Cooper Union trustees vote on $20,000 tuition next fall
January 15, 2014

Cooper Union trustees rejected a last-ditch effort to keep the New York City college free. 

Their vote Friday makes it all but certain, following months of controversy, that the college’s legacy of free education will end for incoming students this fall. Opponents predict the $20,000 tuition will badly hurt the college, which was founded by industrialist Paul Cooper to educate the working class and has become a well-regarded training ground for artist, architects and engineers.

“I went in to try and prevent a murder, but I arrived to find a corpse,” Kevin Slavin, a trustee who tried to keep the college free, said in an online post after Friday’s vote, in which he blamed years of poor management and predicted a dire future. “A corpse from a tragedy that happened years ago.”

According to Slavin’s account, trustees overwhelmingly rejected an 18-member working group’s plan to keep the college free.

Slavin, who joined the board last year to champion its tuition-free model, called the working group plan “the Plan that Sucks” because of the cuts it would have forced. But he voted for it anyway to try to save the tuition-free legacy.

The plan to charge tuition, announced last April, set off a two-month student occupation of the president’s office. In a deal that ended the occupation, administrators agreed to make a “good faith effort” to rethink the highly controversial tuition plan. In December, the working group of alumni, administrators, faculty, students and trustees released its report. It concluded that the college could not only avoid financial ruin but actually end up better off without charging tuition by making a series of cuts and taking steps to raise revenue from things other than undergraduate tuition.

But several allies of the administration released their own “minority report” that threw cold cold water on the full report and argued that Cooper Union’s solvency depended on charging students. That argument carried the day Friday.

“The Working Group plan puts forward a number of recommendations that are worth pursuing under any financial model,” the board said in a statement Friday. “However, we believe that the contingencies and risks inherent in the proposals are too great to supplant the need for new revenue sources. Regrettably, tuition remains the only realistic source of new revenue in the near future.”

The board said it might try to make Cooper Union tuition free again if it could. Backers of the tuition plan also point out the college plans to offer aid to the lowest-income students trying to live in expensive New York City, something it doesn’t do now, which could make it easier for some to attend even with the tuition. But Slavin and others portrayed tuition as a grave wound to the college.

Michael Borkowsky, an alumnus whose 17 years as a trustee ended in December, fears for the future.

“When you have something that is unique in all the world, giving that up, seems to me, as a very desperate move,” he said in a telephone interview Sunday.

Borkowsky said the administration, now led by President Jamshed Bharucha, never really considered alternatives to charging tuition. He said pro-tuition trustees may not appreciate how important free tuition is to the college’s standing and predicted a decline in student quality.

“It seems to me that that’s inevitable: with tuition you’re not going to get the level of applications you get without tuition, so the selectivity will drop over time,” Borkowsky, a 1961 graduate, said.  He said the majority of the board and the administration are simply not accounting for this long-term risk. “If you’re dipping down further down in the applicant pool to get the students who can afford to pay, that’s your risk, that your quality is no longer the same,” he said.

Full article
Photo 1, 2

In April, education movements are gaining full steam
April 20, 2013

Fighting against austerity measures and racist educational policies, the political pushback led by students and teachers has reached new levels of resistance this April. Global student movements are in full bloom, from Indiana University to the streets of Santiago, Chile, where students are exerting their power against the barriers that stand between them and their future.

Thousands flood Chile for free education

As many as 100,000 protesters filled Santiago, Chile last week demanding fair and free education for all, in what was the first nationwide protest of the year. Police officers responded with water cannons and tear gas as they detained more than 100 protesters.

Under-funded schools have forced poor and working class students into shanty schools after massive privatization efforts. Students who are fortunate enough to attend private universities are fighting against tuition hikes and the poor quality of education they receive. Chile’s education system is known to be one of the best in Latin America, but it is also among the most expensive, making it available to only a select percentage of students.

“Education should be equal for everyone, it should be free — we all have the same rights,” said Valentina Ibañez, a first-year student at Universidad Alberto Hurtado. The two-year struggle for education reform has gained momentum in recent weeks with revitalized protests and even larger turnouts than previous years.

Indiana students and teachers go on strike

Students at Indiana University launched a university-wide strike on April 11. Their demands include eliminating fees, reducing tuition, ending privatization and prioritizing raising enrollment of black students to at least 8 percent. The collective strike began at the Board of Trustees meeting where students presented their demands. The protest has also recently extended into an energy strike as students rally against the university’s dependence on natural gas and fossil fuels.

Students are currently holding weekly assemblies to gather more support and participants, as well as to create an open forum for ideas to further the student movement. Other students from Wisconsin to Michigan have hung banners in solidarity with the Indiana University strike.

Campaign to save ethnic studies takes off in Texas

A resistance movement to preserve Latino and African American studies in Texas is growing in opposition to the legislation SB1128 and twin bill 1938, proposed by State Representative Giovanni Capriglione and Senator Dan Patrick.

The bill is in response to a study on two Texas universities, Texas A&M University and University of Texas at Austin, done by the National Association of Scholars, which concluded “all too often the course readings gave strong emphasis to race, class or gender.” The bill would prevent credits from ethnic studies classes from transferring to other universities and from counting toward advanced credits.

State-wide actions are already planned for the week of April 26, from El Paso, San Antonio, Austin, Houston and the Rio Grande Valley. Librotraficantes, a group of activists that emerged with the ethnic studies ban in Arizona to smuggle Latino history and literature books back into the state, has also planned to travel to Austin to protest the bill.

Mexican educators rally for free public education

Mexican teachers marched throughout Guerrero and Oaxaca on April 4 to oppose educational reforms by President Enrique Pena Nieto. Educators say the new provisions leave no guarantees for free public education and that privatization will soon threaten availability of schools in many areas.

The National Union of Education Workers in Oaxaca blocked entrances to shopping malls as tens of thousands of protesters declared that the reforms were a privatization attack on education, as control over the school system was shifted from teachers’ unions to the federal government. Teachers are currently planning to occupy several public spaces and universities to continue the protest.

The movement is also in an effort to expand higher educational opportunities to students in a country where only 13 percent of students earn a degree and only 2 percent earn their Master’s degree.

Chicago Teachers Union declare political fight against school closures

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis vowed to begin a “comprehensive and aggressive political action campaign” to defeat Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other city officials who are leading the way to 54 school closures.

One initiative the union will begin working on involves getting more than 100,000 new voters to the polls before the May 22 vote. Union members will go door to door in areas most affected by the school closures, in an attempt to oust officials who are supportive of the plan.

The closure initiative will shut down schools in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods and most likely overcrowd existing schools where students will transfer. Parents and educators are also worried that if students are forced to travel longer distances to schools in unknown neighborhoods, violence and crime rates could rise.

- Graciela

I just love these photos, too: "Another Chile is possible", awesome IU strike banners, Librotraficantes (book smugglers) in Austin, masked educators in Chilpancingo, Mexico, & Karen Lewis at a rally for schools last year.

Taking a cue from IU striking students:

Raise hell, not tuition!

