7 December 2012

Parti Québécois Government: No Victory for Workers, Youth

State Vendetta Against Quebec Student Activists

We reprint the following article from Spartacist Canada No. 175 (Winter 2012/2013), newspaper of the Trotskyist League/Ligue Trotskyste, Canadian section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).

In the aftermath of the student strike that rocked Quebec this past spring and summer, the capitalists’ cops and courts are pursuing a vindictive campaign against strike activists. A particular target is one of the student movement’s most prominent spokesmen, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of the Coalition Large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Etudiante (CLASSE). On November 1, Quebec Superior Court justice Denis Jacques found Nadeau-Dubois guilty of “contempt” for encouraging student protesters to ignore court injunctions. The CLASSE leader now faces up to a year in prison and $50,000 in fines.

The judge railed that Nadeau-Dubois had advocated “anarchy” and that his comments could pave a “road to tyranny.” Underlining the political nature of this frame-up, his ruling cited the precedent of the May 1972 convictions of the leaders of Quebec’s three trade-union centrals [federations] for contempt of court. The jailing of these union leaders for refusing to order workers to obey strikebreaking injunctions sparked a spontaneous eleven-day general strike, the most deepgoing working-class struggle in Quebec history.

Other student militants face even more serious charges. Over 3,300 protesters were arrested during the strike, a number far exceeding even the mass roundups of leftists, nationalists and union leaders under the War Measures Act in the “October Crisis” of 1970. Among them is Yalda Machouf-Khadir, the daughter of Québec Solidaire MNA [National Assembly member] Amir Khadir. She faces charges of “conspiracy,” assault and breaking and entering following her alleged participation in the trashing of a former Quebec education minister’s office. Other activists face the Orwellian charge of “inciting fear of terrorism,” which carries a potential five-year jail sentence.

In order to hunt down and frame up political activists, the notoriously vicious Montreal police set up a special unit last year called GAMMA—Guet des Activités des Mouvements Marginaux et Anarchistes (Surveillance of the Activities of Marginal Movements and Anarchists). The ongoing witchhunt of left-wing activists highlights a basic truth: the capitalist state, including the cops and courts, is not neutral, but is the repressive fist of the ruling class, to be mobilized against striking workers, student radicals and anyone else who dares challenge the oppressive status quo. We say: Drop all charges now!

The sustained, militant struggle by tens of thousands of students won wide support among working people in Quebec. In the end, the students were able to win their bottom-line demands for withdrawal of a massive tuition hike and repeal of the draconian Bill 78, the “law of the nightsticks” enacted by Jean Charest’s Liberal government in an attempt to break the strike. But nothing fundamental has been resolved, and many student militants recognize that the newly-elected Parti Québécois regime will soon launch a new round of attacks on workers and student youth, as PQ governments have always done in the past.

PQ premier Pauline Marois cancelled the Liberals’ tuition hike to put a lid on social struggle. But the PQ is already vowing to increase tuition in line with inflation, and its promised “summit on higher education funding” explicitly excludes the student unions’ just demand for free education. Amid the sordid corruption scandals exposing (some of) the dirty deeds of Quebec mayors and other politicians, the PQ’s overriding priority has been to assure the “business community” that it can “balance the budget” and effectively manage the capitalist order. This will mean yet more austerity measures against workers and the poor.

The election of the bourgeois-nationalist PQ is not a victory of any kind for workers and student youth. History has shown repeatedly that the PQ in power is an enemy of the working class. In 1982-83, the government of party founder René Lévesque launched sweeping attacks on public-sector unions. In 1999, Marois, then minister of health in Lucien Bouchard’s PQ regime, introduced a bill ordering nearly 50,000 striking nurses to return to work. These and other attacks by the last PQ government paved the way for the even more savage assaults of the Charest Liberals.

Student struggle can provide a spark for the broader social struggle necessary to beat back capitalist attacks. However, as we emphasized throughout the student strike, it is the organized working class—in the factories, mines and transportation systems—that uniquely has the social power and material interest to bring the bourgeois profit system to its knees. Despite its history of militant struggle, the Quebec working class is tied to the capitalist order by union misleaders who have long supported the PQ in the name of “national solidarity.” The student strikers received both “advice” and financial support from the union tops, who used their authority and influence to limit the struggle and secure “social peace.” To unleash the social power of Quebec labour, a new leadership must be forged that can mobilize the workers independently of the PQ and all other capitalist parties.

