Strikes, Boycotts and Court Orders: Torwards Dangerous Precendants
In this battle against tuition rise, the students have many things going against them, and right after the government itself, the second biggest shit disturber is without a doubt the inside resistance from certain students. Those students, whether ideologically opposed to the whole concept of this “Revolution Erable” or just simply fed up with not being able to study, have been turning to the courts since the Laurent Proulx case. Indeed, since the legislation surrounding the formation of students unions does not recognize the right to strike or the right to picket lines, many court orders have been issued to order the schools to resume dispensing class. It’s one thing to get a court order, but as the media reports, it’s a whole other thing to get that order carried out and respected. So far, some schools have remained shut down due to illegal picket lines carried on despite the order, and some ballsy teachers have went as far as to dispense their students of class out of their own initiative in support of the movement. This blatant disrespect of the law is a problem, a major one at that , with two causes: on one side the students, and on the other the teaching staff.
The problem with the student movement is that that their complaints on disrespect of syndicalism (and by their logic democracy at large) on the government’s part are based on the fact that they believe themselves to be a full fledge union, with all that this includes. To them, who seem to think that all the aspects of syndicalism are inherently applicable to any organisation that claims to be a union, there is no difference between a trade union and a student union. A strike is always legitimate if it was voted upon favourably by it’s members, picket lines are the natural byproduct of a legitimate strike and must therefor be respected, and anybody defying the strike, within or outside of the organisation is a scab. Unfortunately for them, in a legally constituted state such as ours, this anarcho-syndicalist vision of things is not only invalid, but illegal. As grown-ups, I am sure that militants from the student unions understand that they only need to be nice and obey the law when they want to; what I WISH they would understand is that choosing to disobey the law inevitably brings consequences: namely fines, imprisonment, and all that unpleasant stuff. This is my main critique of the movement as of now: their inability to accept the consequences of being self-proclaimed revolutionaries with an agenda based on civil disobedience. If your cause is important enough to warrant throwing bricks at the defenders of public peace, shouldn’t it be important enough for you to sacrifice a couple of ribs to a policeman’s baton?
Teachers are the ones that get it real easy in all of this. Many of them are members of the same big-shot unions to whom many student groups are affiliated, and consequently share the same vues on the whole issue of legitimacy of the student boycott. From my own experience with CEGEP teachers, most of them seem to have grown very fond of the Quebecois societal model of which they are now part of. Who can blame them for that, really?; biting the hand that feeds you is not a very intelligent behaviour. My gripe with the teachers isn’t so much on their manifestation of political allegiance , but rather the cozy conditions under which they have the leisure of doing it, in absence of any potential consequences for supporting the student movement. They have been known for cancelling class for phony concerns of security, respecting picket lines that have no legal value, and on several occasions have even using class time to fill the ranks of the student protesters; all this while receiving their pay in full, something guaranteed to them through generous labour agreements. In this series of events, teachers are inside men, mercenaries hypocritically bleeding the government from it’s very entrails while their student counterparts call out of the poor financial management of our network of public universities. Common sense says that if they aren’t in the classroom teaching, then they shouldn’t be paid; it’s as simple as that. But sadly, in this province, common sense does not seem to apply.
All in all, the most dangerous part of all this disrespect of our judicial system is the chance that we might be setting precedents. Public demonstrations are, within reason, legal and legitimate, but all that surrounds them and that is not must not be taken lightly. I’m talking about the illegal picketing lines and blocking off of schools to students in right to receive their education, and the disrespect of court orders by students, teachers and management staff. I’m no expert on the matter, but I’ve been told that in court-room practice, law is based on both written legislation and case law. I believe that the same thing type of two-sided conception of the law occurs in peoples minds: it’s one thing to understand textual law, but it’s a whole other to know the intricacies of it’s application. By not swiftly enforcing the law and court orders, the authorities are allowing a distortion of the population’s idea of the application of the law, a devaluation of our legitimate means to justice. If we set precedents now, what is to become of it with in other instances of the manifestation of popular concern? I’m all too afraid that if we give an inch, they’ll take a mile, and for that reason, police forces push on in ensuring that the law is observed.
This is why I am very critical of the proposed “special law” proposed by the government as a solution to the current crisis. Such legislation is not only totally unnecessary as the students have no legal backing, but would be quickly picked up by protesters as an overly authoritative, anti-syndicalist action by a government who is at wit’s end. Past laws like these applied to regular employer-vs-employee strikes have always seemed morally wrong even to my essentially anti-syndicate self, never mind to those who actually believe in the concept of unions. If anything, this law would add fuel to an already very lively fire.
My position on this situation as a whole is very simple: deep down, this whole debate boils down to a cleavage between each group’s fundamental conception of democratic institutions, responsibilities of governance and state involvement. With these matters, the status quo can only be broken by one thing. Elections. Hold on to your horses, they’re coming soon enough.