Interest rates on student loans set to double even as students fall deeper into debt April 10, 2013
Student loan interest rates are scheduled to double on July 1, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Congress extended the lower rate on federal student loans for a year in an effort to control the nation’s formidable student debt crisis, but will now have to decide whether or not to cancel the interest rate hike once again.
The interest rate is a rare instance of bipartisan agreement; last year, both President Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney promised to hold down interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans. Student loan rates have not been changed since they wereset in 2001, even though student debt has exploded in the past decade. The average student is now grappling with more than $27,000 in debt, and the national student debt has reached $1 trillion. Meanwhile, the federal government is making a profit on these interest rates, according to a brief by student advocacy groups:

The brief, citing a February report from the Congressional Budget Office, said the federal government makes 36 cents in profit on every student-loan dollar it puts out, and estimates that over all, student loans will bring in $34 billion next year.
“Higher education loans are meant to subsidize the cost of higher education, not profit from them, especially at a time when students are facing record debt,” said Ethan Senack, the higher education advocate at the United States Public Interest Research Group, which is issuing the brief with the United States Student Association and Young Invincibles, an organization for people 18 to 34.
According to the C.B.O. report, the government will get 12.5 cents in revenue next year for every dollar lent through subsidized Staffords, 33.3 cents per dollar in unsubsidized Staffords, 54.8 cents on each dollar of graduate school loans, and 49 cents per dollar of parent loans, for a total of $34 billion a year.
Borrowers of subsidized Stafford loans make up more than a third of those using federal student aid. More than two-thirds of those borrowers are from families with an annual income under $50,000.

The Senate’s recent budget resolution extended the lower rate indefinitely, and the House will soon have legislation to extend it for 2 more years. However, postponing the rate hike will not be enough to mitigate the ever-worsening student debt crisis. In the first three months of 2013, borrowers defaulted on their student loans in record numbers. According to the Department of Education, 6.8 million federal student loan borrowers have now defaulted on $85 billion in debt. Sequestration has only worsened the problem, driving up fees for some federal loans.
Students are relying more heavily on federal loans to pay for education as states have uniformly gutted higher education funding, pushing tuition costs to new heights. If states were willing to raise taxes rather than slash education funding, tuition costs could be stabilized. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is also working on an initiative to help students pay off their debt and find alternative refinance options. Campus Progress and other groups have also pushed for reductions in the interest rate on federal student loans.
But students aren’t the only ones suffering from this crisis. Student debt is directly responsible for the feebleness of the housing recovery. College graduates saddled with debt and unable to find suitable wages have avoided buying houses and taking on mortgages, while others aren’t able to qualify for loans because of their excessive student debt.
Source

Interest rates on student loans set to double even as students fall deeper into debt 
April 10, 2013

Student loan interest rates are scheduled to double on July 1, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Congress extended the lower rate on federal student loans for a year in an effort to control the nation’s formidable student debt crisis, but will now have to decide whether or not to cancel the interest rate hike once again.

The interest rate is a rare instance of bipartisan agreement; last year, both President Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney promised to hold down interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans. Student loan rates have not been changed since they wereset in 2001, even though student debt has exploded in the past decade. The average student is now grappling with more than $27,000 in debt, and the national student debt has reached $1 trillion. Meanwhile, the federal government is making a profit on these interest rates, according to a brief by student advocacy groups:

The brief, citing a February report from the Congressional Budget Office, said the federal government makes 36 cents in profit on every student-loan dollar it puts out, and estimates that over all, student loans will bring in $34 billion next year.

“Higher education loans are meant to subsidize the cost of higher education, not profit from them, especially at a time when students are facing record debt,” said Ethan Senack, the higher education advocate at the United States Public Interest Research Group, which is issuing the brief with the United States Student Association and Young Invincibles, an organization for people 18 to 34.

According to the C.B.O. report, the government will get 12.5 cents in revenue next year for every dollar lent through subsidized Staffords, 33.3 cents per dollar in unsubsidized Staffords, 54.8 cents on each dollar of graduate school loans, and 49 cents per dollar of parent loans, for a total of $34 billion a year.

Borrowers of subsidized Stafford loans make up more than a third of those using federal student aid. More than two-thirds of those borrowers are from families with an annual income under $50,000.

The Senate’s recent budget resolution extended the lower rate indefinitely, and the House will soon have legislation to extend it for 2 more years. However, postponing the rate hike will not be enough to mitigate the ever-worsening student debt crisis. In the first three months of 2013, borrowers defaulted on their student loans in record numbers. According to the Department of Education, 6.8 million federal student loan borrowers have now defaulted on $85 billion in debt. Sequestration has only worsened the problem, driving up fees for some federal loans.

Students are relying more heavily on federal loans to pay for education as states have uniformly gutted higher education funding, pushing tuition costs to new heights. If states were willing to raise taxes rather than slash education funding, tuition costs could be stabilized. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is also working on an initiative to help students pay off their debt and find alternative refinance options. Campus Progress and other groups have also pushed for reductions in the interest rate on federal student loans.

But students aren’t the only ones suffering from this crisis. Student debt is directly responsible for the feebleness of the housing recovery. College graduates saddled with debt and unable to find suitable wages have avoided buying houses and taking on mortgages, while others aren’t able to qualify for loans because of their excessive student debt.

Source

10,000 Quebec students clash with police after rejecting tuition increase
February 28, 2013

A tuition-fee compromise by Quebec’s premier couldn’t prevent a violent protest that rekindled memories of last year’s Quebec Spring.

The window-smashing rally of 10,000 people took place despite Pauline Marois’s efforts to appease student hardliners with a bilateral meeting.

The hardliners instead boycotted Marois’s summit and organized a massive demonstration after the premier refused to abolish tuition fees.

As the meeting drew to a close south of downtown, Montreal riot police charged crowds of mask-wearing protesters north of the summit site.

Suspects pelted officers and their horses with rocks, eggs and red paint. Windows were smashed and vehicles were damaged along the rally route and police tackled at least one masked man and led him away in handcuffs.

It was the second straight day of vandalism related to the student movement. Suspects splattered red paint at the offices of several provincial politicians hours before the meeting got underway on Monday morning.

The premier concluded her two-day summit by holding firm on a $70 annual tuition increase and $250 million in cuts to university budgets over two years.

Marois marched with the students when she was opposition leader but has since drawn their ire despite cancelling the previous Liberal government’s seven-year, $1,800 tuition hike.

Before the violent outbreak Tuesday, she suggested the summit that brought together unions, university rectors and moderate students was a success.

"We have done a tremendous job," she told reporters. "We managed to put the fighting behind us and return to dialogue."

Even moderate student groups opposed to Tuesday’s protest gave Marois the thumbs down.

They said they were “extremely disappointed” Marois didn’t maintain a tuition freeze first implemented in 1993.

University principals and rectors are also upset at the budget cuts, warning that student services will suffer.

Quebec students have been willing to create social unrest to make their point.

The previous Liberal government’s decision to hike tuition led to months of protests last year that taxed police services, disrupted Quebec’s economy and made international headlines.

Source

We desperately need this kind of organization in the US. My alma mater is raising tuition & living costs yet again this year & barely any students even know about it.

Edit note: The 3 percent increase is cumulative, so $70 more the first year, but even more the second, and the third, and so on.

