The student strike in Quebec has now captured international attention. It’s now been more than 2 months, over 160 protests have occurred and there are still 170 000 students out on strike. It seems every day the province’s streets are looking more like Athens in the wake of the ongoing battle over tuition fees. With battles breaking out across the country over new austerity measures, these youths are coming to symbolize the growing rage of a nation.

This renewed energy and attention comes in the wake of attempts by authorities to quell the strike with courts and cops. This led to an escalation of unrest, provoking students to become bolder in both tactics and demands. In the past week or so hundreds of Quebec students have been arrested. 95 more got nabbed Wednesday, signalling an official end to the three day “truce” and breakdown of negotiations. Around ninety were also arrested Saturday, as well as hundreds during the week between Montreal and Gatineau. Last weekend protesters crashed a convention Premier Charest was holding for “Plan Nord”, his newest privatization and development scheme for the province’s North. Charest has since offered a “concession” (a slightly larger increase over seven years instead of five), but that too has been rejected both in the votes of student organizations like CLASSE and on the streets by their supporters.

Much has been said about the fact that Quebec students pay some of the lowest tuition in the country. It’s the main talking point of their opponents, who use it to portray them as “entitled”, while dredging up familiar Quebecois stereotypes. The implication here is that tuition fees in provinces like Ontario aren’t a problem right now (which they are), and that Quebec somehow owes it to the rest of the country to likewise punish its young (they don’t). This is a familiar divisive refrain at this point, in which cuts are implemented under the guise of “fairness” with others who are even worse off. This sort of logic inevitably leads to a “race to the bottom”, where regions compete to reach a lowest common denominator of low wages, scarce services and enormous fees.

I have too many friends who will be in debt for decades to come after a few years at school, having borrowed enough money to buy cars or homes. I could tell many stories. Some about folks living with their parents well into their thirties, others about people who simply fled the country to escape their creditors. I know people who’ve spent months ‘pounding the pavement’, handing out resumes daily for months at a time. We were begged, bribed, and made a million promises about the “possibilities” which would come with our degrees, only to learn shortly afterward that in most cases, they actually made us less “employable” than before we set foot on campus. If I had one piece of advice for Quebec students, it would be “don’t let this happen to you”.

Tuition increases hit hard. While few hundred bucks a year may not seem like much, these increases add up quickly. They’re also only one part of the price of an education, which also includes living expenses, books, computers and fees (which tend to rise with them). Once this cost runs beyond what working students can afford or what (most) families can contribute, kids need to go into debt which only drives costs up further. This whole process normalizes living with massive debts, something which has become a way of life for a large part of my generation.

Tuition debts are a big issue. Not only has youth unemployment been central to unrest in nations like Egypt, Greece and Spain, but it’s becoming an increasingly important economic force as well. In the US, the ‘student debt bubble’ has now surpassed a trillion dollars, with many fearing that it will ‘pop’ much like the sub-prime mortgage market a few years ago. Under the pretense of “austerity” and balancing budgets, a generation of young people are being forced into colossal and unsustainable debts. This isn’t a matter of “slashing deficits” at all, it’s a case of passing them down the line.

Why do I support the student strikers? Because I’ve been to an Ontario university in the past few years, and I’ve seen where things are going here and elsewhere. It’s always easier to stop these measures before they start, and often nearly impossible to repeal them once in place. Somebody needs to make a stand, and send a message that endless tuition increases cannot go on forever. And, perhaps most of all, because this is probably the most “educational” year of school most of these kids will ever experience. They’re not reading about history – they’re making it.

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