If you listen to the mainstream media in Canada and Québec (or elsewhere), you could be forgiven for believing that Québec's student movement is running on cold embers these days. After a historic and lively protest movement that saw hundreds of actions and hundreds of thousands of people in the street demanding an end to the continued neoliberalization of the education sector, a great victory was achieved when the newly-elected Parti Québécois promptly repealed the tuition hikes proposed by the former government. But this victory has proven to be far from the end of the story for Québec's students, which inspired the world with their activism, and - strangely enough - brought banging pots and pans back in vogue.
The tenacious group of students known as CLASSE have reformed their organization as the ASSÉ - roughly in English the "Association for a Solidaric Student Union." ASSÉ, not content with wasting the momentum they fought so hard to gain, is preparing to take the tuition fight to the next level by demanding free university-level education be guaranteed for everyone. Today's (continuing the tradition of monthly protests on the 22nd of the month) brought this demand back to the forefront of the education debate in Québec. Thousands marched in Montreal, and nearly 60,000 students were on strike today. A recent press release by the group stated that "in reality, though the tuition hike has been cancelled, teaching institutions are not sheltered from other dangers such as the commodification of knowledge." ASSÉ continues to lead the way in demonstrating how education in a free and fair society can really work.
Aside from the fight for free education, there are many exciting developments on the front to ensuring the tuition hikes are beaten back for good. The newly-elected governments' Higher Education minister, Pierre Duchesne, will be hosting a roundtable commission on the financing of universities in Québec, which receive a large portion of their funding from the government as public universities. A great number of scandals have arisen in recent months. Notably, Concordia University (which the author attends) was hit with a $2,000,000 fine for granting $3.1 million in severance packages to 6 departing staff members, one of which then pocketed the money and returned to the university with a salaried position only a few months later. Radio-Canada later learned that one of the University of Sherbrooke's expensive new Longueuil campus buildings, found at the time to be necessary expansion of the university, is almost vacant and lacking private partners three years after its opening. Because of these frequent and continuing scandals, the student movements are eager to meet Minister Duchesne and defend student budgets against the excesses of the universities' senseless spending sprees.
And finally, student organizations continue to contest the violent police repression that was seen during the student strike. This week, students at the CÉGEP du Vieux-Montréal (a post-secondary college) voted with a nearly two-thirds majority to go on strike again this week, demanding that the government drop all criminal charges against student strikers. At this time, there are hundreds of charges awaiting student strikers for a variety of actions of civil disobedience that were committed. The ASSÉ, as well as the two other student groups representing university and CÉGEP students, have partnered with several prominent unions in Québec to call for a full inquiry into police repression and violence against the student movement.