Anti-Austerity: A Non-United Front?

Protest Highlights Splits in Method and Ideology of Protesters

  • The anti-austerity protest. Photo Brandon Johnston.

A run-of-the-mill anti-austerity protest legally ran its course without a hitch this past Saturday.

The ‘Official’ Demo

The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) provided the police with their itinerary and daycare workers, union organizers and radical activists chanted peacefully and securely, side by side with a token number of police in riot gear.

Compliance with 2012 amendments to municipal bylaw P-6 that obliges protest organizers to provide police with their itinerary is contentious.

FEUQ formally opposes the amendments, but giving police the protest routes in advance was its policy even before the rules were put in place, FEUQ President Jonathan Bouchard told The Link.

“It’s just for logistics, so that everybody feels free to join in,” he explained.

The sentiment was echoed by protester Lise Bouc, carrying a sign bearing an anthropomorphic pair of scissors in reference to cuts in the education budget.

“It’s really about being there, being present. So it’s not important if they give their itinerary or not,” she said.

The policy “is about not alienating the people that they’re working with,” former FEUQ executive Gene Morrow said.

The FEUQ “work with a lot of different people and obviously, their actions and positions are formed by their membership,” he continued. “They’ve never been told not to give their itinerary.”

The Anti-Demo

Although devoid of physical conflict, ideological friction was quick to surface around the march.

With a black cover photo emblazoned with the hashtag “FUCK LA FEUQ” in one corner and a note announcing they wouldn’t provide police with their itinerary in another, the Facebook event countering the organization’s official protest didn’t pull any punches.

Though it garnered only around 300 “attendees” in comparison to the official protest’s 1,400, the planned demo countering the FEUQ’s is part of a longstanding custom, according to Morrow.

“It’s pretty traditional,” he said of the dissenting event. “I think almost every FEUQ demo since 2005 and probably earlier has had some kind of counter-demo organized around it.”

Though the counter-protest didn’t physically manifest on Saturday, the anti-FEUQ and anti-P-6 sentiment it voiced is far from underground.

“A lot of people who want to be involved in mobilizations don’t feel comfortable because they don’t want to cooperate with P-6. Especially since the P-6 charges were dropped,” Jonathan Summers, member of anti-austerity group Solidarity Concordia, told The Link.

“They’re collaborating with the bylaw, whereas the CSU for example has taken a stance against it, like a lot of the Montreal activist community has,” Summers continued.

That FEUQ complied with the police was “unfortunate,” CSU VP Mobilization Anthony Garoufalis-Auger said. “We need to be showing a common front against law P-6, and this has to come from across civil society. This includes la FEUQ.”

“FEUQ has demonstrated in the past and has demonstrated again that they’re not necessarily entirely in the interest of students,” Concordia student and anti-austerity organizer Katie Nelson told The Link.

“People are trying to have some fun with an otherwise pretty frightening situation.”

The Ironic Demo

No less poignant was the “anarcho-PKPist” contingent to the FEUQ-organized march. Under a banner sporting media mogul and Parti Quebecois politician Pierre Karl Péladeau wearing a stuffed wolf hat—a play on the Printemps 2015 movement’s anti-austerity symbol—the ironic demo called for action.

The banner refers to a perceived affiliation of FEUQ with the PQ.

“That’s the classic trope,” Morrow commented. “It’s sort of a joke. Like, ‘oh, the FEUQ, the PQ’s youth wing.’”

But many politicians outside the PQ got their start in FEUQ as well, he added.

“There’s also people in the Liberal party and the CAQ who have the same lineage.”

Former FEUQ president Martine Desjardins raised eyebrows when she joined the PQ after negotiating with them for a tuition freeze.

A March 2014 editorial in The Link said there was “no question that she’s abandoned the progressive values she championed for during the Maple Spring,” especially with Péladeau in the party.

According to The Gazette, “Péladeau has imposed lockouts 14 times during labour disputes,” giving him a reputation for union-busting.

“People are comparing him a lot to Berlusconi in Italy, the media magnate and Prime Minister,” Summers said of Peladeau.

“People are trying to have some fun with an otherwise pretty frightening situation.”

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