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Raphaël Dallaire Ferland August 14, 2012
Photo caption: Nearly 1,500 students attended Collège de Maisonneuve yesterday to have their say in the continuation of the strike. Students at this college, as well as those at Cégep Marie-Victorin and at Collège Édouard-Montpetit, voted to return to classes. At Cégep du Vieux-Montréal, the strike will continue after a recount confirmed a narrow margin in favour.
Three CEGEPs voted yesterday to return to classes; the strike continues at Cégep du Vieux-Montréal.
Strike mandates for an unlimited general strike are falling one by one in CEGEPs. Collège Édouard-Montpetit, Cégep Marie-Victorin and Collège de Maisonneuve voted Monday to return to classes, adding their numbers to the three CEGEPs that ratified the end of the strike last week.
At the end of a five-hour long general assembly that was infiltrated by tens of activists from the nighttime demonstration, students at Cégep du Vieux-Montréal confirmed the mandate to strike until free tuition is achieved. The vote was by such a narrow margin that a recount was necessary.
By deciding the fate of 22,500 cégep students, these four assemblies marked a deciding moment for the movement. Of the 160,000 students who boycotted their classes at the height of the strike in the spring, there are now some 110,000. If that number were to drop below 100,000, several university and college associations would automatically end their own strike mandates.
Éliane Laberge, president of the Québec federation of college students [Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec], acknowledged the blow: “There is a trend that is forming. There are six CEGEPs that decided to return to classes out of fourteen. It’s almost the majority” of the CEGEPs that had a strike mandate, she admitted in a telephone interview with Le Devoir.
Early Monday morning, activists with banners and casseroles greeted students at the doors of the four CEGEPs that were holding votes on continuing the strike. The solidarity action was peaceful; the authorities made no arrests and gave no notice to disperse.
The only trouble was at Collège de Maisonneuve - where about a hundred people managed to block access to teachers and administrators - when a young man wearing a green square grabbed a banner for the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE). The agitator and the student with the red square who tried to stop him were kept at a distance by the police and no charges were laid.
The first return to classes occurred peacefully Monday morning at Cégep André-Laurendeau, under the watchful eyes of the police.
This peaceful return to classes goes against calls to reinforce picket lines made nationally and even internationally by associations affiliated with CLASSE (Voluntary Association of Humanities Students at UQAM [Association facultaire étudiante des sciences humaines de l’UQAM], Student Association of Cégep Saint-Laurent [Association étudiante du Cégep Saint-Laurent]) and by smaller independent groups (The Networks [Les Réseaux], The Theoreticians [Les Théoriciens] and the Order of the Black Square [l’Ordre du Carré Noir]).
According to Jeanne Reynolds, co-spokesperson for CLASSE, the absence of picket lines Monday shows the effectiveness of student mobilisation rather than a loss of momentum: “At first, classes were going to be held at Marie-Victorin and at Maisonneuve. But after pressure exerted by the groups, administration at both of those CEGEPs decided to delay the return for a day” in order to let the strike continuation votes to be held in an orderly manner.
Influencing the vote
Éliane Laberge is unequivocal: since the start of the student movement, the Ministry of Education, the federation of CEGEPs and collegiate and university administrators “attempted to influence decisions by students in general assemblies” with lies and threats. This round of strike votes is no exception.
August 10, the Director General of Collège Édouard-Montpetit, Serge Brasset, sent a message to the student community with title “Wednesday August 15, it’s your return to classes!”, which assured students that “everything is in place for the return to classes […] And believe me, you’ll be among many!”. He also reminded that “the College is obliged to uphold article 14 of law 12” that forbids blocking access to public establishments.
“Throughout the strike, we often saw administrators sending emails without notifying the student associations. Yes, they need to inform them about the school calendar […], but it’s quite another thing to try to influence them by fear”, deplores Éliane Laberge.
Important demonstration this evening
The strike may be running out of steam, but the mobilisation continues. The 112th nightly demonstration Monday night brought several hundred people to downtown Montréal. The demonstrators first marched in a rather festive mood not far from Cégep du Vieux-Montréal. Later, the demonstrators took aim at election signs on Sherbrooke and Maisoneuve streets. Graphittis were painted and four storefront windows were smashed. The march was dispersed around 11:30pm after the Montréal police declared the assembly illegal.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.