July 7, 2020 - No. 47

Opposition to Governments' Increased
Use of Arbitrary Powers

Quebec Government's Bill 61

• Workers' Opposition to Use of Pandemic and Restart of Economy to Strengthen Arbitrary Powers of the State - Pierre Chénier 

Regressive Features of Bill 61

Increase in Construction Accidents Involving Cranes
Reinstate Compulsory Vocational Training for Crane Operators Now!

Historic Truckers' Occupation in Washington
What Next for Truckers and the Trucking Industry? - Normand Chouinard

Quebec Government's Bill 61

Workers' Opposition to Use of Pandemic
and Restart of Economy to Strengthen
Arbitrary Powers of the State

Health care workers protest outside Premier Legault's office in Quebec City, May 19, 2020, demanding an end to government's use of arbitrary powers to violate their rights during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Legault government on June 3 tabled Quebec Bill 61 -- An Act to restart Quebec's economy and to mitigate the consequences of the public health emergency declared on 13 March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.[1] The bill's stated aim is to mitigate the consequences of the public health emergency by fast-tracking for two years the construction of 202 public infrastructure projects such as schools, seniors' residences, road work and public transit. The bill gives the government the option to decree the building of additional public or private projects. Quebec Premier François Legault said the powers of the bill, which have been widely denounced as arbitrary, are critical to re-launching the Quebec economy after weeks of pandemic-induced shutdowns.

As a whole, the bill is an attempt to use the pandemic and reopening of the economy as a pretext to strengthen the arbitrary powers of the state and further deprive working people of any say whatsoever on matters of concern. It also further denies the National Assembly and its members any legislative power, as all decision-making power is concentrated in the hands of the ministers in the service of narrow private interests. Bill 61 grants the government the power to extend the public health emergency outside the Public Health Act and any oversight by the public and even members of the National Assembly.

The declaration of a public health emergency on March 13 gave arbitrary power to the government executive to cancel all negotiated agreements with health care and social service workers. The executive has used the power to unilaterally change public sector working conditions. The indefinite extension of this arbitrary power is a big attack on workers and their rights and must not pass!

In addition to the attack on public sector workers, Bill 61 grants all power to the government executive to cancel and violate existing laws and regulations under the hoax of speeding up the reopening of the economy. Bill 61 allows the government executive to violate legal provisions in the Public Health Act, the Environment Quality Act, the Expropriation Act, and the Act Respecting Contracting by Public Bodies and in addition gives immunity from prosecution to government ministers and others using the bill's provisions.

Bill 61 in effect grants the executive the power to eliminate at will environmental regulations, regulations regarding expropriation of the property of individuals for economic projects, and regulations regarding the awarding of public contracts to private companies to build public infrastructure projects along with immunity from prosecution for wrongdoings. This grab for greater executive power must not be allowed!

A crisis such as the pandemic must not be used to attack the people, violate their rights and shut them out even more violently from the decision-making power. Working people must assess what is going on and step up their fight for empowerment so that the problems caused by the pandemic can be resolved in their favour, not that of the rich. The pandemic shows that a new direction of the economy is necessary, a direction decided by working people and under their control.

The people demand this regressive bill be withdrawn immediately. Those who have tabled this anti-worker and anti-social bill and are pushing for its passage to give the government executive even greater arbitrary powers must be declared unfit to rule and removed from public office.

Manoeuvring to Push Through Bill 61

Bill 61 was introduced a mere nine days before the official day of adjournment of the Quebec National Assembly on June 12. Premier François Legault, then President of the Treasury Board Christian Dubé and other spokespersons of the Cabinet arrogantly demanded that the bill be hurriedly passed before adjournment.

Even though the Legault government holds a majority of seats in the National Assembly, the bill required the unanimous consent of all three opposition parties and the independent members of the National Assembly for the principle of the bill to be adopted and allowed immediately to go into committee and subsequent readings. A procedural rule in the National Assembly requires unanimous consent when a bill is introduced after mid-May before the summer adjournment.

In an effort to gain the unanimous consent of the members of the National Assembly, the Legault government tabled 18 amendments the day before the summer adjournment. Legault's effort to "soften" the bill failed to win the unanimous consent needed to rush the bill through in principle. The opposition of the people to Bill 61 outside the National Assembly was so intense many commentators said it would have been suicidal for the other parties and members to agree to this manoeuvre of the Legault government. It is likely that when the National Assembly reconvenes in September the Legault government will use its majority of seats to adopt the bill despite the people's mounting opposition to it.


1. On June 21, Quebec Premier François Legault reshuffled his Cabinet, once again using the pandemic as a pretext for stepping up the anti-social offensive against the people. To find out more about this read Legault Government's Shameless Grandstanding -- TML Weekly, July 4, 2020.

(From TML Weekly, July 4, 2020 - No. 24. Photos: FIQ, FTQ, J-F Couto)

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Regressive Features of Bill 61

Through Bill 61 -- An Act to restart Quebec's economy and to mitigate the consequences of the public health emergency declared on 13 March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legault government seeks executive power for another two years to violate and override existing law in order to fast-track the construction of 202, and possibly more, public infrastructure projects such as schools, seniors' residences, road work and public transit. The bill contains regressive features that many have denounced as arbitrary such as the continuing power to deprive public sector workers of their right to working conditions acceptable to themselves within negotiated collective agreements.

Violates Environment Quality Act

Article 15 of the bill states that the government may through executive dictate declare that provisions of the Environment Quality Act will not apply to certain projects. Bill 61 gives the government executive the power to single out projects to be sped up and prescribed with provisions replacing those in the existing Environment Quality Act. With this power, government executive regulations become law according to whatever the authority wants. This means the government can arbitrarily according to its whim, and possibly to accommodate powerful private interests, override and violate legal provisions in the Environment Quality Act.

Violates Expropriation Act

In cases of expropriation of the property of individuals to make way for economic projects, executive authority under Bill 61 can declare illegal any legal challenge of the expropriating party's right to expropriate under the Expropriation Act. The government says this arbitrary power to deny rights in violation of existing law is needed under the pragmatic hoax of speeding up economic projects.

Violates Act Respecting Contracting by Public Bodies

Regarding the awarding of public contracts, the bill says that the government may by regulation or on the recommendation of the Treasury Board determine as acceptable certain actions that are in fact in contradiction with the Act Respecting Contracting by Public Bodies. This could mean the elimination of public calls for tenders thus facilitating the awarding of contracts to specific monopolies according to executive fiat. This arbitrary executive power is not new per se as it already exists and has been used. What is new is that the bill would now enshrine this arbitrary executive power in law declaring it above any existing regulations.

This provision in the bill has already caused an uproar as it revives and brings to the fore the memory in Quebec of open ugly corruption in the awarding of public contracts to private interests in return for financing of certain political parties. The uproar has forced the government at this point to declare that the power to restrict public calls for tenders will apply only to those projects involving municipal bodies.

Extends Public Health Emergency Indefinitely

Among other things, the declaration of a public health emergency on March 13 gave power to the government executive to cancel negotiated collective agreements with health care and social service workers in order to unilaterally change their working conditions. This attack on workers' rights has been loudly condemned.

Bill 61 introduces a clause to extend indefinitely the public health emergency and its anti-worker powers. In effect, the indefinite extension of the emergency measures contradicts the Public Health Act under which the public health emergency was declared. The legal measure in the Act says that a public health emergency is effective for a maximum period of 10 days. The government must then renew the emergency and renew it again every 10 days for as long as it deems necessary or for 30 days with the consent of the National Assembly. A government proposed amendment to Bill 61 says the emergency and its arbitrary attacks on public sector workers will continue until October 2020 and longer if necessary.

Provides Government with Immunity from Prosecution

As was the case with the declaration of a public health emergency and the powers that it gives, the bill is framed to provide total immunity for the government executive. The preamble of the bill explicitly says, "Immunity from prosecution is granted to the Government, a minister, a public body or any other person who performs an act in good faith in exercising powers introduced by this bill or implementing measures taken under those powers."

This creates a very dangerous situation for the people and Quebec society. The pandemic and declaration of a health emergency and now the reopening of the economy are being used to further concentrate political power in fewer hands, which are subordinate to narrow private interests. For example, with this bill the government may decide that safety training and standards in construction are regulations hindering the mitigation of the consequences of the pandemic and the reopening of the economy. This argument has already been used in the construction and other sectors, eroding health and safety standards and putting workers and the broad public at great risk. Enshrining these regressive practices in law and providing those enforcing them with immunity are cause for serious concern.

(From TML Weekly, July 4, 2020 - No. 24)

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Increase in Construction Accidents Involving Cranes

Reinstate Compulsory Vocational
Training for Crane Operators Now!

Demonstration by crane operators in Montreal, May 5, 2018, demanding mandatory Diploma of Vocational Studies training requirements for Crane operators by reinstated.

Quebec crane operators report that accidents involving the operation of cranes are on the rise in Quebec. Since September 2019 there have been 10 reported accidents, and, according to the Crane Operators' Union, seven of them involved operators who have not completed the 870-hour Diploma of Vocational Studies (DEP) or equivalent training through credential recognition (recognition of prior learning and competencies that reduce the number of hours of vocational training required). The most recent accident occurred in June in l'Assomption, where a heavy equipment operator, without crane operator training, dropped a load on three workers while operating a boom truck on the Highway 341 bridge construction site. The three workers were injured, one of them seriously. 

Many of these accidents involve boom trucks with a maximum capacity of 30 tonnes, which are small cranes used for transporting materials and equipment, and are the cranes that overturn the most easily. Yet it is for the operation of these cranes that the government and the Quebec Construction Commission introduced a course of only 80 hours, replacing the 870 hours of vocational training. We are seeing the results today.

The government and the CCQ put forward the most unprincipled, pragmatic arguments, suggesting that it is not necessary to be a qualified crane operator to operate boom trucks, and that the union is just trying to maintain its monopoly and control over the trade for selfish reasons by requiring mandatory and appropriate vocational training for crane operators. It is the government and the CCQ that are driven by the goal of serving narrow private profit at the expense of the safety of workers and the public. The crane operators are defending the safety of all. 

The mandatory Diploma of Vocational Studies was introduced in 1997 precisely to reduce deaths and accidents involving crane operation. Fatalities have been reduced by 66 per cent since its introduction. The situation now seems to be returning to what existed before the DEP in terms of dangers and the construction workers are stepping up their fight against these regressive measures and this refusal by the authorities to take up their social responsibility.

In an interview with Workers' Forum, the director of the Crane Operators' Union, Evans Dupuis, said that if the situation continues, deaths will occur because of the lowering of crane operator training. This is in the construction sector, which already has the highest number of deaths yearly of all sectors of the Quebec economy.

"The Minister of Labour must intervene to review the regulations governing the crane operator trade and boom truck activity," he said. "We see what happens when the boom truck is driven by people who do not have the skills to do so. We're told that it's not really dangerous to operate a boom truck, that it's just a small crane, but at l'Assomption we came very close to killing someone with a 30-ton boom truck. In addition, we are seeing more and more major accidents with cranes overturned and people injured. We've had 10 accidents in nine months. Usually, we have three or four accidents a year. All this is directly related to the lowering of the training of crane operators."

Evans also spoke about Bill 61, the bill on restarting the economy that the government tabled at the beginning of June, and its impact on the health and safety of workers and the public.

"Bill 61 would give the government the power to change anything and provide itself with immunity in the name of economic recovery. The government wants to give itself full powers to change anything it wants without consulting and without following its own laws and regulations. In the name of filling labour shortages, it wants to allow people to work without training, which will put everyone at risk. They want to make decisions on their own without listening to anyone. This will have a major impact on the health and safety of workers."

Workers' Forum joins all workers in demanding that the government immediately reinstate mandatory vocational training for crane operators.

(Photos: FTQ Construction)

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Historic Truckers' Occupation in Washington

What Next for Truckers and the Trucking Industry?

Three months have passed since the start of the pandemic and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge for road transport workers in the United States and Canada. By putting forth immediate demands from the start of the pandemic for safe and healthy working conditions for the performance of their work they have shown that they want to have a say in their lives and their trades. The demands of truckers to guarantee an effective health protocol for road transport during the pandemic were energized by a great feeling of solidarity and unity from the truckers' movement for the assertion of their rights and for the recognition of their profession. This active resistance from road transport workers even forced some members of the ruling elite to react. These elite members began to proclaim that we are an essential service and that the work of truckers is important in securing the supply chain. Road transport workers felt proud and dignified that their role in the economy was finally recognized for its true worth. This gave confidence that things could change in their favour.

When transportation prices began to plummet during the depths of the confinement, a large organized resistance movement emerged in the United States to prevent the burden of the crisis from being shifted onto the backs of independent truckers and, indirectly, onto all of the drivers. In several American states, rallies have been held to demand new arrangements, including regulations to legislate the percentage received by large transport brokers on the price offered for a trip by heavy truck. This movement was crystallized in the course of a 21-day occupation in front of the White House by more than 350 truckers from all over the United States of different national origins. Other similar occupations were held near other state capitols. During this 21-day period, the truckers in attendance learned to organize themselves so that everyone had food and felt safe. BBQs were organized on the sidewalks, and sanitary equipment was rented. There were arrivals and departures of trucks from all over the United States. Some stayed one day, two days, one week, others stayed there for the 21 consecutive days of the occupation. In short, there was an atmosphere of camaraderie that has not been seen for a long time among road transport workers.

Truckers' 21-day occupation outside the White House, May 2020.

The truckers' main request was to meet with members of the central government to discuss the issue of income imbalance in the trucking industry. The drivers present were very active in making themselves heard, walking around the U.S. capital, honking their horns, talking with people, etc. They even disrupted a daily press conference by President Trump on the COVID-19 situation by honking their horns to attract the attention of the politicians and journalists present. Trump, as usual, used this opportunity to assert himself by saying that the horns were in support of him and that truckers across the United States were on his side. He totally evaded the truckers' fight for their rights. A few days later, the Trump administration, with great fanfare, organized a press conference in which there was a 53-foot FedEx truck and where Trump thanked the truckers for the work they did during this period. Again, nothing concrete about the demands of the truckers gathered a few hundred feet from the White House.

Then came the day when two "representatives" of truckers, one of whom openly portrayed himself as a "Trumpster," were allowed to meet with members of the Trump administration. The meeting ended with the promise of a review of the regulations on driving hours but absolutely nothing on the issue of regulating the percentage going to transport brokers. On that, they were told that the government cannot legislate on this because the United States is a free market country and it is free market laws that set prices. The two "representatives" left the meeting claiming that a battle had been won and exalting President Trump, saying that they "thanked God" that finally the truckers had a president on their side. A "deal" behind the closed doors of the White House had just been sealed. It was with a feeling of bitterness and dissatisfaction, a feeling that something had escaped them, that the truckers' occupation ended and that they gradually returned to their homes.

The weeks following this historic mobilization for American road transport workers saw no rate hike nor any change in the percentage received by brokers. Hundreds of thousands of independent truckers are still squeezed by low prices that put their financial situation in jeopardy.

This situation, although difficult and complicated, did not prevent the truckers from continuing the fight. As the problem has not been resolved, they still demand a solution. The discussion continues through social media and other media they themselves created, particularly truckers of Punjabi, Latin American and other origins.

We know what followed. The organized resistance movement against state racism in the United States has asserted itself and has become a central political issue, not just for the American people but for people around the world. In the first days after George Floyd's death, the monopoly media misrepresented incidents in which truckers were caught in the midst of protests, claiming that truckers were being attacked by "rioters."

Recently, proposals have circulated on social media from unknown sources in the U.S. on the right of truckers to carry a weapon to protect themselves from possible assaults, posts which even ended up on trucker sites in Canada.

The road transport workers movement in the United States will not allow itself to be divided by such clumsy provocations. Truckers face racial and economic discrimination in the trucking industry in which they compete against each other. In particular, immigrant truckers of all origins pay the price of being cheap labour for large transportation companies and large manufacturing and distribution monopolies, and are subjected daily to state-organized racism. They are an integral part of the battle to end this state of apartheid among the working class which aims to divide them and constantly lower their working conditions.

But in the current context of diversion, infamy and lies and the set-up of the imperialist ruling circles against the movement, the most complex task is to stay the course on the initial demands for the defence of the fundamental interests of truckers. Permanent arrangements that will guarantee the stability of the trucking industry and fully respect the rights of truckers are still on the agenda. They must continue on the independent path they have taken and never become an electoral political reserve for one clique or another of the ruling elites who are tearing themselves apart to monopolize supreme power and want to drag truckers into their quarrels.

The spirit of unity, solidarity and organizational skills, hard-won over the past few weeks, is the new benchmark for the establishment of political arrangements that work for those in the trucking industry. This spirit must be firmly defended in the present situation.

(Photos: C. Lee, R. Hernandez)

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