Students for a free Cooper Union reissue their demandsDecember 8, 2012
We, The Students for a Free Cooper Union, having occupied The Peter Cooper Suite on the top floor of The Cooper Union Foundation Building for more than 100 hours, have chosen to reissue our demands of the Cooper Union administration and guiding principles to the citywide higher education community and general public.
Over the past five days, we have received amazing displays of solidarity from Cooper Union students, faculty, alumni, and supporters around the world. Meanwhile, the college’s deadlocked administration has been shaken by community action and presence. Cooper Union has received positive attention as an institution, and the community’s numerous creative responses to tuition-based, expansionist models have stressed the necessity and preservation of free education. However, Jamshed Bharucha and his administration have yet to officially respond to our demands. Rather than addressing the pressing issues raised by student, faculty, and alumni, Bhaurcha’s administration has attempted to marginalize our voices along with the vision and mission of Cooper Union: to provide free education to all.
We now find ourselves in a space of unity and true democratic discourse among students, faculty, and alumni. Our peers have taken this opportunity to come together across disciplines, forming a unification committee, carrying out guidelines for peaceful protests, and crossing institutional boundaries.
To move forward with the support of the Cooper Union community and an assembly of New York City high schools, colleges, and universities, The Students for a Free Cooper Union have published 2,000 copies of our original communique and list of demands to be distributed at the Citywide Student/Faculty Rally on Saturday, December 8. The rally will begin at 11:00 AM in Washington Square Park with student and faculty speak-outs, followed by a march to Cooper Union at 3:00 PM. This celebration of free education and the student reclamation of higher education will conclude with a dance party.
The march from Washington Square Park to Cooper Union will be fun, family-friendly, participatory, and welcoming to those not well-versed in protest.
Our demands as follows:
The administration must publicly affirm the college’s commitment to free education. They will stop pursuing new tuition-based educational programs and eliminate other ways in which students are charged for education.
The Board of Trustees must immediately implement structural changes with the goal of creating open flows of information and democratic decision-making structures. The administration’s gross mismanagement of the school cannot be reversed within the same systems which allowed the crisis to occur. To this end, we have outlined actions that the board must take
Record board meetings and make minutes publicly available.
Appoint a student and faculty member from each school as voting members of the board.
Implement a process by which board members may be removed through a vote from the Cooper Union community, comprised of students, faculty, alumni, and administrators.
3. President Bharucha steps down.

Students for a free Cooper Union reissue their demands
December 8, 2012

We, The Students for a Free Cooper Union, having occupied The Peter Cooper Suite on the top floor of The Cooper Union Foundation Building for more than 100 hours, have chosen to reissue our demands of the Cooper Union administration and guiding principles to the citywide higher education community and general public.

Over the past five days, we have received amazing displays of solidarity from Cooper Union students, faculty, alumni, and supporters around the world. Meanwhile, the college’s deadlocked administration has been shaken by community action and presence. Cooper Union has received positive attention as an institution, and the community’s numerous creative responses to tuition-based, expansionist models have stressed the necessity and preservation of free education. However, Jamshed Bharucha and his administration have yet to officially respond to our demands. Rather than addressing the pressing issues raised by student, faculty, and alumni, Bhaurcha’s administration has attempted to marginalize our voices along with the vision and mission of Cooper Union: to provide free education to all.

We now find ourselves in a space of unity and true democratic discourse among students, faculty, and alumni. Our peers have taken this opportunity to come together across disciplines, forming a unification committee, carrying out guidelines for peaceful protests, and crossing institutional boundaries.

To move forward with the support of the Cooper Union community and an assembly of New York City high schools, colleges, and universities, The Students for a Free Cooper Union have published 2,000 copies of our original communique and list of demands to be distributed at the Citywide Student/Faculty Rally on Saturday, December 8. The rally will begin at 11:00 AM in Washington Square Park with student and faculty speak-outs, followed by a march to Cooper Union at 3:00 PM. This celebration of free education and the student reclamation of higher education will conclude with a dance party.

The march from Washington Square Park to Cooper Union will be fun, family-friendly, participatory, and welcoming to those not well-versed in protest.

Our demands as follows:

  1. The administration must publicly affirm the college’s commitment to free education. They will stop pursuing new tuition-based educational programs and eliminate other ways in which students are charged for education.
  2. The Board of Trustees must immediately implement structural changes with the goal of creating open flows of information and democratic decision-making structures. The administration’s gross mismanagement of the school cannot be reversed within the same systems which allowed the crisis to occur. To this end, we have outlined actions that the board must take
  • Record board meetings and make minutes publicly available.
  • Appoint a student and faculty member from each school as voting members of the board.
  • Implement a process by which board members may be removed through a vote from the Cooper Union community, comprised of students, faculty, alumni, and administrators.

3. President Bharucha steps down.

Students occupying Cooper Union insist on founder’s visionDecember 4, 2012
The clock tower of the Foundation Building of Cooper Union on 3rd Avenue and 7th Street in Manhattan stopped at 12:40 pm on December 3 signifying the start to the occupation of the Peter Cooper suite, a studio room behind the clock where twelve students barricaded themselves yesterday. The students mounted the protest to urge the school not to begin charging tuition to undergraduates.
The taking of the 8th floor was followed by the quick arrival of security staff and administrators who tried to literally saw their way through the bolted door. These attempts were put on hold out of fear of injuring the students that were physically defending the space with their bodies pressed against the barricades.
Aside from military schools across the US, Cooper Union is one of eight free higher education institutions in the country. Founded by philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, the school is known for its rigorous admissions program and a curriculum providing free, high-quality education for the brightest and most innovative budding engineers and artists from all over the world. Cooper himself asserted that university was founded on the idea that education at the institution would be as “free as air and water”, and its mission being to create access to art education to students regardless of their race, religion, sex, wealth or social status.
Like the City University of New York [a public institution that first implemented tuition in 1975, at which the cost of education has gone up 500% for students since], Cooper Union was free through the Great Depression. However, over the past several years the Board of Trustees has been devising plans to address the institution’s growing deficit of 16.5 million dollars, largely the result of an expansion plan, by shifting the weight of administrative spending onto the shoulders of students and their families.  The school says it has not made a decision on charging tuition for undergraduates but in April, it broke precedent by instituting tuition costs for graduate students for the first time in its 110-year history.
The twelve occupiers students along with the group, Students for a Free Cooper Union, released a statement with three tough demands:
1) The administration publicly affirm the college’s commitment to free education.2) The Trustees immediately implement structural changes with the goal of creating open flows of information and democratic decision-making.3) The President of the college, Mr. Bharucha, step down from his position.
In the evening, the students put on a session on education and debt in the Great Hall of Cooper Union that involved performances, presentations, videos and a brief livestream of the occupiers from a mere seven floors above the gathering.
Writer and organizer Marina Sitrin began the session by locating the current occupation of Cooper Union in the larger context of social movements across the globe, from the Arab Spring to the anti-austerity movement of Chile to the #YoSoy132 movement in Mexico to the student movement that successfully stopped the proposed tuition increase in Quebec. Sitrin asserted that what makes our movements significant and also threatening to the status-quo is that they are not only movements of refusal and the rejection of policies that do not reflect the world we want to see but also movements of creation, where we assemble, learn from one another, make art, and build social relations that are pre-figurative.
The occupying students themselves are not only refusing to allow their institution to implement tuition for students that will come after them (they are not self-interested, but are hell-bent on protecting the integrity of their school for future generations to come) but also outside while they reclaimed the interior of their school building, fellow students and allies providing free and participatory classes outside through the Free University—providing a creative and pre-figurative component to the protest.
Sitrin also stressed that what’s especially exciting about the last year is how we have been able to borrow strong messaging, tactics, strategy and imagery from other successful social movements and have thus built a dialectic relationship across the globe in the process. The occupation of Peter Cooper suite was a prime example of how students in the US are learning from other student struggles: the bright red bannering was reminiscent of the Quebec student strike of 2012, the messaging of “free education for all” was similar to that of the banner drops and signs at CUNY student protests over the past several years.
The students continue to occupy the space today. Whether they will leave or be ejected is anyone’s guess. Moving forward, examples of grassroots struggle for social change abound. In New York City, where I live, the Cooper Union struggle to remain a tuition-free institution may yet be tied together with the continuous organizing in communities post-Hurricane Sandy, the recent fast food workers strikes, the new Rolling Jubilee that buys people’s anonymous debt for pennies on the dollar and numerous other ripples of popular dissent.
This is what democracy looks like.
SourcePhoto
Rally at Cooper Union at 1 p.m. today. Be there & be a part of the fight for free education.

