Direct action

At this point, it’s important to clarify the concept of direct action in the context of the strike.

In essence, direct action is about students themselves being the main actors of their struggle, as opposed to representatives. As such, it’s the counterpart to the direct democracy of student unions. Direct action is also about refusing mediation of the conflict by groups or individuals who often empower themselves at the expense of those on whose behalf they claim to speak, forcing them, explicitly or not, into roles of mere spectators. The “acceptable” political channels such as mass media and closed-door dialogue under the guise of “solution-building” are always primarily aimed at the pacification of conflicts and are thus incompatible with direct action. The aim is to build the struggle outside, and often in opposition to, the official political process.

Although direct action is never bounded by the limits of legality, we must reject the notion that direct action necessarily involves property destruction or violence against individuals. Those who insist on this aspect misunderstand the philosophy of direct action; the idea isn’t to replace politicians with a radical fringe. On the contrary, direct actions must strive to be, as much as possible, mass actions. Within the student movement, this can only arise when those with the initiative of direct actions are in relationship with general assemblies and take cues from them about the appropriate tactics to deploy.

While the strike owed much to CLASSE as a formal, centralised organization, the movement’s strength–its ability to disrupt business as usual–also derived from autonomy and decentralisation, without which direct action can’t exist. Individuals or groups could lead initiatives outside the union structures without systematically being labelled as nefarious splinter groups. As long as they were not isolated from student assemblies, and discussion about strategy and tactics was encouraged, they could empower each other instead of viewing one another with constant suspicion.

On the ground, CLASSE itself mostly organized large rallies and demonstrations while direct actions such as blockades and occupations were often undertaken by affinity groups close to local student unions. Would-be participants could consult an open calendar on CLASSE’s website where most of the upcoming actions were recorded. These were divided into three categories based on which type of group was behind each action: CLASSE, local student unions or individuals.

The nature of autonomous actions varied quite a bit and while their timings, targets or means weren’t always strategic, CLASSE’s role was not to police nor condemn them. This was most important as spokespersons interviewed by the media were often invited – and sometimes pressed – to condemn “violent” or “unacceptable” actions by students such as blocking roads. Internally, they were expected maintain a distance by stating that a particular action wasn’t organized by CLASSE, but otherwise, to put it in context and justify its legitimacy.

Of course, an important consequence of encouraging direct action is the repression that often follows. The movement dealt with this in a variety of ways. To better prepare students, workshops on safety in demonstrations, legal defence and security culture were organised on campuses. To deal with arrests and charges, a legal committee comprised of fully accredited lawyers and helpers (mostly law students) was put together and available on-call 24/7. And to ensure the long-term legal defence of the accused, efforts were put into building a fund through fundraising events and solicitation of labor unions and other groups. All these resources were made available by CLASSE to anyone who participated in any action in support of the strike, regardless of their status as a student or affiliation to any particular student union.1

[1] In contrast, FECQ and FEUQ offered legal support through a contracted law firm, but only to its own members.

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