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Quebec’s fight against austerity in education

By: 
Chantal Sundaram

November 19, 2015

Those who oppose austerity internationally are once again watching Quebec, with a new strike and protest movement unfolding this fall that in many ways builds on the student strike and “Maple Spring” of 2012. And while the struggle has broadened to include the entire public sector, education is still at the forefront.

On November 4, the Chicago Teachers Union passed a unanimous resolution to extend “our solidarity to the Common Front, FAE, FIQ, and ASSÉ in their struggle to stop the Couillard government’s program of austerity and defend public services, education, and healthcare in Quebec.” They were naming the coalition of 400,000 public sector union members as well as the teachers of the FAE and the nurses of the FIQ, who are all in a legal strike position in collective agreement bargaining, and students who staged a walkout in solidarity with them on November 5.  

In a series of rotating strikes, the Common Front is taking on a provincial wage freeze for all. But the fight is also about class sizes and cut backs on special needs students for teachers (and patient ratios for nurses).

The Chicago Teachers Union knows very well that fighting on these issues requires building long-term support in the community, and in their case, solid support from parents. They share this with the movement in Quebec, where parents of primary and secondary students have been forming “human chains” around schools on the first day of each month this fall to protest the budget cuts and protect their children’s public education.

On November 20, those parents will escalate their efforts. They will descend on the National Assembly in Quebec City, an initiative of Québec solidaire—the only anti-austerity party in the Quebec legislature—which has declared : “The Minister of Education refuses to set foot in Quebec schools? Quebec solidaire is bringing school to him!” And while parents, students, teachers and supporters from across Quebec rally outside the National Assembly, Québec solidaire has committed the three opposition parties to question the Education Minister about the cuts to schools.

In organizing this action, Québec solidaire has partnered with the parents’ movement  « Je protège mon école publique, » the « Coalition des parents pour l’école publique » and the « Coalition des parents d’enfants à besoins particuliers » (children with special needs). You can follow the parents’ movement at www.Ecolepublique.org.

In the wake of teachers’ strikes in many parts of English Canada, and the untapped solidarity that may have existed for them, there may be some useful lessons in what continues to unfold in defence of Quebec schools.

But Quebec parents are not the only ones forming human chains in defence of education: in fact, they have inspired CEGEP (college) students to follow their example.

Members of ASSE but also of the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ, which represents 65,000 students in 21 CEGEPs across Quebec) have started forming their own human chains on the second day of each month: in other words, the day after the parents’ monthly action. They are protesting $150 million in budget cuts to postsecondary education in the last five years under the banner «Je sauve mon Cégep» (I’m saving my CEGEP).

The students have invited CEGEP employees and the general public to join them in this movement, which they hope will continue to grow in the next academic session.

It seems likely that this parallel fight against austerity, which is against budget cuts to every level of education, will continue no matter what happens with the legal Common Front strikes in the whole public sector. But the two struggles have inspired each other, and in the long run, they are the same.

Join the discussion “Quebec: austerity and resistance,” Thursday November 19, 7pm at Toronto’s Steelworkers Hall (25 Cecil St.), featuring Chantal Sundaram and Nora Loreto

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