Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Students are Revolting!

Always fun to double-play with the word revolting.  Last night's violence in Montreal is part of the larger conflict between "students" and the government over tuition hikes.  This has been going on for some and now escalating.  More smoke bombs into the metro, more confrontations with riot police. 

The key to remember here is that there is only one unitary actor here and barely that--the Quebec government.  Charest, his education minister Beauchamp and the police are mostly on the same page.  The students?  Not so much.  There are three groups representing the students.  There is now another group trying to represent the students who do not want to be boycotting classes, passing out forms to facilitate injunctions.  None of the three student organizations seems to have had a formal strike/boycott vote with quorums and secret ballots so when the newspapers say they "represent" 100,000's of students, I ponder the quality of representation.  Whose interests are being served by the loss of this semester?

On the other hand, to be fair to these organizations, the folks conducting the violence may not belong to any of these organizations, but are using the protests like they would any big hockey victory/loss--as an opportunity to be anarchists.  They don't need a reason, they don't have to justify or explain what they do, they just have to try to create disorder.  Well done. 

But, of course, the rock throwers, smoke-bomb droppers, and other folks are doing the cause of the students no favors as public opinion is now swinging heavily against the student groups.  I have already suggested that the student organizations try to alter their protests to provide less cover for the anarchists, but planning a big protest while a truce was in existence but ending was bad form.

The government is being accused of playing divide and conquer.  My first reaction is: the government has a strategy?  Woo hoo?!  The government seems unbending on tuition increases, and now that violence has broken out, the resistance has stiffened.  Otherwise, they are rewarding anarchy.  I cannot speak to the police tactics because it is hard to say for certain who is starting what, how much restraint is being exercised and so on.  All I know is that folks attaching themselves to the movement were dropping rocks onto a busy highway below a few days ago.  Police didn't force them to do that.  Even if the police are over-reacting (as they did in November on McGill's campus), two wrongs do not make a right, and the anarchists/whoever are very much in the wrong. 

The students and the Parti Quebecois are asking for a suspension of the tuition increase.  Well, they had a tuition freeze for about 13 years or so, which was then followed by very modest increases.  To suspend now would be to bring back the freeze, which would seem like a massive cave-in by the government and usher in another decade of shorting the universities of funding.  

Now that the tuition stuff is getting attached to bigger and bigger issues of anti-capitalism and all the rest,  we must keep things in perspective.  Calling this Quebec Spring just undermines the legitimacy of the effort since students here are not oppressed and do have the alternative of the ballot box, unlike the folks in Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Libya and all the rest last year.

No comments: