Why Québec Student Strike Should Continue Within a Larger Social Movement

It was a Monday morning just before 9:00 am. As I walked to the Charlevoix Metro, historically working class neighbourhood of Pointe St-Charles, the context within which the student strike was situated became blatantly clear. I was on my way to the Concordia University Graduate Students Association general assembly to update a commitment to an unlimited general strike.

Signage from the Société des alcool du Québec (SAQ) store in Pointe St-Charles is removed as the local outlet is closed, forcing the residents to go outside of their community to buy alcohol. Closing down local outlets of public services is one example of the commercialization of government institutions that prioritize fiscal good governance and profit margins over providing accessible services to Québec’s communities. April 2, 2012

Across the street from the metro were the last vestiges the neighbourhood Société des alcool du Québec (SAQ) liquor store being dismantled. The local outlet closed its doors on March 31. For months, local residents have been campaigning for the store to remain open with public information strategies, posters in livingroom windows, protest demonstrations and a banner that spanned Charlevoix Street in view from the SAQ’s front door.

“Don’t Leave the Pointe: services in the heart of the neighbourhood” banner still spans Charlevoix street as a reminder that public institutions do not necessarily have community well-being as a priority concern. April 4, 2012.

Like Premier Jean Charest, who maintains a deaf ear to student concerns that tuition increases will decrease accessibility to higher education and privatize public institutions of higher learning, the SAQ management couldn’t care less about community concerns. For them, the bottom line is king, but not the benevolent type who looks out for his subjects but rather type of king who wants more for less at his subjects’ expense.

According to a March 9, 2012 press release, the SAQ proudly announces that its 2011-2012 third quarter had net sales grow 5.9% with profit increases of 6.4%. In real terms this means that the SAQ increased its profit in the last three months of 2011 by $56.8 million to a total three-month profit of $1.023 billion! Exactly 22 days after revealing staggering profits, the SAQ closed at least three local outlets in (Pointe St-Charles, Ville-Emard, and according to the sign in the truck, “Côte-des-Neiges”) all of which are lower income communities. Apparently, lower income communities don’t deserve equal access. This reminds me of a billboard image I recently came across that reads a slight variation of the following: “We do not have a [social] problem, we have a capitalism problem.”

Banks closed their local branches in Pointe St-Charles decades ago in a mass restructuring bid to increase profits. Now, four times a year, Canadian banks proudly flaunt record quarterly earnings without flinching at the long-term side effects of their greed. In fact, governments praise them for their resilience and competitiveness. Only the cooperative Caisse populaire Desjardins remains to provide financial services to The Pointe’s residents. In 2007, Canada Post announced that it was to close the neighbourhood’s only post office. Community members decided this was unacceptable and protested the announced closure. Their efforts did not save the post office but it did keep postal services in the neighbourhood, with a postal outlet installed inside a local grocery store chain. Some battles for services are won and some are lost, but each battle needs to be fought to avoid losing everything.

“Education is not for sale. Yes to the general strike.” Photo March 22, 2012 by David Widgington.

Every encroachment of capitalism into public institutions takes away resources from the public and transfers it over to the private, in a capitalist imperative for perpetual growth. Not the type of long-term growth that builds communities to improve society but the type of growth that bolsters private enterprise by increasing investment portfolios of a minority of individuals. Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) that governments now vigorously advocate allow further encroachments of private interest over public good. PPPs provide public “investment” in infrastructure projects from which private corporations secure the profits. The extension of route 167 is one glaring example within the Charest government’s PPP approach to its Plan Nord.

In closing, I reproduce, below, a portion of the conclusion from a recent report by the Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-économiques (IRIS) that states:

“A sharp increase in tuition fees is presented as the inevitable solution to an alleged problem of university underfunding. The facts analyzed [in the report] indicate that such an increase is actually a political choice aimed at privatizing the funding and role of universities.

We are currently experiencing a number of crises (environmental, economic, cultural). Given these circumstances, we should be using our intellectual efforts to reinvent the way we live and inhabit the world. Yet the transformations we see being imposed on universities actually undermine their independence and make them simple accessories to the unrestrained and irrational economic growth. Learning institutions are reduced to intellectual entrepreneurship centers that orchestrate the shift to a system ruled purely by economic considerations.

We must therefore not only oppose tuition fee hikes, but also reaffirm the importance of the public — not commercial — nature of universities so that knowledge may serve to foster individual and collective autonomy, critical thinking, and the transmission of intellectual heritage rather than simple market value.”

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