Tag Archives: Student Protests

Quebec government criminalizes student strike

By Laurent Lafrance
April 17, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

Capitalism1The Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) was the target of a massive intervention by riot police April 8 that was aimed at intimidating, beating up, and arresting students who were exercising their democratic right to strike on the university campus. The police repression is well documented in videos posted on YouTube by amateur journalists and strike supporters.

According to press reports, Quebec Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard personally contacted the rector of UQAM to demand the police crackdown.

The police invasion of a public educational institution is virtually without precedent in Quebec. It is part of an escalating campaign of state repression mounted by the Liberal government with the full support of Quebec’s big-business elite. The government is determined to break the student protest movement against its sweeping austerity program and to put an end to Quebec’s longstanding democratic tradition of political protest through student strikes.

This authoritarian drive is above all directed against the working class—at demonstrating that the government will mobilize the apparatus of state repression to criminalize any challenge to its program of brutal social spending cuts, user fee hikes, and wage and pension cuts for public sector workers.

The April 8 confrontation began when security guards, recently hired by UQAM, accosted and jostled a group of thirty students who were enforcing the strike mandate democratically decided by their officially recognized student association by seeking to prevent the holding of classes. With the security guards threatening further repression, the students complied with the guards’ demand that they vacate the premises.

A few hours later, however, police intervened massively and provocatively against a second group of striking students who were demonstrating on the UQAM campus. Fearing the police would seize on this as the occasion to mount a violent crackdown, a group of professors attempted to position themselves between the police and the students. In the end, the police arrested 21 people, aged 18 to 36, who have been charged with misdemeanors and unlawful assembly.

Later that evening, some 200 students decided to occupy the J.-A.-DeSève building to protest the police intervention on the campus and the subsequent arrests. They barricaded the building entrance with tables and chairs in a festive atmosphere. During the ensuing four hours, a handful of students committed acts of petty vandalism, leading to tensions with the vast majority of the students who were occupying the building peacefully.

Shortly after midnight and with the express approval of the UQAM administration, police forcibly ended the occupation. Montreal riot police broke down a glass door with axes and charged into the building. The students escaped out a rear exit, but were then chased for several hours by police who fired tear gas at them. Five people were arrested.

The police interventions at UQAM, including the brutal manner in which they ended the occupation, were emphatically supported by Premier Couillard. The corporate media and the entire political establishment, including the Parti Québécois, were quick to echo Couillard’s remarks, denouncing the students as “violent.” Turning reality on its head, they depicted the state repression as the consequence of the striking students’ “unacceptable behavior.ˮ In the face of this slander campaign, the supposedly left-wing Québec Solidaire simply called for dialogue so as to “prevent an undesirable escalationˮ of the situation.

Nothing was said in all of this about the government’s antidemocratic campaign to criminalize the strike and even more importantly about its brutal austerity measures, which target essential public services on which millions of Quebecers depend and the social rights that workers won through bitter struggles over several generations. If truth be told, the real authors of violence and intimidation are sitting in the Quebec National Assembly and in the editorial offices of the big-business media.

Throughout the strike, which was launched March 23 with the goal of pressuring the Liberals to backtrack on their austerity measures, UQAM Rector Robert Proulx has stoked the flames. At the government’s urging, he obtained a Superior Court injunction that makes it illegal for students to block access to classes. He also announced the unprecedented expulsion of nine students involved in student walkouts and other protest actions over the last two years. On April 7, he sent out an e-mail announcing that the academic calendar would not be changed and ordering all professors and contract teachers to continue teaching their courses even if their classrooms were empty. Despite many requests from the striking students, the rector has consistently refused all dialogue with them.

Whilst the media has made much of the fact that some striking UQAM students have donned masks, this was in response to the administration’s installation of numerous additional CTCT cameras and its hiring, at a cost of $500,000, of a large number of additional security guards from the private firm Gardium so as to surveille and police students.

