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CKUT's Off the Hour: Students and activists gather for the international week of action against the commodification of education

ASSÉ organizes a demonstration on November 22nd in solidarity

by Carla Green

Although there was an anti-capitalist contingent at the protest on November 22nd, Jérémie Bédard-Wien declined to comment on whether the movement itself was anti-capitalist. (Robin Dianoux)
Although there was an anti-capitalist contingent at the protest on November 22nd, Jérémie Bédard-Wien declined to comment on whether the movement itself was anti-capitalist. (Robin Dianoux)
About 5,000 protesters gathered at Square Victoria and marched through the streets of Montréal. (Robin Dianoux)
About 5,000 protesters gathered at Square Victoria and marched through the streets of Montréal. (Robin Dianoux)
A group of UQÀM students dressed up in santa costumes and called themselves the Santa Block, protesting Christmas as a consumerist holiday and mocking the new law criminalizing wearing masks at an 'illegal' demonstration. (Robin Dianoux)
A group of UQÀM students dressed up in santa costumes and called themselves the Santa Block, protesting Christmas as a consumerist holiday and mocking the new law criminalizing wearing masks at an 'illegal' demonstration. (Robin Dianoux)
ASSÉ organized the protest as part of an international week of action against the commodification of education. (Robin Dianoux)
ASSÉ organized the protest as part of an international week of action against the commodification of education. (Robin Dianoux)

The audio was originally aired on CKUT's Off the Hour on Friday, November 23rd, 17h-18h.

On Thursday, November 22nd, McGill students went to class. On campus, it was easy to forget that this week was an international week of action against the commodification of education. The week was marked by students striking and protesting across the world, including more than 60,000 CÉGEP and university students on strike in Québec on November 22nd.

The Association pour une solidarité syndicale Etudiante (ASSÉ) organized an international solidarity protest in Montréal on Thursday, drawing about 5,000 protesters into the streets, according to their spokesperson Jérémie Bédard-Wien.

“We’re marching in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of students who are fighting daily against the commodification of education in other countries as part of the global strike in education week,” he said. “We’re proud to join this global movement today.”

This fall, the Parti Québecois cancelled the tuition hikes planned by Québec’s former Liberal government, but protesters nonetheless gathered, echoing the marches that occurred each 22nd day of the month during the student strike, which often reached up to 200,000 participants at a single demonstration.

Bédard-Wien called Thursday’s march “a natural continuation of the Maple Spring”, emphasizing the Québec student movement’s significance in a global context.

“We must realize that commodification is an international problem posed by international institutions -- the OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development], the European Union -- and that does not spare Québec.”

Robin Reid-Fraser was one of a few McGill students who attended the protest. She attributed the lack of a strike vote at McGill to activism at McGill “taking a different turn” this year.

“I think there’s a different level of energy, it’s not quite the same as it was last semester. But I think there are still lots of people from McGill at the demonstration,” she said.

Simon was among the several costumed participants on Thursday. He’s a UQÀM student and a member of its mobilization committee, which organized for a group of students to come dressed in Christmas-themed costumes as the ‘Santa Block’.

He explained that his Santa hat with knitted white braids wasn’t just a festive joke, but a political statement that reached beyond the traditional rhetoric of tuition hikes and education summits.

“[Our costumes] are a way of protesting Christmas as a holiday of widespread capitalist consuming, and at the same time of protesting the new law, which criminalizes wearing masks during protests -- now you get not only a fine but can also go to prison if you get caught wearing a mask during an ‘illegal’ demonstration,” he said in French.

Bédard-Wien claimed that the scope of the protest reached beyond Québec, and beyond struggles over tuition.

“We’re not only marching in solidarity with the student movement, but also with the Palestinian struggle as it faces, once again, attacks from Israeli imperialists. We’re not a movement that’s content with fighting for only our rights, but also to improve society and link up with other progressive parts of society,” he said.

The Québec student movement and student movements abroad have sometimes been described as anti-capitalist, especially when they incorporate other progressive struggles, as Québec’s has. Nonetheless, and despite a significant anti-capitalist contingent at Thursday’s demonstration, Bénard-Wien declined to comment on whether he considered the Québec student movement to be inherently anti-capitalist.

“Imposing normalized education systems on the American model is imperialism. As for capitalism -- some people would love that I address this, but I will not,” he said.

The Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) was in strong attendance at the march, and the object of a good degree of hostility and “Fuck the Police” chants. An hour after it began, they tweeted that the protest had been declared illegal but that it would be “tolerated if no criminal acts occur”. The demonstration remained peaceful and nobody was arrested.

Text adapted from the McGill Daily. Photos courtesy of Robin Dianoux.
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