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How do we spread the Quebec Spring?

May 22, 2012

The Quebec student strike is inspiring people across Canada who would like to see a similar mass movement against austerity. But how we spread the Quebec spring?

Some say the Quebec spring is unique, and Quebec certainly has its own particular conditions that are important to understand.

From the experience as an oppressed nation within the Canadian state, the people of Quebec have a strong history of resistance—including the biggest anti-globalization protests in 2001, the biggest anti-war protests in 2003, and the biggest May Day protest in 2004.

Quebec students also have a tradition of mass strikes, most recently the 2005 strike that forced the government to give back $103 million in cuts

That experience cannot be spontaneously summoned across English Canada, but that doesn’t mean that the struggle can’t spread.

The Quebec Spring is a combination of past local experiences along with inspiration from global revolt. That people in Quebec have called the strike wave the “printemps erable”—meaning maple spring but sounding like Arab Spring—shows the links with the global revolt. But how do we spread it?

Some are impatiently demanding that the leadership of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) simply call a strike, or arguing that radical students organize on their own—counterposing the Quebec student organization CLASSE with other student unions. But this ignores the way in which the Quebec student strike—and strikes in general—are built.

Hundreds of thousands of students didn’t go on strike because CLASSE told them to. The strike was built from below since the end of last year, and CLASSE—which numbers in the tens of thousands—has built unity with other student unions FECQ and FEUQ.

We can’t turn our backs on mass student organizations or expect them to call a strike that has not been built from below (which would invite failure).

The CFS organized a pan-Canadian day of action against tuition fees on February 1 and occupied the Ontario Education Minister’s office on April 5. If we want to spread the Quebec spring we need to learn the lessons and build a mass student movement from below, uniting with and strengthening the CFS.

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