The few acts of vandalism carried out on April 8 were likely the actions of a handful of anarchists—possibly linked to the Black Bloc—whose sole aim was to bring about a confrontation with the police. There is a long history of police infiltration of these anarchist groups and numerous cases of agent s provocateurs inciting young people to commit illegal acts. On the evening of the occupation, vehicles belonging to the Montreal police (SPVM) were left unsupervised near the entrance to the university, where they could be readily vandalized.

The Parti Québécois, the federation that represents the CEGEPS (pre-university and technical colleges) and several student associations and trade unions have responded to the events at UQAM by calling for a law “framing” students’ right to strike. Such legislation would be utterly reactionary. As its proponents suggest, it would be based on the Quebec labor code, which ties state recognition of the unions to sweeping limitations on workers’ right to strike, in some cases barring it altogether. The purpose of any law “framing” students’ right to strike would be to introduce a whole series of legal obstacles to prevent it from being exercised and to justify the repression of student protests.

The Liberals however want nothing to do with this proposal. Throughout the conflict, they have aggressively asserted that there is no such thing as a student right to strike, underscoring that their objective is to change the rules of the game and repudiate student strikes as an accepted form of political protest. Indeed, Education Minister François Blais has publicly deplored that student strikes have been accepted as a legitimate form of democratic action in Quebec since the 1960s. He has repeatedly avowed that the only “right” the government is constitutionally bound to uphold is students’ “right” to attend classes in defiance of a democratically decided class boycott.

The hard line taken by the government is a serious warning for the working class. The repressive measures directed at the students are only a foretaste of what the government is preparing to suppress worker opposition to its austerity program, including from the half-million public sector workers whose contracts expired March 31 and from whom the government is demanding sweeping concessions.

In the face of this threat, the trade unions are doing nothing to mobilize their members and prepare a counteroffensive. Just as they did during the 2012 student strike, the unions have refused to support the students, facilitating the government repression. At a major conference on March 31, the public sector union leaders insisted that their preoccupation is “good-faith” bargaining with the government and that not before the fall will they even begin to seriously consider resorting to the “ultimate” measure—by which they mean a legal strike.

Despite the fact that the student “anti-austerity” strike has drawn into its ranks tens of thousands of students across Quebec over the course of the past month—and at the beginning of this week as many as 20,000 students remained on strike—it is clearly petering out.

There is still broad opposition to the ruling class’s austerity agenda among the students, and even more so in the working class. However, none of the factions of ASSÉ (Association for Student-Union Solidarity), which as in 2012 is leading the student strike, has presented a viable perspective for social struggle.

The more “conservativeˮ faction, which includes many Quebec Solidaire supporters, continues to subordinate itself completely to the trade unions and after the union officialdom spelled out their forthright opposition to any mobilization of the working class called for a “strategic retreat”—i.e. the strike’s end. The other faction, apparently more “radical,ˮ has pressed for the continuation of the strike, but is making no effort to mobilize workers in the fight against austerity, limiting themselves to futile appeals to the ruling elite.

Like the unions, both wings of the ASSÉ leadership claim the draconian measures of the Couillard government are an “ideological choice,” not the consequence of a systemic crisis of capitalism that the ruling elite in Canada, as around the world, is seeking to resolve at the expense of the working class.

The only viable option to counter austerity is a turn to the international working class, the only social force with the power to break the stranglehold of big business over socioeconomic life, overthrow the profit system, and transform society on the basis of human need. The development of an independent political movement of the working class requires an intransigent struggle against the pro-capitalist union bureaucracy, which subordinates workers to the political representatives of the ruling class and binds them to capitalism.

This author also recommends:

The Quebec student strike and the fight against austerity: A socialist perspective is necessary
[26 March 2015]

 

 

Tear gas, rubber bullets used against protests over police brutality in Berkeley, California

By World Socialist Web Site
December 8, 2014

 

In Berkeley, California, police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets at hundreds of demonstrators and bystanders Saturday night at a protest against police violence.