Students occupying Cooper Union insist on founder’s vision
December 4, 2012

The clock tower of the Foundation Building of Cooper Union on 3rd Avenue and 7th Street in Manhattan stopped at 12:40 pm on December 3 signifying the start to the occupation of the Peter Cooper suite, a studio room behind the clock where twelve students barricaded themselves yesterday. The students mounted the protest to urge the school not to begin charging tuition to undergraduates.

The taking of the 8th floor was followed by the quick arrival of security staff and administrators who tried to literally saw their way through the bolted door. These attempts were put on hold out of fear of injuring the students that were physically defending the space with their bodies pressed against the barricades.

Aside from military schools across the US, Cooper Union is one of eight free higher education institutions in the country. Founded by philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, the school is known for its rigorous admissions program and a curriculum providing free, high-quality education for the brightest and most innovative budding engineers and artists from all over the world. Cooper himself asserted that university was founded on the idea that education at the institution would be as “free as air and water”, and its mission being to create access to art education to students regardless of their race, religion, sex, wealth or social status.

Like the City University of New York [a public institution that first implemented tuition in 1975, at which the cost of education has gone up 500% for students since], Cooper Union was free through the Great Depression. However, over the past several years the Board of Trustees has been devising plans to address the institution’s growing deficit of 16.5 million dollars, largely the result of an expansion plan, by shifting the weight of administrative spending onto the shoulders of students and their families.  The school says it has not made a decision on charging tuition for undergraduates but in April, it broke precedent by instituting tuition costs for graduate students for the first time in its 110-year history.

The twelve occupiers students along with the group, Students for a Free Cooper Union, released a statement with three tough demands:

1) The administration publicly affirm the college’s commitment to free education.
2) The Trustees immediately implement structural changes with the goal of creating open flows of information and democratic decision-making.
3) The President of the college, Mr. Bharucha, step down from his position.

In the evening, the students put on a session on education and debt in the Great Hall of Cooper Union that involved performances, presentations, videos and a brief livestream of the occupiers from a mere seven floors above the gathering.

Writer and organizer Marina Sitrin began the session by locating the current occupation of Cooper Union in the larger context of social movements across the globe, from the Arab Spring to the anti-austerity movement of Chile to the #YoSoy132 movement in Mexico to the student movement that successfully stopped the proposed tuition increase in Quebec. Sitrin asserted that what makes our movements significant and also threatening to the status-quo is that they are not only movements of refusal and the rejection of policies that do not reflect the world we want to see but also movements of creation, where we assemble, learn from one another, make art, and build social relations that are pre-figurative.

The occupying students themselves are not only refusing to allow their institution to implement tuition for students that will come after them (they are not self-interested, but are hell-bent on protecting the integrity of their school for future generations to come) but also outside while they reclaimed the interior of their school building, fellow students and allies providing free and participatory classes outside through the Free University—providing a creative and pre-figurative component to the protest.

Sitrin also stressed that what’s especially exciting about the last year is how we have been able to borrow strong messaging, tactics, strategy and imagery from other successful social movements and have thus built a dialectic relationship across the globe in the process. The occupation of Peter Cooper suite was a prime example of how students in the US are learning from other student struggles: the bright red bannering was reminiscent of the Quebec student strike of 2012, the messaging of “free education for all” was similar to that of the banner drops and signs at CUNY student protests over the past several years.

The students continue to occupy the space today. Whether they will leave or be ejected is anyone’s guess. Moving forward, examples of grassroots struggle for social change abound. In New York City, where I live, the Cooper Union struggle to remain a tuition-free institution may yet be tied together with the continuous organizing in communities post-Hurricane Sandy, the recent fast food workers strikes, the new Rolling Jubilee that buys people’s anonymous debt for pennies on the dollar and numerous other ripples of popular dissent.

This is what democracy looks like.

Source
Photo

Rally at Cooper Union at 1 p.m. today. Be there & be a part of the fight for free education.

Thousands of Canadian students march in sixth mass demonstration against austerity measuresAugust 22, 2012
Thousands gathered in Place du Canada for the sixth mass demonstration to protest against university tuition fee hikes Wednesday afternoon, blowing whistles, drumming and calling for a more just Quebec.
While numbers were far short of the hundreds of thousands seen last spring, student leaders said it was the largest protest ever organized during an electoral campaign and a sign of the renewal of the protest movement.
"We already have far more than seen in the summer protests held on the 22nd of each month (which drew about 10,000 people," said Jeremie Bedard-Wien, spokesman for CLASSE. "The mobilization is starting up again."
As of 2:45 p.m., marchers were still assembling and preparing to take to the streets. Along with students, 100,000 of whom voted for a strike day Wednesday as most opted for a return to class last week, several unions and members of a coalition protesting against the privatization of public services and user fees for things like health care were also in attendance.
Student associations FEUQ and FECQ called for youth to vote en masse to oust the Liberal government that instituted the fee hikes. CLASSE, however, said the political debates have shown their demands are not being recognized, and said the fight would continue no matter who was elected.
By 3:30, the protest was starting to resemble marches of the spring, with tens of thousands clogging University St. From René Lévesque to Sherbrooke and then heading east.
Many held placards reading “I’m voting for (blank), with words like ” education” “change,”” tomorrow” and “us.” None said Charest, although many read “anyone but Charest.” There were also a few PQs and Quebec Solidaires.
CLASSE had been calling for the biggest march in history of Quebec, which was asking a lot given the election campaign that has put the issue somewhat in limbo pending its outcome.
But as CLASSE and the other student federations were hoping, Wednesday’s march proved the issues have not died down for many.
Protest perrennial Anarchopanda came out, and a few people clutched stuffed pandas, one of the student movement’s unofficial mascots.
All was peaceful, and noisy as of 3:45.
Source
Montreal leading the way for other mass student demonstrations! 

