How to organize a social movement–the Red Squares of Montreal

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois (born 1990) was a student leader in CLASSE, the Quebec student union that organized successful strikes in 2013. He said in a video that a key component of student success was the strong culture of hard work.[i] Some said students organized in decentralized totally autonomous groups, but that wasn’t accurate. They’re not like a soldier answering to a general, but a certain amount of centralization was required to make sure the strike would begin and grow. Using a structured process of decision-making, organization power and democracy worked. The student movement has ongoing successes because of extensive organizing through the province, with elected representatives to student unions and centralized decision-making. They also make alliances with workers’ unions (union-led strikes also helped oust presidents in Tunisia and Egypt).

In his book translated as In Defiance (2013), Nadeau-Dubois discussed his role as media spokesperson (along with Jeanne Reynolds) who could only comment on what CLASSE had decided on by voting at weekly meetings representing the various student associations, which he described as soldiers without a commander: “a large portion of the social movement was simply unwilling to be guided by leaders.”[ii] Ungovernable, the movement dealt with long hours of debate and with growing numbers of strikers; on March 22, 2012, more than 300,000 students out of 420,000 enrolled were on strike and many of them marched in Montreal.[iii] Their issues expanded from the 75% tuition increase to condemnation of capitalism and its destruction of the environment. Writing a year after the strike, although they succeed in ousting the Liberal government in elections and getting the tuition increase cancelled plus a moratorium on shale gas exploration, on the surface it looked like little had changed in Quebec. But, he realized “social battles rarely end with victories.”[iv] As in all the other uprisings, many of the participants continued their political interests. A young activist with Idle No More told him that mobilizations are like a wave; it seems to withdraw from the shore but it is always followed by a new wave.

[i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1–uffcGHq0

[ii] Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. In Defiance. Between the Lines, Toronto, 2013, p. 73.

[iii] Ibid., p. 75.

[iv] Ibid., p. 1223-124.

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