This past February, Raymond Bachand, Quebec’s finance minister, announced that Quebec was in need of a “cultural revolution.” The ministry released a report that calculated that Quebec has one of the most indebted economies in the industrialized world. Quebec’s $285.6-billion debt is equal to 94.6% of the province’s GDP; only Japan, Italy, Greece, and Iceland have a larger debt-to-GDP ratio than Quebec. This proposed “cultural revolution” is an attempt to prepare Quebec workers and students to accept cuts to social spending on a level unseen in Quebec history.
For decades, workers in Quebec have been some of the most oppressed in North America. For years, they lived under a despotic government, allied with the church, the Canadian state, and the Anglo-capitalists. This led to massive anger and frustration that culminated in the huge social movements which shook capitalism in Quebec throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. The result of this was huge reforms granted in order to placate an enraged working class. Quebec has cheaper tuition and public transit the rest of Canada, free education was won at Quebec colleges, and the $7/day day care system was established. Many other social gains have all been the result of the radicalized worker and student movements in Quebec. These strong traditions of organized resistance largely still exist to this day, and Quebec maintains the highest unionization rate in all of North America (about 40% of the workforce).
For decades, governments in Quebec (PQ and Liberal alike) have been attacking this social wage. For the most part, these attacks have been unsuccessful because of strong organized resistance from the working class and students. Therefore, most of the major attacks have been relegated to the private sector, with large layoffs primarily in the textile and manufacturing industries, while companies sent jobs overseas to a more “competitive environment” (by this, they mean somewhere where they can keep wages and benefits low).
In 2003 we saw the release of “Pour une Quebec lucide,” written by former PQ premier Lucien Bouchard and his cronies. This bourgeois manifesto laid out the bosses’ “solutions” to the pressures of a globalized market, and to the competition from emerging economic powers like China. These solutions entailed raising hydro rates, tuition fees, and, in general, cutting social services to make Quebec more competitive on the world market.
With the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression wreaking havoc on the economy and forcing governments to pour billions of dollars in public money to bail-out the banks and corporations, the ideas from “Pour une Quebec lucide” are being brought forward once again, all the more pressing and all the more clear.
Not coincidentally, Lucien Bouchard, and his ilk have once again issued a manifesto aimed at tackling the problems facing the Quebec economy. This manifesto is called “A pact for the competitive funding of our universities,” and includes signatures from former finance ministers, the president and CEO of the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec, the president of the Quebec Employers’ Council, and the president and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal. Joining these bourgeois mouthpieces are a whole slew of ex-student union leaders with connections to the PQ and the Liberals.
Bouchard calls for “political courage” and an “immediate response” to solve the massive indebtedness of Quebec universities, which has been the result of underfunding over the years. This pact calls for tuition increases of $3,000-$8,000, depending on the program. This is already in addition to the suggestions on the table from the October pre-budget: an increase to hydro rates, cuts across the board to social services, and the implementation of tuition fees at the free CEGEP system. This all co-insides with the recent statement from the minister of education when he said, “I think there is a consensus [on increasing tuition fees] that is being established in Quebec. When I speak of consensus I exclude the students.”
This is the same nonsense that the Liberals, ADQ, and Parti Quebecois all spewed out during the 2007-2008 school year when they were able to effectively raise tuition at Quebec universities by $500. When they speak of consensus, they mean a consensus amongst the bosses. Students and workers alike make up the vast majority of society. They will not benefit from, and do not want, education that will cost more.
Socialist Solutions or Capitalist Misery!
The Quebec ruling class is scared to death of the Quebec working class. Time and time again, they have shown their willingness to defend their conquests of the past and battle to conquer new ground, if the proper leadership is given. For years now, there has been an ideological offensive against the mentality amongst the Quebec working class, which believes it is their right to live a life of dignity. How dare they!
Neither the Liberals nor the Parti Quebecois will ever attack the Quebec bosses; over the years, this situation has forced the government to go further into debt in order to avoid a major confrontation with workers and to maintain the social equilibrium. This is the reason for the “cultural revolution,” which is more correctly labelled the “cultural counter revolution.” The Quebec bourgeoisie needs to roll back the consciousness of the working class in Quebec to pre-Quiet Revolution days when they lived under the boot. They need subservience.
We are left with two choices in Quebec. Either we accept the bosses’ solutions being put on the table and have our living standards continuously attacked; or, we defend the gains that we have won and take the road of class struggle.