On Saturday March 21, the start of spring, thousands rallied at Place Emelie Gamelin, the "Tahrir Square" of Quebec's Maple Spring of 2012, to launch a restart of that movement, this time in the form of a "social strike" against austerity.
The rally was the first of a series of protests planned every Saturday in the square next to the University of Quebec in Montreal, to continue until Quebec "austerity Premier" Couillard "listens to us." All the rallies will be under the banner of "anti-austerity" but will have different targets each week. The first on March 21 was billed as a demonstration against austerity and oil, with a focus on pipelines. As one sign put it: "Coule pas chez nous!" ("Not on our soil" in reference to oil exploitation).
But it was also the launch of a new student strike movement led by ASSÉ, which began the following Monday with 45,000 students on strike across Quebec. As in 2012, the movement set strike vote thresholds to be met in order for the strike to begin, while other strike votes were still being held. As in 2012, this strategy is intended to build momentum and encourage the strike votes still being held by the example of successful rolling strikes. The first 45,000 (which surpassed the initial threshold of 30,000) included more than the "usual suspects," such as medical students.
It remains to be seen just how much momentum will pick up, but the strike votes are taking place this time in the context of a much broader movement against austerity that has seen trade union-led demos in the thousands in recent months against Couillard's policies as a whole, the possibility of a major union confrontation in the public service, and the Front Commun—a new coalition between unions and civil society that could have the potential to make real the call for a "grève sociale."
An indication of this was the main contradiction on the March 21 demo itself. Phalanxes of police recalled the brutality of 2012, and there was a flavour of that exercised on the march.
But what was different this time was that every cop, from the mediators to the regular duty officers to the riot squad, were covered head to toe in stickers—red square stickers. But theirs said "On n'a rien volé (nous). Libre négo." (WE'RE not the ones who have stolen anything. Free negotiations). What this is about is Bill 3, the bill that threatens the pensions of municipal workers, including police and firefighters. They have been working to rule in many disruptive ways for more than a year.
This doesn't change the cops' role as defenders of wealth and power and maintainers of the peace for those who hold it. But there is great irony in seeing them plastered with red squares themselves. Austerity doesn't spare its watchdogs. There were many anti-police chants on the streets of Montreal on March 21, but the best was the one turned against the cops' own ironic position: "WE'RE not the ones who have stolen anything."
There is no better response to those guilty of the crime of austerity.
If you like this article, register today for Rage Against the System, a weekend conference of ideas to change the world, April 24-26 in Toronto. Sessions include "Why is capitalism in crisis," "Quebec against austerity," and "Capitalism's gravediggers: the working class and socialism from below."