Police attack protesters in Berkeley, California

Two people had already been arrested the night before at a protest over a New York grand jury’s decision not to charge Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who killed Eric Garner in Staten Island. Students have also been protesting the recent 27 percent tuition hike at the University of California system during the past two weeks.

After an initial series of protests and rallies in the downtown area, involving as many as a thousand people, a column of at least 60 police officers clad in riot gear confronted a group of overwhelmingly young and peaceful protesters outside UC Berkeley on Telegraph Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares of the city. The police charged the group of students using tear gas, batons, riot shields, smoke grenades and rubber bullets.

Hundreds of people could be heard screaming and fleeing the scene, trying to escape the tear gas, which hung like a toxic cloud over the whole area. The gas was strong enough that it poured into the nearby residential streets where large groups of bystanders were watching the confrontation. Groups of residents, primarily students, came out of their homes to treat the afflicted.

Police amassed in Berkeley, California

According to the Daily Californian, the student-run newspaper, two Berkeley students required serious medical attention due to the police response. One woman, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, had a seizure and was then stepped on by a line of advancing cops. Another man broke his leg during the protests.

Marcel Davis, a 22-year-old man, also had a seizure. He told the Daily Californian that he was hit by the police with a baton. A police spokesman said that at least five people over the age of 18 and one under 18 were arrested.

A group of older concert-goers was also caught in the police charge. Elaine Dunlap, age 74, and her husband were tear gassed by the police. She told the Associated Press, “I’m not sure that’s necessary. … I think people have a right to protest, certainly for an issue as big as this.”

Officer Jennifer Coats, the Berkeley Police Department spokesperson, justified the police violence against the peaceful protest by pointing to activities earlier in the night when the protest was concentrated in the downtown area. Three storefront windows had been broken and rocks had been thrown at police and police vehicles. According to Coats, a police officer required hospitalization.

The overwhelming majority of the protest was peaceful, however. At one point a crowd of students restrained an individual from breaking a window. In Oakland, on the previous day, police were accused of planting undercover cops at an Eric Garner protest by users on Twitter who shared photos of alleged undercover cops in and out of uniform.

The protest in Berkeley was one of a number of ongoing demonstrations throughout the country over the weekend. In Seattle, Washington, police clashed with protesters on Saturday, arresting at least seven.

In Pittsburgh, about 300 people attended a rally against police brutality at the University of Pittsburgh Friday evening despite a cold rain.

Approximately 300 students participated in a march on Friday at SUNY Geneseo, a public liberal arts school of 5,300 students. The protesters chanted “I can’t breathe, we can’t breathe, Geneseo can’t breathe;” “no justice, no peace,” and other chants.

Alex, a political science major, said, “I’m here mainly because I see police brutality being accepted and supported by the bureaucracy.”

Serrana said, “I don’t agree with police brutality. I feel like everyone’s lives matter, and that we have an opportunity to voice our opinions.”

 

UK: Police use tear gas to repress student sit-in at Warwick University

By Joe Mount
December 8, 2014
World Socialist Web Site

 

British_flag_by_markos040122Unprecedented police violence was used to break up a sit-in at the University of Warwick last Wednesday.

The Warwick protest was organised as part of day of action by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. Protests and demonstrations were held at campuses across the country against high tuition fees and spending cuts to the higher education system.

At Warwick, around 25 students occupied an administration building to discuss the political issues involved in the struggle for free education.

Police entered the room where the students were and broke up the sit-in using CS gas and brute force. Students were “punched, pushed on to the floor, dragged, grabbed by the throat and rammed into a wall and kneed in the face,” according to protest organisers Warwick Free Education.

Police CS-sprayed a number of students’ faces. One student was sprayed as he helped up another who was knocked to the floor. Police were recorded shouting, “Back off or you’ll get CSed.”

Photographs of the victims released following the attack revealed the harmful effect of the spray.

