The conference "Rage Against the System: Marxism 2015" in Toronto on April 25 welcomed via Skype representatives of parties challenging the austerity agenda at the ballot box that have emerged from the movement: Syriza and Podemos. Ironically, the least well-known in English Canada may have come from next door in Quebec.
André Frappier, a four-time Montreal riding candidate for Québec solidaire
, the relatively new anti-neoliberal and anti-austerity party that is running at 16 per cent in the polls and who was also NDP candidate with the Jack Layton team in 2004, and a 30-year activist with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, spoke about trying to be a meaningful voice for the growing anti-austerity movement in Quebec.
André spoke on a Skype panel about radical left parties, along with militants from Greece and Spain linked to Siriza and Podemos. All three talked about the thirst for an alternative to the austerity parties on offer at election time, but also the need to maintain a living link between those alternatives and the movement that spawned them.
Québec solidaire is of course not nearly as close to state power as Syriza and Podemos, and so does not feel the same pressure to compromise. But its challenge is to sink deeper roots in the labour movement and student movement: although it has positioned itself consistently not only as Quebec’s only anti-austerity party but also one with an uncompromising anti-neoliberal agenda, it has yet to displace the hold of the mainstream parties, especially in the regions outside Montreal, despite the growing anti-austerity sentiment throughout Quebec.
André talked about the way that Québec solidaire became a force of attraction for student leaders of the 2012 Quebec spring movement to join the party: they brought with them a wealth of experience from that movement into long-term involvement in QS riding associations and other political structures. And yet, the main leadership of the student movement is officially committed to a non-partisan position even in relation to radical left parties.
And although many prominent trade union leaders have run as QS candidates, there has yet to be a real shift at the base. QS’s goal is not just votes at election time but to attract workers and students into the active life of the party, which aims to be “a party of the ballot box and of the street.”
But André also spoke of the real challenges for students today in trying to recreate the “Quebec Spring” movement of 2012 and to take it further when the labour movement is not ready to follow them. He feared it was a tactical error to try to do so this spring, and that the students are becoming increasingly isolated.
He acknowledged that there is no guarantee that the fall will be a better time to win support from unions, and that the 75,000 people who rallied in the streets of Montreal on April 2 showed that clearly “there is something there right now,” as does the vote by teachers at 28 out of 40 CEGEPS (colleges) to engage in an illegal strike against austerity on May Day. And yet, he deplored the decision by unions not to hold a single, large, national May Day rally in Montreal this year for the first time in three decades.
Québec solidaire shares the challenge of the anti-austerity movement itself: to sink deeper and wider roots into all the regions of Quebec, its campuses, and its workplaces.