Profs Against the Hike, or a New Beginning for Faculty Political Action

There was a febrile atmosphere on Tuesday, March 6, 2012 at Collège Ahuntsic: more than one hundred college and university professors met for the first time to share their voices and their resistance to tuition fee hikes. A space rich with action and reflection would crystallize the militant energies of a multitude of professors who wanted to join the fight initiated by the college and university students of Quebec.

The idea of creating an activist network of educators opposed to the tuition fee hikes was sparked in late February 2012. Strike votes were then taking place among students, and such movements tend to spread. Many wanted their unions, federations, and locals to take part in this struggle, remembering that during the last major student strike in 2005, the unions had not substantially mobilized their membership, even while students held an unprecedented balance of power against the Charest government’s neoliberal project. Realizing that this scenario could be repeated, some Montreal college faculty decided to issue an invitation for a meeting aimed at going beyond simply supporting the students and actually taking part in the struggle they had initiated.

From the outset, the nature of the group must be clarified: it is not a formal organization, but a network. Therefore, it has no spokesperson (except when the need arises in the context of an action) and a clear and inclusive base. It has Facebook page that has been in operation for a few months, a website, an email list, and a lot of creativity. With few exceptions, there is little debate as to whether we support a particular action: the idea is to create a space for dialogue and action, enabling activist professors to find each other. Each represents only him- or herself but also recognizes the need to act collectively.

In this fertile ground, numerous working groups form and dissolve according to the desires, interests and affinities of individuals, thus allowing them to respond to current needs and the urgency of the battles to fight. Through their political, critical and incisive actions; their sharp, analytical and spirited pens; videos featuring professors speaking out; spontaneous demonstrations; and acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, PCLH (Profs Contre La Hausse – Profs Against the Hike) members claim their place in the struggle to defend what they know is precious: education as a public good.

We believe that PCLH has contributed significantly to the Quebec Spring, in that it was a first sign that, in CLASSE’s words “the strike is a student one”, but “the struggle is popular” (la grève est étudiante, la lutte est populaire). PCLH was the first such group to emerge during the student strike. Other groups followed: Parents against the hikes, Artists against the hikes, Angry and Supportive Mothers, Nurses, Writers, Lawyers, Seniors against the hikes…

PCLH has allowed students to feel supported, as much symbolically (through the creation of a counter-discourse though letters and declarations) as on the ground, when forced to cope with more than an ill wind: the government’s contempt, deployment of the full force of state power, and strategies to control and manipulate symbols, particularly the demonization of the red square and of those who wear it.

As injunctions rained down on Quebec’s educational institutions, professors and unions supported striking students and strongly condemned the judicialization of the conflict. Several professors faced with injunctions ordering them to teach continued their ardent defence of the students’ right to strike and of the legitimacy of their associations. The entry of police forces onto college and university campuses hinders academic freedom and constitutes a serious threat to the autonomy of our post-secondary institutions. In this respect, this historic rift will leave deep scars.

Several faculty union assemblies, sometimes assisted by PCLH professors, have begun to extend more substantial support to their students’ struggle. In the longer term, beyond the tension observed between the more established and institutionalized forms of faculty union action and the spontaneous, libertarian and somewhat improvised action of PCLH, the experience has allowed alterglobalisation activists to find and recognize each other for future mobilizations, starting with the new academic year starting in August — a return made very unpredictable by the context of the special law, the upcoming election and, of course, the still-ongoing strike. In their desire to open a space for imagining symbolic and political actions against tuition fee hikes and the commercialization of education, educator-activists from PCLH have gradually become full participants in the conflict.

Anne-Marie Le Saux teaches sociology at College de Maisonneuve and Philippe de Grosbois teaches sociology at College Ahuntsic. This article is reproduced from Rouge Squad.