solidarity, while workers in BC continue to provide financial support. This follows on other coordinated actions across Canada and Quebec—from the March 1 day of action by PSAC against the federal austerity budget, to the March 22 wildcat strike by Air Canada workers in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City. Canada’s 1% rules by dividing, but resistance and solidarity of workers and students across Canada and Quebec is growing.

For information on the Quebec student strike visit or, and for information on the Rio Tinto lockout visit or

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