Thousands of Canadian students march in sixth mass demonstration against austerity measures
August 22, 2012

Thousands gathered in Place du Canada for the sixth mass demonstration to protest against university tuition fee hikes Wednesday afternoon, blowing whistles, drumming and calling for a more just Quebec.

While numbers were far short of the hundreds of thousands seen last spring, student leaders said it was the largest protest ever organized during an electoral campaign and a sign of the renewal of the protest movement.

"We already have far more than seen in the summer protests held on the 22nd of each month (which drew about 10,000 people," said Jeremie Bedard-Wien, spokesman for CLASSE. "The mobilization is starting up again."

As of 2:45 p.m., marchers were still assembling and preparing to take to the streets. Along with students, 100,000 of whom voted for a strike day Wednesday as most opted for a return to class last week, several unions and members of a coalition protesting against the privatization of public services and user fees for things like health care were also in attendance.

Student associations FEUQ and FECQ called for youth to vote en masse to oust the Liberal government that instituted the fee hikes. CLASSE, however, said the political debates have shown their demands are not being recognized, and said the fight would continue no matter who was elected.

By 3:30, the protest was starting to resemble marches of the spring, with tens of thousands clogging University St. From René Lévesque to Sherbrooke and then heading east.

Many held placards reading “I’m voting for (blank), with words like ” education” “change,”” tomorrow” and “us.” None said Charest, although many read “anyone but Charest.” There were also a few PQs and Quebec Solidaires.

CLASSE had been calling for the biggest march in history of Quebec, which was asking a lot given the election campaign that has put the issue somewhat in limbo pending its outcome.

But as CLASSE and the other student federations were hoping, Wednesday’s march proved the issues have not died down for many.

Protest perrennial Anarchopanda came out, and a few people clutched stuffed pandas, one of the student movement’s unofficial mascots.

All was peaceful, and noisy as of 3:45.

Source

Montreal leading the way for other mass student demonstrations! 

UC students & staff stage zombie protest at regents meeting

July 19, 2012

The public comment period during the UC Board of Regents meeting Wednesday morning was heated, culminating in a zombie-themed protest that interrupted the meeting for 15 minutes before the board could resume open sessions.

Members of the public and students dressed as zombies at the UCSF Mission Bay campus demanded that the board stop fee and tuition hikes and the privatization of state capital debt during the public comment session of the meeting, which began shortly after 8:30 a.m.

Many spoke in support of Gov. Jerry Brown’s November tax initiative, while others accused the regents of acting in their own interests.

“We’re dressed like zombies because the debt is killing us,” said Matt Wade, a UC Berkeley doctoral student in city and regional planning.

Source

­On Monday, over 500 lawyers, notaries and other legal professionals, dressed in their courtroom gowns, walked in silence through the streets of Canada’s second-largest city. 
Hundreds of lawyers have marched through Montreal in a subdued challenge to a new bill that harshly limits public protests. Canada’s province of Quebec has gone through 106 days of massive actions, which started as student outrage over tuition hikes.
The black-robed parade protested Bill 78, an emergency law that lays down strict government regulations for demonstrations numbering over 50 people. The lawyers were cheered by crowds; many onlookers shouting “Merci!”
Source

­On Monday, over 500 lawyers, notaries and other legal professionals, dressed in their courtroom gowns, walked in silence through the streets of Canada’s second-largest city.

Hundreds of lawyers have marched through Montreal in a subdued challenge to a new bill that harshly limits public protests. Canada’s province of Quebec has gone through 106 days of massive actions, which started as student outrage over tuition hikes.

The black-robed parade protested Bill 78, an emergency law that lays down strict government regulations for demonstrations numbering over 50 people. The lawyers were cheered by crowds; many onlookers shouting “Merci!

Source

May 29, 2012
Although they are sworn to uphold the laws of the land, hundreds of lawyers marched through Montreal streets Monday in a subdued challenge to Bill 78, which limits public protests.
“We don’t want to break the law but we want to contest it,” explained Pierre, a 23-year-old articling lawyer who would not give his last name. He was among an estimated 500 to 700 lawyers, notaries and other legal professionals who marched in their black robes and in near silence from the Montreal courthouse to Place Émilie-Gamelin, where they were greeted by wildly cheering protesters gathered for their own nightly march.
There were several protests Monday night against planned tuition fee hikes and Bill 78. It was the 35th consecutive night of protests in the city and as of 9:30 p.m. police reported no arrests.
Ironically the lawyers’ protest was in perfect accordance with the law they ardently oppose. Organizers gave police their planned itinerary more than eight hours before the march.
Rémi Bourget, one of the organizers of the march, said some lawyers were worried they might be fined under Bill 78 for participating in the protest. “That’s why we especially wanted to march legally, in our black robes and in silence,” Bourget said.
Cheering on the lawyers from the sidewalk was Ginette Vincent, 59, a secretary. The lawyers are adding credibility to the opposition to Bill 78, Vincent said. “They are lawyers, after all.”
Source

May 29, 2012

Although they are sworn to uphold the laws of the land, hundreds of lawyers marched through Montreal streets Monday in a subdued challenge to Bill 78, which limits public protests.

“We don’t want to break the law but we want to contest it,” explained Pierre, a 23-year-old articling lawyer who would not give his last name. He was among an estimated 500 to 700 lawyers, notaries and other legal professionals who marched in their black robes and in near silence from the Montreal courthouse to Place Émilie-Gamelin, where they were greeted by wildly cheering protesters gathered for their own nightly march.

There were several protests Monday night against planned tuition fee hikes and Bill 78. It was the 35th consecutive night of protests in the city and as of 9:30 p.m. police reported no arrests.

Ironically the lawyers’ protest was in perfect accordance with the law they ardently oppose. Organizers gave police their planned itinerary more than eight hours before the march.

Rémi Bourget, one of the organizers of the march, said some lawyers were worried they might be fined under Bill 78 for participating in the protest. “That’s why we especially wanted to march legally, in our black robes and in silence,” Bourget said.

Cheering on the lawyers from the sidewalk was Ginette Vincent, 59, a secretary. The lawyers are adding credibility to the opposition to Bill 78, Vincent said. “They are lawyers, after all.”