Police threatened the protesters with Tasers, waving the activated weapon in the air. West Midlands Police tweeted: “During the disorder a Taser was drawn and an audible and visible warning was issued to prevent further incidents. The Taser was not fired.”

Although the weapon did not touch any of the students, an officer fired the Taser into the air as a warning to the students, as confirmed by human rights charity Amnesty International.

Student Helena Dunnett-Orridge said, “There had been a demo for a free education, then people went into Senate House, sat in reception and had a discussion about the protest. Police came in and we all linked arms. They started pushing and attacking people, completely unprovoked. We couldn’t say anything because we were being pushed.

“They pushed people to the ground and grabbed a girl by the throat using her scarf. They also used CS spray in my friend’s face and had Tasers. They started physically pushing and carrying people out. They dragged me out with them.”

Another student said, “We weren’t blocking any doors, we were being very peaceful. Security started to circle around us and then police turned up. Security told us it was for a separate incident. But then police stepped in. They threw at least two people to the floor and used pepper spray.”

Another said, “When the police came in we decided to all link arms. They came straight for us. They tore people apart. I’m pretty shaken up now. They CS gassed a few people, waving Tasers around. Just very, very violent. The police response was in no way reflective of the protest.”

The police attempted to prevent students from filming their brutality. Postgraduate student Lawrence Green said, “They stood on my phone and I think that was to prevent me from filming and to damage any film I already had.”

Despite the police violence some students were able to film the police attack, with a police officer clearly seen readying a Taser.

The use of a Taser, a potentially deadly electric shock weapon, to threaten protesters violates official police rules of conduct.

Amnesty International immediately condemned police use of CS gas and Tasers. “Videos of the incident and accounts from several eyewitnesses raise serious concerns about whether the police acted heavy-handedly and seriously endangered people at the scene,” said Oliver Sprague, Arms Control Director at Amnesty International UK.

One of the students suffering the effects of CS gas

“Eyewitnesses report that CS gas was used in a relatively confined space against peaceful protesters posing no threat,” he added, “while one police officer is clearly seen discharging a Taser into the air for a prolonged period—an action that could have caused serious injury if gas had been ignited.

“A Taser is only supposed to be used by police as a ‘distance-control’ weapon when confronting dangerous individuals. It should never be used as a crowd-control device.”

Amnesty International has repeatedly criticised the West Midlands police for its over-reliance on Tasers. The weapon has been adopted by police forces across the country as part of a wider beefing up of the powers of state repression in preparation for social upheavals.

On Friday, West Midlands Police launched an internal investigation into the “appropriateness of actions” following the events on the Warwick campus. Warwick university management and police claim that the students attacked campus security, prompting police intervention. Three students, two aged 24 and one 19 years, were arrested on charges of assault and obstruction but were released on bail without charge.

Vice Chancellor Nigel Thrift said, “Yesterday’s protest uncharacteristically saw an unprovoked assault on one of our security team that gave us no alternative but to ask the police to attend the scene to investigate that alleged assault.”

The protest organisers denied this as slander. Warwick for Free Education said, “Security did not inform protesters of the incident, request co-operation or request that any individual be identified. Nor did police. They were silent until they began shoving and grabbing people.”

The aggression captured on video refutes the lies of the police and university administration. No evidence has been produced and no charges have been brought against the three arrested students.

The Warwick student protests were part of a day of anti-cuts demonstrations. Rallies took place in 20 cities across the country, including London, Manchester, Sheffield and Sussex. In London, students occupied the headquarters of Universities UK, the organisation of university bosses.

The unrest follows the largest student march in four years in central London last month, which was also violently dispersed by police who made four arrests. Further protests erupted in response to the police brutality at Warwick, including at London, Manchester and Leeds universities. Hundreds assembled at the Warwick campus to express their anger.

Further anti-fees demonstrations took place in various cities on Saturday.

The crackdown in Warwick is the first time police have used CS gas to repress student protesters. This is part of a broader trend. In the last year alone, police brutality provoked a national wave of “Cops off campus” protests and Birmingham students were illegally detained and searched after an anti-austerity protest.

