The Montreal Student Strike: Stills of a Mobilized City

On February 13, 2012, Quebec’s student unions called for an unlimited general strike against Premier Jean Charest’s proposed tuition hikes, which amount to a $1,625 increase over five years. Student marches grew in response to failed negotiations, in which Minister of Education Line Beauchamp tried to exclude certain unions and offered an even more expensive package. Since then, Beauchamp’s resignation, Charest’s callous remarks, brutal police repression (including a student losing use of an eye) have escalated the protests further. On May 18, Charest’s Liberal majority passed Law 78, an emergency provision that prohibited assembly of fifty or more without informing police of all details of the march beforehand (which they could modify) and suspended the semester at twenty-five schools. The Law, which has put Canada on the UN’s Human Rights watch list, infuriated many non-students, and led to an estimated three hundred thousand marchers in Montreal’s streets on May 22, marking the 100th day of protest.

Now, the student-led movement has transformed into a general social movement involving broad swathes of the citizenry against neoliberal austerity. It includes nightly “casseroles” (snaking marches through downtown where Montrealers of all ages bang pots and pans), neighborhood assemblies throughout the city attempting local governance, and the pervasive spread of the red square, a symbol of solidarity with students who are “squarely in the red” with debt. While many disregard the students as whining brats who have the lower tuition (average of $2,500) and even lower debt (average of $13,000) than many other young people, the protesters remain committed. The “manifencours,” a colloquial name meaning “manifestations in the streets,” is now in over its sixtieth day of consecutive nightly protests, with approximately 150,000 students on strike. Solidarity casserole marches are taking place around the world. The student unions plan to vote in late August on whether to extend the strike through the fall semester.

These photographs are from the week of the Grand Prix car race, June 6-11, which was targeted by protesters for its associations with elitism and sexism.

Band members laugh at a nightly casserole before the week of Formula One protests begin.

A middle-aged woman tries to reason with SPVM officers after a march is immediately kettled, trapping the protesters in between lines of police.

Police pepper spray protesters at the entrance to a street of Grand Prix tourist events.

Three young women at the Nude-in protest hold up piece signs in front of a line of police vans.

A man in a banana suit dances in front of faux-bloody racing flags outside of the Grand Prix tourist area.

A group of protesters march against the Formula One event for its associations with sexist culture and the objectification of women.

One of three police vehicles desecrated on a rowdy night, this car had its window busted through with a metal barricade and a side-mirror torn off.

A young man is arrested by several police officers at night.

The Grand Prix racing event had tight security, but many accused the police of profiling — searching anyone with a red square or who looked suspicious, particularly youth.

A neighborhood assembly, which have sprung up around the city particularly in response to the anti-assembly Law 78, meets in diverse community of Côte-des-Neiges.

The police’s consistent presence downtown during protests makes Montreal civilians uneasy.

Zachary Bell is a recent graduate from University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies. At Penn, he was a columnist for The Daily Pennsylvanian, and covered topics like Greek life, gender and sexuality issues, On Campus Recruiting, university governance, and historical determinism in his bi-weekly “Critical Playground” column. As a freelance journalist, he has contributed to The Nation “Extra Credit” blog, Campus Progress, Toward Freedom, and Occupied Stories. Zachary publishes photo essays, video documentary, and political analysis about Occupy and other social movements on his blog: Follow him on twitter @ZacharyABell. He is proudly from New Haven and currently lives in Philadelphia.