Quebec students defy government threats
The strike of post-secondary students in Québec has taken a dramatic turn with the provincial government rushing adoption of a special law on May 18 to suspend the school year at strike-bound institutions until August and to outlaw protest activity deemed disruptive of institutions not participating in the strike.
Details of Bill 78 were unveiled the day before and debated in a special, overnight session of Québec’s National Assembly. They include a ban on demonstrations within 50 meters of a post-secondary institution and severe financial penalties on students or teachers and their organizations if they picket or otherwise protest in a manner declared “illegal.” Demonstrations of 10 or more people must submit their intended march route to police eight hours in advance.
The elected representative and co-leader of the Québec Solidaire party, Amir Khadir, told the Assembly that the law aims to “criminalize and destroy” student organizations. Thousands of students marched angrily in the streets of Montreal, Québec City and Sherbrooke on the evening of May 17 as the law was being debated in the National Assembly.
Courts are beginning to process the hundreds of students who have been arrested over the past three-and-a-half months of the strike and issuing severe restrictions on movement and activity pending rulings.
The 24,000-member Bar Association of Québec has spoken against Bill 78. Among its concerns is the provision that the education minister may rule by decree on education matters, bypassing the National Assembly, including ordering education institutions to withhold the transfer of membership dues to student organizations.
Leaders of the unions of university and CEGEP (junior college) professors (the FQPPU and FNEEQ, respectively) as well as the large, trade union centrals have also condemned the measure.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of the CLASSÉ student federation called the law “repressive and authoritarian. It restricts students’ right to strike, which has been recognized for years by educational institutions.” His colleague, Jeanne Reynolds, says the law is a “losing proposition” coming from a “haughty and arrogant” Premier Jean Charest. Both leaders reaffirmed the mass protest on May 22, saying, “No law will stop us from demonstrating.”
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Government was failing to intimidate students and supporters
The Québec government provoked the student strike with its proposal last year, confirmed in its March 2012 budget, to increase tuition fees by 60 percent over the next five years. That was then modified to a 75 percent increase over seven years.
The deeply unpopular government has been battered and bruised by the strike, including on May 14, when Minister of Education Line Beauchamp submitted a surprise resignation. She buckled under the pressure of her responsibilities in carrying the government’s hard line.
In the lead-up to Bill 78, politicians and editorialists were calling for greater use of police violence and court injunctions to break up student picket lines and support action by teachers and professors that have closed many colleges and university departments. But education administrators complained that the injunctions were “unenforceable” due to mass picketing. They were also nervous about the consequences of even more blatant exercises of police violence against students. Now they hope that the punitive measures in the new law will dissuade militant action.
The law targets another area of concern—teaching staff. Many professors have joined the picket lines of their students. They have said they would not be forced to teach under the threat of injunctions and riot police.
Following a police attack on students at CEGEP Lionel-Groulx north of Montreal on May 15, for example, Jean Trudelle, president of the FNEEQ said, “The scenes we witnessed here this morning have shocked everyone, beginning with the students and professors directly concerned. It is inhuman to ask people to teach after such events.”
Pressure on all the parties involved in the strike is intense because the school year is at stake. Both available options—cancellation of the school year or an unlikely concession by the government to temporarily suspend the tuition freeze permitting CLASSÉs to resume—involve heavy financial sacrifices by students, making their tenacity all the more remarkable. Adding to the pressure on students is uncertainty over summer employment and the need to earn course credits during the summer months.
Bill 78 will complicate life for those in strike-bound CEGEPS because it projects that the current school year would resume in August and be completed in October. That means graduates intending to enter university would have to wait until September 2013.
The government, the business elite and editorialists in the mainstream media are counting on these pressures to push through the tuition increase. But they have underestimated student determination until now and, according to students, are still making the same mistake.
Some 160,000 students are on strike, approximately 35 percent of the post-secondary student population in the province. Of those, 65,000 are CEGEP students, all in Montreal and surrounding regions. Only small numbers of students at the three English-language universities are on strike, while the three English CEGEPs (located in Montreal) are fully functional.
One additional feature of the strike has been the participation of high school students. They have staged one-day walkouts from school and will likely have a strong presence at the May 22 action.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Calls for inquiry into police violence against students
Televisions, radio and print news reports are full of discussion of the police violence that erupted in Victoriaville on May 4 in front of a hotel conference center where the governing Liberal party was holding a meeting of its executive council. The riot squad of the Québec provincial police (Sûreté du Québec) unleashed unprecedented violence against protesters that shocked many in the province.
According to estimates published in the daily newspapers, police fired 30 plastic bullets, more than 100 concussion grenades and countless canisters of CS gas and pepper gas. Two students were gravely injured when struck by police projectiles—Maxence Valade lost an eye and Alexandre Allard suffered a life-threatening concussion. Others suffered broken bones and teeth or other traumatic injuries from police truncheons.
Witnesses say that projectiles were fired point blank by police at the height of heads and upper bodies, in violation of police protocol (and elementary human rights). Photo and video news reports confirm the accusations. One video image captured the injury suffered by Allard.
Police blocked bridges leading out of Victoriaville when the protest was over that evening in order to intercept and arrest protesters returning to Montreal or other points of origin. They turned back three entire buses of students and supporters, turning the buses into overnight prison cells. Passengers were selected for arrest as the night wore on and were otherwise instructed not to speak to each other or use communication devices.
The Montreal daily Gazette reports 110 arrests by police, and counting. There are widespread calls for a formal inquiry into police action. Among those voices are Québec Solidaire, the Parti Québécois and the League of Rights and Freedoms.
The use of plastic bullets against civic protests was harshly criticized (article in French) by a panel of five members of a legal observer team created by the Québec government to observe protests during the Summit of the Americas in Québec City in 2001.
A member of that team says today she doesn’t know what became of their report. She says that in light of events in Victoriaville, it looks like it was simply “filed away.”
The student strike has also occasioned other attacks on democratic rights. The federal government is moving on a new law that would criminalize the wearing of a mask at public assemblies declared to be “illegal.” Montreal mayor Gilles Tremblay has quickly rushed a similar municipal law into place. (The mayor has his own troubles at hand. Three of his recent top aides were arrested on May 17 as part of a massive corruption probe of the construction industry in Québec that has rocked the province from top to bottom.)
Four young people may face prosecution under “anti-terrorist” legislation for releasing several smoke bombs in Montreal’s underground subway system on May 10. The stunt closed the system for several hours during the morning rush hour. The accused surrendered to police the following day. Student leaders criticized the action and how it is being used to deter attention from the issues of their strike.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Background on student strikers
Members of the three student associations waging the strike voted by massive margins during the week of May 7 to reject a shabby government offer to end the strike. The offer issued from 22 hours of overnight talks on May 4 and 5, between the government and the three large student associations—CLASSÉ, the FECQ and the FEUQ.
The revolt is fueled by deep opposition to what students consider to be the commercialization of education and degradation of social rights across the whole of society. Some view the strike as part of a broader, anti-capitalist struggle for a society of social justice. The association that expresses this most forcefully is CLASSÉ (Broad Coalition of the Association for Trade Union-Student Solidarity).
One of the goals of CLASSÉ is to spearhead a broader social movement in Québec society that could challenge capitalist dominance and fight for a new society based on principles of social justice. It proposes the tactics of broad, “social strikes” to forge a fighting alliance with workers and others victims of class society. Specifically for education planning and policy, it wants to convoke États généraux (civic assemblies) to discuss and decide education policy. The assemblies would be composed of the elected representative of the main protagonists in Québec education.
This resembles the “red university” strategy of the mass, student rebellion of the 1960s and 1970s in which students sought to use their capacities and the resources of the universities to spark broad, anti-capitalist struggle.
CLASSÉ represents just over half of the 160,000 striking students. The association’s numbers have grown by 10,000 since the beginning of the strike from students switching membership from the other student groups. CLASSÉ’s appeal is due to its principled stand for free, public education and its democratic internal functioning.
The association held a two-part meeting of its national council on May 10 and 13 in Montreal and Québec City, respectively, which discussed and approved strategy in the ongoing fight. It approved continuing mobilizations as well as support for campaigns of other movements such as women’s rights, refugee rights and trade union-led opposition to privatizations and other attacks by governments on social services. There were some 200 delegates at the meetings.
Delegates voted to demand that representatives of employer associations be excluded from future talks on education with the government. The association considers that public education is being treated as a commercial entity in the capitalist market instead of the precious human and social right that it should be. “The elite already have enough outlets to express their views to government,” said one delegate in the discussion of the resolution.
Another resolution proclaimed that CLASSÉ will not participate in permanent councils to oversee the management of education institutions. One aspect of the failed government proposal of May 4, 5 was the proposed formation of a multi-partite council to study education spending and recommend cuts to government. Student representatives and their allies (teachers, education workers) would be a minority on such a cost-cutting body or on more permanent versions.
Several delegates argued that “co-management” is a trap that places student representatives in unequal and disadvantageous positions. They said that the power of students stems from mobilizing actions in the streets and in the institutions. The goal of CLASSÉ, they reminded the Montreal conference, is radical social change, including free and universal access to education.
The conference session in Montreal spent considerable time discussing the relationship of CLASSÉ and the student struggle to the trade unions in Québec. There is dissatisfaction over the role that leaders of the large, trade union centrals played in the talks on May 4, 5. They were invited to participate by the government.
The union leaders came out of the talks saying that the government proposal could be a “road map” toward mitigating the government’s tuition hike. They treated the proposal as a fait accompli, whereas student leaders insisted it would go to vote of their members.
Many student activists also consider that the non-education union federations and their affiliates have been long on statements of support and short on action.
Delegate after delegate in Montreal spoke of the importance of relations with the unions, saying that workers’ rights and the social wage are under attack by the same government that is attacking students and education services. In the end, the meeting resolved to continue seeking points of agreement and common action with workers and their unions.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -A powerful movement in need of more allies
One need only ride public transit or stroll through downtown Montreal to appreciate the scope and power of this student strike. Montreal has the highest, per capita post-secondary student population of any city in North America. In the city core, there are four universities with an enrollment of 175,000.
Students recognize that they need allies in order to win demands for free, accessible education. The CLASSÉ association explains on its website that it is not asking simply for statements of support:

We wish, on the contrary, for a convergence of the entire Québec population against the politics of cuts and merchandising of social services and our collective rights. Only a generalization of the student strike to workplaces will make such a convergence effective. Our call, therefore, is a call to the entire population for a social strike!

Lex Gill, president of the student union at the English-language Concordia University, wrote in the May 12 Montreal daily The Gazette that the students, not the government, speak for Québec society on education matters:

A ballot in a box every few years should never trump the will of an entire generation…When the electoral process fails an entire generation, when public consultation isn’t meaningful, when petitions, letters and phone calls to elected representatives go unheard, there is often no other option than to express (social) convictions in the streets.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of CLASSÉ explained to journalists on May 13, “After 13 weeks of strike, an exceptional solidarity has been formed. Students are prepared to go much further in the struggle than was imagined at the outset.”
This is the great fear that the capitalists in Québec and in Canada have for this movement. As a columnist in the national Globe and Mail daily lamented on May 14, “In Québec, students are confronting the Liberal Charest government ostensibly over tuition fees, but in reality over who governs.”
via Socialist Project

Quebec students defy government threats

The strike of post-secondary students in Québec has taken a dramatic turn with the provincial government rushing adoption of a special law on May 18 to suspend the school year at strike-bound institutions until August and to outlaw protest activity deemed disruptive of institutions not participating in the strike.

Details of Bill 78 were unveiled the day before and debated in a special, overnight session of Québec’s National Assembly. They include a ban on demonstrations within 50 meters of a post-secondary institution and severe financial penalties on students or teachers and their organizations if they picket or otherwise protest in a manner declared “illegal.” Demonstrations of 10 or more people must submit their intended march route to police eight hours in advance.

The elected representative and co-leader of the Québec Solidaire party, Amir Khadir, told the Assembly that the law aims to “criminalize and destroy” student organizations. Thousands of students marched angrily in the streets of Montreal, Québec City and Sherbrooke on the evening of May 17 as the law was being debated in the National Assembly.

Courts are beginning to process the hundreds of students who have been arrested over the past three-and-a-half months of the strike and issuing severe restrictions on movement and activity pending rulings.

The 24,000-member Bar Association of Québec has spoken against Bill 78. Among its concerns is the provision that the education minister may rule by decree on education matters, bypassing the National Assembly, including ordering education institutions to withhold the transfer of membership dues to student organizations.

Leaders of the unions of university and CEGEP (junior college) professors (the FQPPU and FNEEQ, respectively) as well as the large, trade union centrals have also condemned the measure.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of the CLASSÉ student federation called the law “repressive and authoritarian. It restricts students’ right to strike, which has been recognized for years by educational institutions.” His colleague, Jeanne Reynolds, says the law is a “losing proposition” coming from a “haughty and arrogant” Premier Jean Charest. Both leaders reaffirmed the mass protest on May 22, saying, “No law will stop us from demonstrating.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Government was failing to intimidate students and supporters

The Québec government provoked the student strike with its proposal last year, confirmed in its March 2012 budget, to increase tuition fees by 60 percent over the next five years. That was then modified to a 75 percent increase over seven years.

The deeply unpopular government has been battered and bruised by the strike, including on May 14, when Minister of Education Line Beauchamp submitted a surprise resignation. She buckled under the pressure of her responsibilities in carrying the government’s hard line.

In the lead-up to Bill 78, politicians and editorialists were calling for greater use of police violence and court injunctions to break up student picket lines and support action by teachers and professors that have closed many colleges and university departments. But education administrators complained that the injunctions were “unenforceable” due to mass picketing. They were also nervous about the consequences of even more blatant exercises of police violence against students. Now they hope that the punitive measures in the new law will dissuade militant action.

The law targets another area of concern—teaching staff. Many professors have joined the picket lines of their students. They have said they would not be forced to teach under the threat of injunctions and riot police.

Following a police attack on students at CEGEP Lionel-Groulx north of Montreal on May 15, for example, Jean Trudelle, president of the FNEEQ said, “The scenes we witnessed here this morning have shocked everyone, beginning with the students and professors directly concerned. It is inhuman to ask people to teach after such events.”

Pressure on all the parties involved in the strike is intense because the school year is at stake. Both available options—cancellation of the school year or an unlikely concession by the government to temporarily suspend the tuition freeze permitting CLASSÉs to resume—involve heavy financial sacrifices by students, making their tenacity all the more remarkable. Adding to the pressure on students is uncertainty over summer employment and the need to earn course credits during the summer months.

Bill 78 will complicate life for those in strike-bound CEGEPS because it projects that the current school year would resume in August and be completed in October. That means graduates intending to enter university would have to wait until September 2013.

The government, the business elite and editorialists in the mainstream media are counting on these pressures to push through the tuition increase. But they have underestimated student determination until now and, according to students, are still making the same mistake.

Some 160,000 students are on strike, approximately 35 percent of the post-secondary student population in the province. Of those, 65,000 are CEGEP students, all in Montreal and surrounding regions. Only small numbers of students at the three English-language universities are on strike, while the three English CEGEPs (located in Montreal) are fully functional.