The ruling class is deploying state force in an attempt to stamp out opposition among young people to austerity and the growth of social inequality. Since the onset of mass austerity in the UK in 2008, police brutality against young people has become ever more ferocious.

Mass student protests in 2010 were met with police horse charges. In 2011, following riots in London and other cities, many youth were put before kangaroo courts dispensing summary justice.

The brutal response to the Warwick students reveals the nervousness of the ruling elite in the face of any form of dissent, as they move to impose attacks on the working class and youth that will dwarf those made since 2008. Wednesday’s student protests took place on the same day that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government announced its latest budget plans. Chancellor George Osborne’s autumn statement cut state spending to levels unseen since the 1930s.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies warned of austerity measures “on a colossal scale.” This includes an 11 percent cut to education spending, with new loans of up to £10,000 for postgraduate students, thousands of job losses, and 1,000 fewer university places.

Chile’s Neoliberal Flip Flop

By Robert Hunziker
December 5th, 2014
Dissident Voice

 

chilean-flag-mdMilton Freidman (1912-2006) labeled it the “Miracle of Chile,” as his “Chicago Boys,” a considerable group of Chilean economists who studied at the University of Chicago, established his neoliberal principles under the tutelage of General Augusto Pinochet from 1974-90.

The infamous general overthrew Salvador Allende’s socialist Chilean government in a coup d’état in 1973 with help from classified CIA support as well as cloak-and-dagger cheerleading from distant corners of the world, Milton Friedman in Chicago and Henry Kissinger in Washington, D.C.

Thereafter, Chilean economic policy “deregulated and privatized,” including the breakdown of state-controlled pension systems, state industries, and state banks (sound familiar, Southern Europe?) And, of course, taxes were reduced. Forthwith, Chile unfettered itself from state control and turned the economy lose into the lair of “the freedom of the markets.”

Thereafter, Milton Friedman never stopped grinning, and Henry Kissinger smiled for the first time ever, he once remarked: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.” 1

As for the gory details of CIA involvement in the Chilean coup d’état of 1973, Costa-Gavras’ film “Missing” (Universal Pictures, 1982) staring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek exposes the surreptitious U.S. involvement via CIA operatives, supportive of Pinochet’s cold-bloodied massacre of students and other innocent bystanders.  Not surprisingly, the film was removed from the U.S. market following a lawsuit against the director and Universal Pictures by former ambassador Nathaniel Davis for defamation of character. When Davis lost his lawsuit, the film was re-released by Universal in 2006.

The face of neoliberalism in Chile today is disheartened, reflecting deep losses for the wealthy class as the people of the country reject Milton Friedman’s neoliberal policies, including clever tax evasion techniques by the business class. Could this be the start of a worldwide movement against neoliberalism?

After all, Chile is the country that neoliberal advocates crowned their “newborn” in the battle against big government, “get government off our backs,” according to Milton Friedman (and, Reagan picked up on the adage.) But, au contraire, according to the film Missing, fascism took control over Chile. Is it possible that Friedman and Kissinger secretly cherished a fascist empire, where control would be complete, disguised as “the land of individual economic freedom?”  Whatever their motives, that’s what they got, and they never hesitated to revere Chile’s remarkable economic achievements, fascism and all, which is powerfully expressed in the film Missing, from end to end the heavy hand of fascism is ever-present.

Today is a new day as the people of Chile abandon decades of rotting neoliberal policies. They’ve had enough of Milton Freidman. The people have decided that the “state” is a beneficial partner for achievement of life’s dreams. The “state” is not the menacing force of evil preached by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

The people of Chile are embracing an anti-neoliberalistic nation/state for the first time in over four decades. Will the world follow in their footsteps similar to the world adopting the principles of the “Miracle of Chile” these past four decades?

