A British Concert of Casseroles in Solidarity with Quebec
filmed and edited by Isabeau Doucet
Under ubiquitous British union jack bunting, in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, students cut small red felt squares – the Quebec student’s symbol of indebtedness – and pinned them to their lapels. One of their banners called for a “Debt Jubilee not a Diamond Jubilee,” referring to the weekend’s celebrations that will cost taxpayers an estimated 3.5 million pounds or more at a time when the British government is making unprecedented cuts to public sector, education, healthcare and welfare provisions, and England stagnates in the grips of double-dip recession.
It was Wednesday evening and around 150 students, lecturers and union workers were gathered in front of Canada House by Trafalgar Square for a “casserole concert” to protest the government of Quebec’s special new anti-protest law 78 – condemned by Amnesty International, the United Nations and hundreds of Jurists in Quebec – and in solidarity with the Quebec student strike. The event was organized by Defend the Right to Protest, a campaign that arose out of the unprecedented resistance in 2010 to the UK government’s attack on higher education, including the tripling of tuition fees, the axing of student maintenance allowance and massive cuts to courses and jobs.
The casserole protest wove through the streets of central London on an improvised march to the Quebec Government’s Office off Regent’s street chanting “Tous ensemble, tous ensemble, student strike!” and “eh-eh, oh-oh, Jean Charest has got to go!” before concluding with a round of speeches on the steps of the Canadian embassy off Grovesnor square.
“I could not be happier that an event like this has been organized in London,” said Talitha Calder, a BA student at McGill University in Montreal worried about high unemployment among university graduates. Speaking to the crowd, she said the turnout was “proof that these issues transcend borders and that the student strike is about much more than tuition.”
Alfie Meadows, Philosophy student at Middlesex University who had to have life-saving emergency brain surgery after suffering brain hemorrhage and a skull fracture from a police truncheon at an anti-fees protest in December 2010, praised students in Quebec saying “the determination is so inspiring to all of us.” His philosophy department was axed under austerity cuts in the spring of 2010. Following his injury, he was subsequently charged with violent disorder, but the jury failed to reach a verdict and he awaits a retrial on the 29th October. Despite the injury and trial he remains optimistic: “the student protest here was brilliant and there’s been lots of them all over the world and there’s going to be another one coming up in the autumn.”
“If I think of what sort of future do I dream of” said Aaron Peters, PhD candidate at Royal Holloway University and co-editor of the anti-cuts paper Fight Back!, “it’s Quebec, it’s the red and the black, it’s an insurrection and the abolition of tuition fees; it is not a selection of biscuits in a bloody Union Jack box from Marks and Spencer’s.”
Mr. Peters said that if offered a choice of what kind of society he and others would want to live in, they would “want to be in Quebec with the students, with the graduate tutors, with the lawyers who show solidarity, with public sector workers.”
The student movement in Britain had tens of thousands of student protesting, with hundreds of institutions going into occupation to oppose the government’s plans. Several of these protests ended with kettling, police charging at crowds on horseback, the use of truncheons, tasers, police dogs, forward intelligence units, resulting in over 180 arrests of students mostly under the age of 25.
“The right to protest has come under unprecedented attack all over the world” says Nina Power, senior lecturer in Philosophy at Roehampton University and co-founder of Defend the Right to Protest, “we are seeing patterns emerging in the ways in which
different governments attempt to crush and quell dissent. Banning protests, charging people with serious offences and using violence against crowds are all ways of trying to stem the tide of justified mass anger against austerity measures.”
The government plans for further privatization of higher education have been put on hold, and most recently, in early May, it was some 20, 000 off-duty police officers who went on strike to oppose major cuts and the largest police privatization plans in UK history. The government plans to outsource all policing that can be “legally delegated to the private sector” and bidding by multinational security contractors is underway.
“The struggle that has been waged by supporters of la CLASSE and the student movement generally across the province, has set a very, very high standard for British students and education workers here to emulate,” said George Binette, secretary of the Camden branch of UNISON, the largest union of public sector workers in Britain.
Mr. Binette, whose father is Quebecois, called the passage of the law 78 “one of the most draconian pieces of legislation seen in North America in generations in an attempt to curb the democratic right to protest.” He warned people of North America and the European Union saying the law “is an illustration of the lengths to which supposedly democratic governments will go to enforce neoliberal austerity…if workers, students, the poor, older people and the like will not sit down and take the medicine of austerity.”
News of the solidarity protest has gone viral and been overwhelmingly well received in Quebec with Journal Metro, Huffington Post and other social networks sharing the video, which has been viewed over 20 000 times in less than three days.
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