Quebec students strike against budget cuts, 2004

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Timing
Time Period:  
December
2004
to
April
2005
Location and Goals
Country: 
Canada
Location City/State/Province: 
Quebec
Location Description: 
Universities and Junior Colleges
Goals: 
To prevent budget cuts in the Quebec University system
 

In the winter of 2004, the Charest Government of Quebec cut $103 million in grants for low-income students at Quebec universities and CEGEP (junior colleges). The Quebec people disliked the Charest government to begin with, and in early December, students threatened to go on strike.

Quebec's two biggest student groups, FEUQ and FECQ, protested against the cuts for months, yet held off on strikes until February 24, 2005, when 30,000 university students walked out. In addition to walkouts, students engaged in sit-ins and hunger strikes, picketed, demonstrated, barricaded streets with tires and garbage, and occupied offices of officials. Four CEGEP students coordinated a demonstration by sticking their booted feet into wet concrete and waiting for it to dry outside of the Montreal offices of Education Minister Jean-Marc Fournier for an hour; the concrete symbolized Quebec’s refusal to budge from its decision to cut funds. Hundreds of students staged a sit-in in front of a Liberal Party office and blocked rush hour traffic on a Tuesday afternoon in February. The students carried red and black banners and used red felt patches as a symbol of resistance. Students also blocked the Port of Montréal and blocked Federal Highway 40. In addition, students organized cultural events at UQAM, one of the universities, and showed a variety of dance shows and films.

A student rights group, ASSÉ, joined FECQ and FEUQ immediately and began their own strike campaign, which included protests, petitions, sit-ins and a strike-organizing coalition. While most of the methods used by students were nonviolent, students made a ram to smash a door at an Outaouais hotel while a meeting for Liberal Members of the National Assembly occurred. This incident resulted in the injuries of several students and Surete du Quebec police officers. The government responded harshly and threatened students that they would lose their semester if they continued to strike.

The strikes grew to around 100,000 people, which included students, teachers, and staff. On March 19, 80,000 students marched in Montreal. At this march, CASSÉÉ, a student union, argued that the Charest government attacked all social and labor movements, which required “a general strike at all levels” and proposed that all social and labor movements come together to deliver shared demands to the government.

On March 23, forty students protested outside of the province’s biggest union federation, Féderation des Travailleurs du Québec (FTQ). The President of FTQ, Henri Massi, argued that students needed to compromise their demands. The next day on March 24, 10,000 students marched in Quebec City.

On March 30, students placed their symbol of a red cloth on Mount Royal Cross, a monument of a steel cross in Montreal. Below the red cloth, the students put their slogan, "Arrêtons de sacrifier nos enfants", which means, "Let's stop sacrificing our children." The police removed it twenty-four hours later.

On April 1, students blocked access to the Port of Montreal, disturbed highway traffic, occupied the offices of the Conseil du patronat (the principal employer association) and briefly took over the offices of Liberal ministers and members of the provincial legislature.

The Charest Government attempted to end the strikes by offering to restore part of the funds. This offer excluded restoring funding for 2004-2005, but planned to restore $70 million in 2005-2006, and then restore the $103 million. The government only offered these funds until 2009-2010. The offer guaranteed that the government would provide all financial aid in the form of needs-based grants. In addition, the government planned to remove "policy reforms" that caused loan amounts to rise as tuition fees rose.

Students rejected the government’s offer because the different student associations remained inconsistent with their demands. FEUQ and FECQ limited their demands to the restoration of the $103 million cut starting in the 2005-06 school year, whereas CASSÉÉ demanded free education at all levels and the elimination of student debt.

The strike ended on April 2, 2005, when FECQ & FEUQ broke away from CASSÉE and made a negotiation with the government. The liberal party agreed to reinvest $482 million into student grants starting with the 2006-07 school year and continuing for the next five years; this offer was more than the initial cut.

The agreement disappointed CASSÉE because they thought that more radical deals ought to have been made. However, they agreed to stop the strike and students returned to classes on April 11.

Research Notes
Sources: 
- Birchard, Karen. "Quebec Strike Ends, but Tensions Linger." The Chronicle of Higher Education 51.33 (2005): A45. ProQuest. Web. 5 Feb. 2011.

- Charron, Guy. "Quebec Student Strike Widens." World Socialist Web Site. 1 Apr. 2005. Web. 04 Feb. 2011. <http://www.wsws.org/articles/2005/apr2005/queb-a01.shtml>.

- Chene, C. "Quebec Medical Students Strike at Their Own pace." Canadian Medical Association Journal 172.10 (2005): 1278. ProQuest. Web. 5 Feb. 2011.

- Giguère, Benjamin, and R. N. Lalonde. "Why Do Students Strike? Direct and Indirect Determinants of Collective Action Participation." Political Psychology 31.2 (2010): 227-47. Apr. 2010. Web. 5 Feb. 2011.

- Haberman, Cara L. Centralisation and Status Formation: Institutional Frameworks That Shape Student Movement Outcomes. Macalester College, 1 May 2006. Web. 5 Feb. 2011. <http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=poli_honors>.

- Lafrance, Xavier, and Chris Webb. "Hope for Student Radicals in Quebec." Canadian Dimension 42.5 (2008): 21. Sept.-Oct. 2008. Web. 5 Feb. 2011.

- Lampert, Allison. "Threat to Financial Aid Reeks of Vendetta: CEGEP Students: Education Department Warned Extensions to Loans Not Guaranteed after Strike." The Gazette [Montreal] 29 Apr. 2005.

- McSorely, Tim. "Student Strike Was Successful but Fresh Battles Loom." Canadian Dimension 30.4 (2005): 13. ProQuest. Web. July-Aug. 2005.

- Riga, Andy. "Students Get Stuck: Concrete Protest before Strike Tomorrow by Associations Representing 25,000." The Gazette [Montreal] 23 Feb. 2005.

- Weatherall, Dave. "Students Aim for Quebec's Pocketbook: New Tactics Planned. Protests Will Target Companies with Ties to Provincial Government, Strike Leaders Say." The Gazette [Montreal] 21 Mar. 2005.

Additional Notes: 
Edited by Max Rennebohm (13/06/2011)
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Nicole Vanchieri, 06/02/2011