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Legislating an end to a social movement?

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Bringing the gavel down on the student strike
Bringing the gavel down on the student strike

As a lawyer mother might say, every law is special in its own way. But the legislation being put forward by the Québec government to force an end to the 14-week student strike really is a “special law” because, unlike most laws, it is not based on general principles that apply to everyone equally (maybe that's why the Québec bar association says the law is a little too special for its tastes).


The special law specifically targets one group of “troublemakers,” those pesky students who voted in general assemblies in post-secondary institutions across the province to strike in protest against a 75% tuition increase (now the increase is set at 82% as a “compromise” measure).


Why, you may ask, is it okay to target this particular group of people with a special law? The answer, according to the Charest government, is that the student protests lack “legitimacy.” Legitimacy is not gained through student general assemblies where majorities vote for strike action. Legitimacy is not gained by mobilizing thousands of students and supporters for mass actions over 14 weeks.


The PLQ government, on the other hand, is entirely legitimate because it is a democratically elected government with the power to pass laws, including special ones.


If protestors want to enjoy the same legitimacy as government leaders, here is what they must do:


  1. Organize a political party. To be competitive, you will need lots of money, so be sure to hold fundraisers where engineering and construction firms are invited to give thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions. Don’t worry if some of these people have ties to organized crime, you can always deny that you were aware of such connections.
  2. Cultivate friendships with wealthy media barons and companies that advertise in the media. Positive press coverage is worth more than donations. Since the 1% own the media, it should not be surprising to see it vilify social movements that challenge its power (think occupy and the student strike).
  3. Fight an election campaign where you promise to maintain funding for education and healthcare. Don’t tell anybody about how you are going to increase user fees through a regressive “health contribution” or through tuition increases on the order of 75 to 82% that reduce access to post-secondary education (if you do that you won’t win the election and then you won’t have any legitimacy).
  4. Win 42% of the popular vote. That’s not a majority, but who cares? It’s enough to win a majority of seats and pass all the special laws you want!


Following these four easy-to-remember steps will win you lots of legitimacy, but once you follow them, accessible public education will no longer be among your priorities.


That must be why social movements fighting for accessible education, public healthcare progressive taxation, social housing and the like have chosen “illegitimate” means to make their voices heard.


Can the government legislate an end to such movements?


The government can further criminalize civil disobedience, impose hefty fines and even prison sentences. It can use police violence to intimidate protestors. The army can even be called in as a last resort. But as the Arab Spring has demonstrated, even the most repressive regimes can be vulnerable to “illegitimate” protests.


David Bernans is a Québec-based writer and translator. Follow him on twitter @dbernans.


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bernans (David Bernans)
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