As for the new way forward, it’s all about student debt. Yes, student debt was the catalyst behind Chile’s repudiation of neoliberalism. In 2011 students in Chile made headlines by launching nationwide strikes over high tuition costs that drove their families into debt (sound familiar?) The strike lasted for eight months.

Over time, the student marches gained recognition by other like-minded organizations like trade unions and protests of environmental degradation. According to Tasha Fairfield, an assistant professor for the London School of Economics’ Department of International Development, the strikes were pivotal: “The student movement played a critical role in creating political space,” according to Fairfield, it “dramatically changed the political context in Chile and helped to place the issues of Chile’s extreme inequalities centrally on the national agenda.” 2

Subsequently, the national election of 2013 swept the left wing into power with a huge wave of public support, gaining strong majorities in both houses of the National Congress as well as electing Michelle Bachelet president. The big leftward sweep came as over two thirds of the population grew to support student demands for free university tuition.

Ever since the 2013 election, neoliberal policies have crumbled like a decrepit equestrian statue of Pinochet, who carried the stigma of brutal criminality to, and beyond, the grave.

In stark contrast to 40 years ago, today, when students, armed with only stones clashed with police equipped with full regalia of riot gear, tear gas, and armored vehicles, the harsh police activity drew heavy international criticism. That, combined with more than two-thirds of the population in support of the student movement, led to a new politics, Nueva Mayoria (New Majority), a center-left coalition made up of Bachelet’s Socialist Party, the Christian Democratic Party, and the Party for Democracy.

Whereupon, Nueva Mayoria, turning up its nose to neoliberalism, raised corporate taxes from 20 percent to 25 percent and closed tax loopholes for companies and wealthy business owners. Those changes added $8.3 billion annually to government coffers, thus, serving as a source of funds to provide free education to all Chileans by 2020, as well as improved health care, and including a roll back of the for-profit schools that emerged under Pinochet’s dictatorship, which is another neoliberal fascination, witness the U.S. for-profit schools listed on the New York Stock Exchange…honestly, what’s with that?

In order to achieve success, the new Chilean politics astutely employed a key tactical move by applying the corporate tax hikes to only the largest corporations. As a result, nearly 95% of businesses will not be affected by higher taxation. This, in fact, served to secure a broad base of support for the new politics by having those who can afford to pay… Pay.

Along those same lines, the new government removed a tax dodge employed by large business owners that allowed them to mostly escape taxes on $270 billion of profits (similar to the U.S. 15% “carried interest” for private equity entities, e.g., Mitt Romney’s 15% tax rate).

Thus, it’s little wonder that public backlash is challenging neoliberalism, especially considering the conditions throughout the Pinochet regime, as described in the meticulously structured documentary film, The Pinochet Case, (Icarus Films, 2002), which opens with scenes of ordinary Chileans scouring the desert for the remains of family members who were tortured and killed decades previous.

Chile, “The Babe of Neoliberalism,” came to life as an experiment for the “Chicago School” of economic thought. It worked. Today neoliberal theory rules the world, laissez-faire capitalism as practiced from China to the United States, privatization, open markets, slash government, and deregulation, in short, “whatever works best for profits works best for society.”  But, does it?

Forty years of neoliberal thought and practice has changed the world’s socio-economic landscape, but it only really, truly works for the same class of people today as it did 800 years ago for the nobility of the Middle Ages.

We keep going backwards!

 

 

  1. Timothy David Clark, Dept. of Political Science, Putting the Horse Before the Cart: Neoliberalism and Post-Neoliberalism in Chile, York University, June 15, 2012). []
  2. Sebastian Rosemont, Chilean Activists Change the Rules of the Game, Foreign Policy In Focus, December 2, 2014. []

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide, like Z magazine, European Project on Ocean Acidification, Ecosocialism Canada, Climate Himalaya, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Comite Valmy, and UK Progressive. He has been interviewed about climate change on Pacifica Radio, KPFK, FM90.7, Indymedia On Air and World View Show/UK. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.