CLASSE - Governance

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= CLASSE is/was the student movement against tuition hikes in Quebec which obtained a dramatic victory in 2012


By Suresh Fernando based on conversations with Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the ex-spokesperson of CLASSE:

"There were a few key points that Gabriel made that I think are worthy of emphasizing: structure is essential if you want to mass mobilize; mobilize around simple demands and let systemic relationships emerge; pick an issue that has broad relevance to the local community; develop a coalition building strategy to include other allies/organizations.


One thing Gabriel emphasized over and over again is that the Quebec student uprisings were not the result of coincidence or 'the spirit of the moment.' They were the result of years of hard work in building a firm foundation. Student activists in all the universities invested a lot of energy in building the systems and establishing confidence in the systems over a period of years. So what does the structure look like?

In contrast to the way that universities are organized in B.C., the student unions within the universities are organized department by department -- political science, humanities, commerce, etc. Each of these departments has its own caucus which meets regularly and identifies issues that they want to put on the agenda for the general assembly. This makes possible a high level of affinity at the grassroots level since students within particular departments have common interests. Issues that are considered to be of wider concern are then brought forward to the general assembly.


Motions are passed if there is a 50 per cent + 1 majority. In contrast to, for example, the consensus model that was in place within the Occupy movement, the voting threshold is a simple 50 per cent + 1 majority. It's important to note that a 'low' threshold such as this only works if there if the institutional mechanism's themselves are respected. This is to say that the 49 per cent that did not support a vote will follow the majority simply because the respect the democratic institution.

Direct democracy

Those that are spokespeople for the departments at the national general assembly are only allowed to speak to the issues voted for at the department level. They have no representative power, no 'autonomy.'

In order to ensure to maintain the integrity of the direct democracy process, the spokesperson's responsibility is re-voted every meeting ensuring that he/she acts strictly as a spokesperson and maintains the confidence of the caucus. This allows spokespeople absolutely no leeway.

Once issues are voted on at the department level, they can be submitted in writing and placed on the agenda at the national assembly. The submissions must be four days in advance of national assembly meetings to ensure that participants have a chance to review the issues.

At these meetings department caucus spokespeople are responsible for speaking on behalf of the issue that was put forth by the department.

Bottom-up process

In Quebec the strike was re-voted every week, providing people with an opportunity to discuss issues as well as regain confidence in the collective enterprise.

The national assembly has no power to identify issues for discussion or make decisions on anything whatsoever that does not arise from the department caucus level. It is strictly a decision making body that makes it possible to develop a broad based consensus that can support collective action. It is the mechanism that made it possible for all of the departments to support the strike.

Mobilize around simple demands

Gabriel emphasized that the decision to mobilize around the issue of the tuition increases was no coincidence. This does not mean that they did not discuss other, more sophisticated, implications of the neo-liberal agenda. He emphasized the importance of mobilizing around simple, understandable, demands with specific, measurable outcomes.

Obviously the issue of tuition fees was very relevant to students, and therefore they were able to mobilize students on the issue.


Developing a broad-based coalition

A significant contributor to the success of the Quebec student movement was the 'Red Hand Coalition,' which comprised 125 organizations that had formed in 2009 to oppose the pending Quebec budget (which proposed unpalatable austerity measures). This coalition was formed for the specific purpose of opposing the budget, but the infrastructure was maintained and supported the student strike.

Again, the lesson is that the coalition was formed in response to a very specific issue that groups were able to mobilize around." (