One additional feature of the strike has been the participation of high school students. They have staged one-day walkouts from school and will likely have a strong presence at the May 22 action.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Calls for inquiry into police violence against students

Televisions, radio and print news reports are full of discussion of the police violence that erupted in Victoriaville on May 4 in front of a hotel conference center where the governing Liberal party was holding a meeting of its executive council. The riot squad of the Québec provincial police (Sûreté du Québec) unleashed unprecedented violence against protesters that shocked many in the province.

According to estimates published in the daily newspapers, police fired 30 plastic bullets, more than 100 concussion grenades and countless canisters of CS gas and pepper gas. Two students were gravely injured when struck by police projectiles—Maxence Valade lost an eye and Alexandre Allard suffered a life-threatening concussion. Others suffered broken bones and teeth or other traumatic injuries from police truncheons.

Witnesses say that projectiles were fired point blank by police at the height of heads and upper bodies, in violation of police protocol (and elementary human rights). Photo and video news reports confirm the accusations. One video image captured the injury suffered by Allard.

Police blocked bridges leading out of Victoriaville when the protest was over that evening in order to intercept and arrest protesters returning to Montreal or other points of origin. They turned back three entire buses of students and supporters, turning the buses into overnight prison cells. Passengers were selected for arrest as the night wore on and were otherwise instructed not to speak to each other or use communication devices.

The Montreal daily Gazette reports 110 arrests by police, and counting. There are widespread calls for a formal inquiry into police action. Among those voices are Québec Solidaire, the Parti Québécois and the League of Rights and Freedoms.

The use of plastic bullets against civic protests was harshly criticized (article in French) by a panel of five members of a legal observer team created by the Québec government to observe protests during the Summit of the Americas in Québec City in 2001.

A member of that team says today she doesn’t know what became of their report. She says that in light of events in Victoriaville, it looks like it was simply “filed away.”

The student strike has also occasioned other attacks on democratic rights. The federal government is moving on a new law that would criminalize the wearing of a mask at public assemblies declared to be “illegal.” Montreal mayor Gilles Tremblay has quickly rushed a similar municipal law into place. (The mayor has his own troubles at hand. Three of his recent top aides were arrested on May 17 as part of a massive corruption probe of the construction industry in Québec that has rocked the province from top to bottom.)

Four young people may face prosecution under “anti-terrorist” legislation for releasing several smoke bombs in Montreal’s underground subway system on May 10. The stunt closed the system for several hours during the morning rush hour. The accused surrendered to police the following day. Student leaders criticized the action and how it is being used to deter attention from the issues of their strike.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Background on student strikers

Members of the three student associations waging the strike voted by massive margins during the week of May 7 to reject a shabby government offer to end the strike. The offer issued from 22 hours of overnight talks on May 4 and 5, between the government and the three large student associations—CLASSÉ, the FECQ and the FEUQ.

The revolt is fueled by deep opposition to what students consider to be the commercialization of education and degradation of social rights across the whole of society. Some view the strike as part of a broader, anti-capitalist struggle for a society of social justice. The association that expresses this most forcefully is CLASSÉ (Broad Coalition of the Association for Trade Union-Student Solidarity).

One of the goals of CLASSÉ is to spearhead a broader social movement in Québec society that could challenge capitalist dominance and fight for a new society based on principles of social justice. It proposes the tactics of broad, “social strikes” to forge a fighting alliance with workers and others victims of class society. Specifically for education planning and policy, it wants to convoke États généraux (civic assemblies) to discuss and decide education policy. The assemblies would be composed of the elected representative of the main protagonists in Québec education.

This resembles the “red university” strategy of the mass, student rebellion of the 1960s and 1970s in which students sought to use their capacities and the resources of the universities to spark broad, anti-capitalist struggle.

CLASSÉ represents just over half of the 160,000 striking students. The association’s numbers have grown by 10,000 since the beginning of the strike from students switching membership from the other student groups. CLASSÉ’s appeal is due to its principled stand for free, public education and its democratic internal functioning.

The association held a two-part meeting of its national council on May 10 and 13 in Montreal and Québec City, respectively, which discussed and approved strategy in the ongoing fight. It approved continuing mobilizations as well as support for campaigns of other movements such as women’s rights, refugee rights and trade union-led opposition to privatizations and other attacks by governments on social services. There were some 200 delegates at the meetings.

Delegates voted to demand that representatives of employer associations be excluded from future talks on education with the government. The association considers that public education is being treated as a commercial entity in the capitalist market instead of the precious human and social right that it should be. “The elite already have enough outlets to express their views to government,” said one delegate in the discussion of the resolution.

Another resolution proclaimed that CLASSÉ will not participate in permanent councils to oversee the management of education institutions. One aspect of the failed government proposal of May 4, 5 was the proposed formation of a multi-partite council to study education spending and recommend cuts to government. Student representatives and their allies (teachers, education workers) would be a minority on such a cost-cutting body or on more permanent versions.

Several delegates argued that “co-management” is a trap that places student representatives in unequal and disadvantageous positions. They said that the power of students stems from mobilizing actions in the streets and in the institutions. The goal of CLASSÉ, they reminded the Montreal conference, is radical social change, including free and universal access to education.

The conference session in Montreal spent considerable time discussing the relationship of CLASSÉ and the student struggle to the trade unions in Québec. There is dissatisfaction over the role that leaders of the large, trade union centrals played in the talks on May 4, 5. They were invited to participate by the government.

The union leaders came out of the talks saying that the government proposal could be a “road map” toward mitigating the government’s tuition hike. They treated the proposal as a fait accompli, whereas student leaders insisted it would go to vote of their members.

Many student activists also consider that the non-education union federations and their affiliates have been long on statements of support and short on action.

Delegate after delegate in Montreal spoke of the importance of relations with the unions, saying that workers’ rights and the social wage are under attack by the same government that is attacking students and education services. In the end, the meeting resolved to continue seeking points of agreement and common action with workers and their unions.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
A powerful movement in need of more allies

One need only ride public transit or stroll through downtown Montreal to appreciate the scope and power of this student strike. Montreal has the highest, per capita post-secondary student population of any city in North America. In the city core, there are four universities with an enrollment of 175,000.

Students recognize that they need allies in order to win demands for free, accessible education. The CLASSÉ association explains on its website that it is not asking simply for statements of support:

We wish, on the contrary, for a convergence of the entire Québec population against the politics of cuts and merchandising of social services and our collective rights. Only a generalization of the student strike to workplaces will make such a convergence effective. Our call, therefore, is a call to the entire population for a social strike!

Lex Gill, president of the student union at the English-language Concordia University, wrote in the May 12 Montreal daily The Gazette that the students, not the government, speak for Québec society on education matters:

A ballot in a box every few years should never trump the will of an entire generation…When the electoral process fails an entire generation, when public consultation isn’t meaningful, when petitions, letters and phone calls to elected representatives go unheard, there is often no other option than to express (social) convictions in the streets.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of CLASSÉ explained to journalists on May 13, “After 13 weeks of strike, an exceptional solidarity has been formed. Students are prepared to go much further in the struggle than was imagined at the outset.”

This is the great fear that the capitalists in Québec and in Canada have for this movement. As a columnist in the national Globe and Mail daily lamented on May 14, “In Québec, students are confronting the Liberal Charest government ostensibly over tuition fees, but in reality over who governs.”

via Socialist Project