Student Movement

“On veut étudier. On n’veut pas s’endetter”

From 1968 onwards, students in Quebec have been mobilizing and taking to the streets in order to ensure that higher education remains accessible and affordable for everyone. We’re all indebted to this legacy of combative student unionism for its central role in the ongoing struggle to keep tuition fees in Quebec among the lowest in the country.

Students demand that post-secondary institutions be accessible and democratic, within a general critique of global capitalism. Fifteen CEGEPs go on strike for nearly a month. The strike speeds up the creation of the Quebec university network and the construction of UQAM, and achieves the abolition of mandatory class attendance for students enrolled in CEGEP – a first step towards recognizing the right of students to strike by not attending class.

There are two general strikes during the same semester. The first is in opposition to aptitude tests for university studies. With CEGEPs on strike for one month, the government cancels the aptitude tests. The second is sparked by changes to the loans and bursaries program. The strike includes 40 institutions at its peak and lasts for around 2 weeks before it successfully pressures the Liberal Government to cancel their intended changes to the loans and bursaries program.

With the promises from 1974 not completely fulfilled, students demand free education and substantial reforms to the loans and bursaries program. The strike lasts about three weeks, with 100,000 striking students. The movement grows so quickly that the Parti Québécois Government makes concessions: significant improvements are made to the loans and bursaries program.

Responding to the Liberal Government’s threat to increase tuition and to make cuts to loans and bursaries and to education budgets, students launch a strike. Thirty student associations join on. After only 5 days of strike, they force the Government to retreat from its plan to increase tuition for both university and CEGEP, to open negotiations about loans and bursaries, and to stop ancillary fees from being imposed at universities in the UQ network.

Disappointed with the stagnated progress of the loans and bursaries negotiations, and fearing upcoming tuition increases, students strike for up to 2 weeks, with 25 student associations for the strike and 25 against it. With not enough students on strike, the Liberal Government is successfully able to increase tuition fees.

The Liberal Government increases tuition from $500 to $1200. Ten thousand students hit the streets for a province-wide demonstration on February 14th. The student movement is badly organized at this point, still recovering from a defeat two years earlier. Sporadic strikes take hold in a dozen student associations. Some associations call for a general boycott of tuition (encouraging students not to pay), but only 1% of students answer that call, so this strategy fails.

The Parti Québécois Government plans to increase tuition by 30%. With more than 40 student associations on strike, including 100,000 students at its peak, it is a success: tuition is frozen and stays frozen until 2007. However, $700 million dollars are cut, loans and bursaries become more restrictive and tuition fees increase for non-Quebec residents.

The Liberal Government decides to transform $103 million from loans into bursaries; students start organizing protests and other tactics, and start striking. It lasts 8 weeks and at its peak 230,000 students are on strike. It ends in a partial victory, preventing the $103 million in annual bursaries from being converted into loans starting in 2006.

After the government announces a 75% increase in tuition fees, students across the province embark on the longest student strike in Quebec’s history. The strike lasts several months and at its peak more than 300,000 students are on strike. The strike also sees the largest demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience in Canada’s history. This leads to a change of government and the successful cancelling of the tuition fee increase. This victory is brief as the new government pegs tuition to inflation.
After consecutive austerity budgets more than 200$ million is cut from post-secondary education, as well as from health-care, family care and other public services. Students mobilize in solidarity with workers and citizens to put an end to austerity in Quebec. Thousands of students go on strike for two weeks against austerity and fossil fuels. The movement faces massive police repression and heavy handed administrations.

With public sector collective agreements being negotiated over the summer, the perspective for mobilization in the fall is greater than ever.
It is thanks to this rich history that Quebec shines as an example throughout North America of how to mobilize to keep education accessible.
The struggle continues… Ce n’est qu’un début, continuons le combat!


 Photo: Jacque Nadeau

 Book Suggestions 
- De l'école à la rue, by Renaud Poirier St-Pierre et Philippe Ethier
- Tenir tête. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. 
- Le Printemps québécois. Une anthologie, by Maude Bonenfant, Anthony Glinoer, Martine-Emmanuelle Lapointe
- The Corporate Campus: Commercialization and the Dangers to Canada’s Colleges and Universities, edited by James Turk

 Documentary Films and Series
- Carré Rouge Sur Fond Noire (2013)
- Chili Rising (2012) Fault Lines - Al Jazeera 
- Street Politics 101 (2013)