Social Struggle and the National Question

Marois’ victory in the polls unleashed the usual wave of chauvinist hand-wringing in the English Canadian bourgeois press, though the fact that the PQ was only able to garner a minority government led to sighs of relief that no new sovereignty referendum would soon be on the agenda. However, the question of Quebec independence still looms large as a central feature of Canadian politics, one that will, sooner or later, erupt anew.

The national question in this country—the forcible incorporation of the francophone Québécois nation in an Anglo-dominated Canada—has long served to divide the working class. In English Canada, anti-Quebec chauvinism is fostered by the “Canadian unity” demagogy of the NDP [New Democratic Party] social democrats and their allies in the top trade-union bureaucracy. Within Quebec, national oppression is manipulated by the bourgeois nationalists and their labour lieutenants to bind the working class to its own francophone oppressors. As revolutionary internationalists who oppose all forms of chauvinism and discrimination and work to unite the workers in anti-capitalist struggle, we advocate Quebec independence. This is the best means to get the national question off the agenda, so that the workers of both nations can see clearly that their enemies are their own respective capitalist exploiters.

As the student struggle came to a head, the strike leaders increasingly dissipated the energies of the student movement into the parliamentary shell-game: “Anybody but the Liberals.” Léo Bureau-Blouin, former head of the Fédération Etudiante Collégiale du Québec (FECQ), ran for the PQ and was elected to the National Assembly. While declining to endorse any political party, the more radical CLASSE federation began organizing its protests around slogans like “Neoliberals out!” A CLASSE position paper issued just before the election opined that “The only way to force the government to truly respond to the popular will is to put in place a sufficient balance of power and to not give it any respite.”

Unable to conceive of any other strategy than putting pressure on the capitalists’ government, the CLASSE leadership promotes illusions that the “popular will” can be forced upon the ruling class. Such illusions are spread in a more crude form by various reformist left groups. For example, an article on the International Socialists’ (I.S.) website (10 September) was headlined “Quebec Election 2012: A Major Victory for Students and the Left.”

The I.S. and other reformists have worked overtime to spread illusions in the PQ’s “left” appendage, Québec Solidaire (QS). As we have noted, the purpose of QS, a petty-bourgeois populist party, is to channel the anger of youth and workers back into the safe channels of bourgeois parliamentarism and Québécois nationalism. At the height of the struggle and the police repression, QS joined in the violence-baiting of student activists, attacking “vandalism” by “rioters.” When his own daughter was arrested, Amir Khadir told a press conference, “If reprehensible acts were committed by my daughter or whoever else, one must take responsibility for one’s actions” (La Presse, 7 June). QS leader Françoise David made clear in the build-up to the election that QS would be prepared to support a PQ minority government.

Tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets rained down on student protesters during the strike, providing a crucial lesson about the brutality of the capitalist state to a generation of youth engaging in political struggle for the first time. Conclusions must be drawn from these and other experiences to provide a road forward against the unceasing attacks of the ruling exploiters. As we wrote in one of our French-language supplements distributed at the mass student protests:

“Only the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of workers rule can put an end to poverty and all-sided oppression and open up new vistas for humanity. This is not just a task for Quebec, but for all of Canada, the U.S. and the entire world. The way forward for Quebec student radicals is to commit their energy to forging a binational, multiethnic Marxist vanguard party, part of a reforged Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.”

—“Students: Ally with the Working Class!” SC No. 174, Fall 2012 [reprinted in WV No. 107, 31 August]

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To aid the legal defense fund for students and other protesters arrested during the strike, send contributions to: Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Etudiante, 2065 rue Parthenais, Local 383, Montreal QC H2K 3T1. You can also contribute directly to the defense fund for Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois: Comité de Soutien à Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, 2065 rue Parthenais, Bureau 08, Montreal QC H2K 3T1. 

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1014, 7 December 2012)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.