A Mountain Of Debt  

Posted by Big Gav in

Guy Rundle at Crikey has a meandering ramble outlining his thoughts about Montreal - including an interesting passage about the failure to move to a four day working week - Protests, corruption and poutine in sans-serif Montreal. The idea that loading the population up with debt is the capitalist system's way of keeping everyone under control is an interesting one - though I suspect that like its right wing equivalent (working people are lured onto welfare and then become prisoners of the system) its more of a conspiracy theory than a reality - instead just being a side effect of how the system is constructed rather than an explicit goal.

Though many Quebecois of the Left would deny it — having hoped for socialism in the ’70s, they see the current muddle as a social apocalypse — a communal commitment to such values has proved surprisingly resilient. Thus it was that the city surprised the world this year, when a series of student protests, ostensibly at an increase in tuition fees, grew far beyond the usual size of the recent Occupy protests, and then engulfed the entire city, drawing mass social sympathy, a march of 500,000 people in a city of 1.5 million, and bringing down the provincial Liberal government in the September elections.

In keeping with the city’s retro-modernist character, the protests looked forward from a position that, elsewhere, was far in the past. Quebec’s university system has remained substantially unmolested by the “destructive destruction” visited on it elsewhere, and a francophone sense of education as an essential social good survived. The trigger for the protests was a proposed rise in fees from $2000 per year to $3000 per year, both figures a pittance compared to standard North American fees.

The fees are merely part of a more far-reaching reorganisation of the university system on neoliberal lines, and the protests are at least in part a stand against that. Their size and fervour surprised so many across the world, because we have not seen anything like them for 20, or even 40 years, when the last round of protests at the process failed in their aims in other places.

But the Montreal protests were something else as well — a forward defence against the encroachment of capital’s latest technique for domination: life-long debt. Sure twelve grand for a four-year course isn’t in the league of US universities of equal calibre, where one hundred to two hundred grand must be found, or committed to. But it’s a step on the way, and the Occupy movement and whatever comes out of it is increasingly, and rightly so, focused on this shell game, whereby the general level of minimum qualifications for jobs is remorselessly raised, with no great gain in social return, and a debt-monkey degree becomes essential, simply to compete.

The process not only extends capital into new areas, it makes any discussion of shortening the working day impossible — because millions of people are flat chat under a dual education-mortgage debt burden.


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