Since the first CFS day of action in 1995, tuition fees have skyrocketed leaving hundreds of thousands of students burdened with debt. One has to ask if the CFS leaders actually know where they’re going.

Just prior to the beginning of the march in Toronto, CFS organizers were handing out sheets of suggested chants and songs to the demonstrators. Among them was a song entitled “This is the Debt That Never Ends,” which fairly accurately sums up how many students now view student debt – as an incurable ailment that we have learned to accept. The fact that the CFS chose this pessimistic chant for its members gives us a hint at how effective their own campaign is.

In 1995, when the first attacks on Ontario students began under the Mike Harris government, the CFS came out to protest, just like this year. And, just like this year, they ended up going in the wrong direction. Instead of utilizing the anger of students at the sudden hike in tuition, the 1995 student movement was, in Toronto, diverted into a single day march around the Provincial Parliament. This was at the same time that the labour movement was also gearing up for a confrontation with the Conservative government, which culminated in the Metro Days of Action. The students could have linked their fight with that of the workers in the form of a student strike – an actual counter-attack against the cuts being made against working class people by the Harris government. But at the time, the CFS decided on a less militant road, marching in a circle around Queen’s Park.

In 2005, Québec students were faced with a very similar situation. The Charest government launched large attacks against students and workers in the form of cutbacks, that included converting $103 million dollars in post-secondary grants into loans, directly attacking working class students. The Québec student federations sprung into action and organized a province-wide student strike. Campuses were occupied by their students. Sympathetic professors gave “teach-ins,” free of charge, to the striking students. The labour unions issued statements of support and began to threaten a strike movement of their own. Faced with the overwhelming pressure of an organized student movement with a militant leadership, combined with the strength of the Québec working class, the Charest government gave in and reinstated the funding to the student grants programme. That same year, however, the CFS decided to march its well-worn circle around Queens Park.

This year, following hot on the heels of a tuition fee hike by the McGuinty government, the student movement in Ontario was given a second wind and the CFS “Day of Action” was well attended. But all its organizers could think to do was repeat the traditional one-day march around the Parliament buildings. Time and experience has shown that these one-day marches will not ruffle the feathers of those inside the Parliament buildings. In over a decade of single-day marches, tuition has nearly tripled for Ontario students. In a single month of direct and militant action, the Québec student movement was able to bring the government of Jean Charest to its knees. The CFS must open its eyes to the lessons that can be learned. They need to contrast the current state of the student movement across most of Canada, under the passive and repetitive tactics currently being used, with the victory that Québec students won through concrete militant action. But, if these lessons fall on deaf ears, students can take heart that, after all, there’s always next year.

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