It’s Thursday, Apr. 2 and in Quebec, the students are revolting. Over 130,000 students are on strike across Quebec today for a major national day of action against austerity in Montreal. “Our services are worth more than your profits” is the slogan of the march, and in addition to students a number of social groups and unions are mobilizing their members, notably the CSN, Quebec’s second-largest labour federation.
The march, which has not provided a route in violation of Montreal’s judicially discredited but still-in-use bylaw P-6, will unroll through the streets of Montreal sometime after one o’clock this afternoon from Square Victoria, in the heart of Montreal’s financial and business district.
What’s the back story here?
Quebec students are on strike against austerity. If you’re wondering what austerity is, what a student strike is, how it works, and why it’s happening, I published an explainer for you last week. In recent days there has been much debate in the student movement over whether to postpone the strike until the fall or carry on, and the education minister has threatened to expel ringleaders one at a time. Details on both those stories are in this week’s explainer.
But there’s only so much you can get from words. To really understand what life is like on the front lines of a Quebec student strike, watch this video report on the first night demo of the strike by Mario Jean.
You can’t get closer to the action than his camera, and the footage is stunning.
Will there be blood?
If you’re worried about a repeat of the police violence seen in numerous student protests in Montreal and Quebec City, don’t be. Police can take those liberties with small crowds, but they cannot kettle or effectively block a demonstration of thousands.
While police intentionally provoked smaller crowds last week, and used their batons, pepper spray and tear gas freely, they won’t do that in front of a major crowd such as will be out today. First, there are more “adults” out in big demos, and their complaints are taken more seriously. Second, provoking a major crowd could have dangerous consequences for outnumbered riot cops, so police are on their best behaviour when being watched by tens of thousands. For today at least, the protesters own the streets.
Will there be people?
This date has been circled in the calendar of every anti-austerity Quebecer for months. For a lot of people, waking up today is a little like Christmas morning, and the present they get to unwrap is a street party with 50,000 of their closest friends.
McGill’s law faculty voted to strike for the first time in that august institution’s history, and undergraduate law students have called for progressive jurists to meet them in the street. Meanwhile the 1,200 professors of the Université du Québec à Montréal are also on strike today to protest austerity, and they will be joining their students in the streets.
Over 130,000 students across Quebec are on strike today, with buses streaming in from the regions to deliver students, union members and community groups to the protest. The head of the CSN, Jacques Létourneau, representing over 325,000 Quebecers, has urged his members to join the protest. It’s common for union leaders in Quebec to call on members to join a protest and then do little else to ensure they do, but in this case sources inside the CSN say they’ve been tasked with a bunch of work Apr. 2 related to April 2 this week, and seen a flurry of organizing around them. That augurs well for organizers.
Will it rain? Snow? Hail? What's going on with the forecast?
The forecast calls for Montreal’s weather to go from minus two and snowing this morning to a balmy plus nine and something the Weather Network calls “snow-rain showers” this afternoon.
No doubt the march would be larger under sunny blue skies, but Quebec students have drawn tens of thousands in rotten weather before. Hell, they’ve drawn hundreds. Protesters will bundle up, invest in dollar-store rain ponchos and meet you in the streets. At least it won't be cold!
How can I follow what’s happening?
The main hashtag will be #Manif2Avril. You can also use #manifencours, the hashtag for any ongoing protest. I’ll be there, and you can follow me on Twitter for regular updates. Also watch Ricochet in the days to come for more reporting on the march and the movement.