One-day strike at
Ahuntsic college, March 30, 2021.
approximately 550,000 workers in the health, education and social
services sectors in Quebec are still trying to renew their collective
agreements on the basis of demands that improve their working
conditions and the delivery of services on which the people depend, in
particular in tackling the spread of COVID-19.
They've had more than their fill of being humiliated at so-called
bargaining tables, particularly as their demands are so critical for
themselves and for the people.
March 30, college-sector unions affiliated with the Quebec
Labour Congress (CSQ) staged their first one-day strike
The following day, public sector union
workers -- one year after the
expiry of their contract -- held a national day of action with the
theme "We're sounding the alarm." That same day, March 31, Sonia LeBel,
the Minister responsible for Government Administration and the Treasury
Board Chair, presented at a press conference what she called
her new offers and said that "for the first time, the government is
dedicating specific amounts to sectoral issues in its negotiations."
In fact, the press conference was another attempt to wreck
opinion, with the Minister claiming that the government is doing
everything to resolve the public sector crisis and that the unions lack
She began her press briefing by
pointing out that the 550,000 public
sector workers provide essential services to the people of Quebec. In
the same breath she said, "the total compensation package for
government employees amounts to approximately $40 billion, or nearly 60
per cent of government program spending. Understandably the
renewal of collective agreements and the new measures set up as a
result have a major impact on Quebec's budget plan." She added,
"each increase of one per cent is equivalent to a recurring spending
increase of $400 million."
It's the same mantra
that has been bandied about by neo-liberal
governments for over 30 years, which has deepened the crisis in social
programs and public services as they are regarded as a cost to society
and not as an extraordinary contribution to the economy that immensely
In fact, the Minister has no
intention of discussing the economy or
public finances or of mobilizing the revenues needed to adequately
invest in the services and the workers who provide them. She neither
sees nor proposes any alternative to an economy that pays the rich,
where the value created by social programs and public services is not
repaid by the large private interests who are provided, free of charge,
with a healthy and educated workforce, not to mention the billions they
derive in private profits from their control of such services. Workers
have many proposals, such as restricting private profit in the services
that are being deprived of vital income. However, such proposals
are rejected out of hand.
Talk of Quebeckers'
"ability to pay" happens only when workers claim
wages and conditions that are acceptable to them and that improve the
delivery of services.
Who knows, maybe Quebeckers
don't have the ability to pay for
vaccines or personal protective equipment either? This "ability to pay"
argument is shameful because it ignores the needs of the people and
society which must be met and the public discussion on how to go about
doing so. It negates the human factor/social consciousness that
must be deployed to develop pro-social solutions, which begin with
workers' resistance to the anti-social offensive and putting forward
their claims by speaking in their own name.
Minister's press conference saw the threat of working conditions
and wages for public sector employees being decreed once again. Asked
by a reporter about her "level of patience" with the unions and how far
she was willing to "stretch it" before making "ultimatums," the
Minister replied: "Well, you have answered your own question --
as quickly as possible. That's the message I gave to the union leaders.
[...] I think, it's in everyone's interest to settle quickly, as
quickly as possible [...] I still think we can have a negotiated
Governance by decree has been one of
the essential features of the
anti-social offensive for the last thirty years and more, and the
current crisis only strengthens it, depriving in particular those who
produce the goods and deliver the services of the legal space to make
their voices heard.
We can only reject with
contempt such ministerial arrogance and
intensify our important struggle for a decisive say in determining the
conditions and services that we consider acceptable to ourselves and
unions first one-day strike action in (top to bottom) Sorel-Tracy,
Limoilou and Valleyfield, March 30, 2021
This article was published in
April 14, 2021 - No. 28