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Organizers estimated that close to 75,000 people attended Thursday's march. (Image: Screenshot)

Maple Spring 2.0? Students Protest Austerity in Montreal

'The point of this protest is to show the ideological path taken by the provincial government is being done without a consensus,' says organizer

Deirdre Fulton

Tens of thousands of students, workers, and families protested austerity in the streets of Montreal on Thursday, denouncing the Quebec government's plans to reduce spending on education, health care, and other social services.

There was a heavy police presence at the demonstration, which was spearheaded by the province-wide student union, Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ). According to CTV Montreal, representatives of 130,000 students voted to hold the one-day protest, and many post-secondary schools decided to cancel classes for the day.

About 60,000 students have been on strike since late-March, when Quebec Liberals cut $729 million in spending to table the province's first balanced budget in six years.

"The point of this protest is to show the ideological path taken by the provincial government is being done without a consensus," ASSÉ spokesperson Camille Godbout told CTV Montreal.

The action is part of a broader "Printemps 2015" anti-austerity movement that includes major labor groups and community groups.

"Cuts to education, now, are seen as part of a broader attack on Quebec’s social safety net, including healthcare and pension benefits, and a degradation of particularly working class Quebecois life," organizer and journalist Kate Aronoff wrote earlier this week.

The Confédération des syndicats nationaux, a union representing 325,000 workers across Quebec, also called on its members to join the protest.

"It will be the first occasion for mass opposition to the Liberal austerity plan since the announcement of the Leitão-Coiteux budget last week," said CSN president Jacques Létourneau on Wednesday. "It’s important to send a clear message, with numbers. We have to maintain the pressure. That’s why we stand in solidarity with students who are mobilized against austerity and we hope to have many walk with them."

Thursday's march "will test the capacity of the movement to detonate struggle on the scale of 2012," Ashley Smith wrote at Socialist Worker, referring to the Maple Spring demonstrations—a several month strike action that won serious concessions from the government and has served as inspiration for student organizers around the world.

"April 2 will be a huge day," ASSÉ 's Godbout said in advance of the protest. "After April 2, many general assemblies will happen and from there students will decide whether we'll have another action plan."

ASSÉ will hold special congress this weekend to assess the movement and decide whether to agitate for an indefinite strike. In addition, Quebec's climate activists have called for a march on April 11, when Canada's provincial premiers will gather for a national climate summit in Quebec City. And general labor strikes, protests, and direct actions like shutting down highways, are being planned for May 1.

"All of this agitation shows that the dynamic of struggle triggered by 2012's Maple Spring is not over," Smith wrote. "Whether it will reach the heights of three years ago and bring down the government remains to be seen. Regardless, Quebec's new generation of radicals is setting an example for the rest of North America for how to stand up and fight austerity."

The Montreal Gazette provided live coverage of the march and rally, and tweets about the action can be seen below:

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