Up to half a million people took to the streets of Montreal last week to defy Quebec’s draconian new anti-protest laws.
The march was part of an escalating struggle by students against a 75 percent hike in tuition fees. Students have been on strike—picketing their classes and bringing the whole education system to a halt—for 15 weeks.
“The spirit on the street is amazing—there is such sense of collective power,” student activist Xavier LaFrance told Socialist Worker. “Even in the face of the repression I can’t see this stopping anytime soon.”
Quebec’s new Bill 78 bans any assemblies of over 50 people without police permission. Notice has to be given eight hours in advance and the police decide the route of marches.
La Classe, a radical coalition which represents around half the students on strike, refused to give notice on Tuesday of last week. But the police could not arrest all the hundreds of thousands of students.
Bill 78 was brought in to try and crush the protests but it has backfired—triggering a wave of solidarity actions across Quebec.
Nightly student marches are now joined by neighbourhood demonstrations. These start with people coming out on to their street corners and banging pots and pans for 15 minutes.
Talks between the government and student federations started this week. But after talks on Monday the police arrested Philippe Lapointe, La Classe’s lead negotiator.
There are different currents within the student movement. Some say they are prepared to compromise over the tuition fee hike but won’t settle while Bill 78 stands.
But for many this struggle is already about more than fees. “The next step is to fight for the unity of students and workers” says Xavier. “This needs to be spread across the working class.”