Yesterday was International Workers’ Day – not in Canada though, at least officially speaking. Thousands of people took to the streets yesterday to mark the beginning of the grève sociale against the austerity measures of the provincial government.
Called to action by the Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics, more than 860 community organizations, student associations, and unions across Quebec went on strike yesterday. Among those who went on strike were many of the twenty four CEGEP teacher unions, whose strike mandates had been declared illegal by Quebec’s labour board on April 30.
In Montreal, the day of action started early. At 8 a.m., demonstrators associated with the Coalition blocked access to the Banque Nationale tower. This was followed by a large march of estimated 5000 people. Other forms of direct action included the occupation of Québécor, World Trade Centre, and Place Ville-Marie.
However, the brutality of the SPVM did not show itself until later in the evening. Montreal’s Anti-Capitalist Convergence (CLAC) called on people to gather at Phillips Square at 6:30 p.m. Contingents from north, east, and south-west Montreal joined the main contingent at the square and they started marching at around 7 p.m. In less than 20 minutes, SPVM declared the demonstration illegal and started deploying unreasonable amounts of tear gas, injuring protesters and passers-by alike. CBC reported that even children were caught in the middle of the SPVM and the SQ’s clamping down.
According to photographer Gerry Lauzon, “The riot squad charged and gassed while the protest was peacefully walking, nothing being broken. A lot of civilians were present as non-participants in the vicinity and got gassed as well. Women (one pregnant in the bunch) and children among them. The gas made it’s way in some stores and the metro while people were trying to flee the chaos.”
“I was flushed eastbound on Ste-Catherine by the Surété Quebec and didn’t see much of anything after that until 21:15, when the pissed off crowd that was walking down Ste-Catherine got dispersed at Berri without gas, baton, or shields.”
In an interview with Radio-Canada, SPVM spokesperson Laurent Gingras failed to give an explanation as to why the dispersion maneuver took place. At the end of the day, 84 people were arrested.
In a press release, CLAC declared that they would not be repressed without a fight and that “It’s obvious that the escalation of repression we’ve seen in the last few years is the result of a political directive to nip all protest movements with a radical discourse in the bud.”
Rich Bonemeal, spokesperson for the CLAC says, “We can’t see the forest for the tree that is austerity. Sooner or later we’ll have to face the fact that it’s the capitalist system itself that’s at the root of this inequality and injustice. As long as this system stays in place, there will still be exploiters and exploited, there will still be the extremely rich and the extremely poor, and the capitalist bulldozer will continue to pillage and destroy everything in its way until life on earth becomes impossible. Fighting austerity is a start, but it’s capitalism we must destroy.”
Click on the images below to access the galleries. The one above contains photos from earlier in the day, and the one below contains photos from the 6:30 p.m. demo. All photography by Gerry Lauzon.Morning Protests International Workers\' Day