May 12, 2021 - No. 43

Quebec Public Sector Negotiations

Unions Reject Government's Unacceptable Position

Quebec Premier Legault's Imperialist Reference Point - K.C. Adams

Quebec Public Sector Negotiations

Unions Reject Government's Unacceptable Position

Picket outside the National Assembly, May 6, 2021.

Following the May 2 meeting with Quebec Premier François Legault and Treasury Board President Sonia Lebel several public sector union leaders who represent 550,000 workers, held a press conference in which they stated that the meeting was not held to solve the problem of advancing negotiations. They called it a public relations stunt on the part of the government aimed at dividing workers and turning the public against them.

They refuted the Legault government's claim that its offer is an eight per cent wage increase over three years. In fact, the government is offering five per cent over three years and an additional three per cent in the form of a one-time lump sum which does not raise wages and does not contribute to pensions  -- not a wage increase at all. They decried the government's 'divide and conquer' tactic of different offers for different sections of the workforce. Public sector workers are one whole, one collective that works together every day to provide services to the population and every one of them is important, they said.  

They reiterated that the crisis of recruitment and retention in the public service is serious and can only be solved by increasing the wages and improving the working conditions of everyone. With such insufficient offers it is not possible to rebuild the public services that have been devastated by more than thirty years of cuts and privatization and therefore it is not possible to prepare for the next crisis, they pointed out. Finally, they said that if the government really wants a quick resolution, as it says it does, it must send its negotiators in with a mandate to actually negotiate, so that there can be serious discussions between the unions and government that address the just demands of public sector workers.

Premier Legault and the Treasury Board President also held a press conference within hours of the meeting with the union leaders. It emerges clearly that the Premier was well aware that the unions would reject his offer and that his goal was to try to turn the public against public sector workers. Legault repeated his tired neo-liberal mantra, saying that the pandemic has created a very difficult budgetary situation for Quebec, making a return to balanced budgets in the near future very difficult. As "the manager of taxpayers' money" it would be unthinkable for him to offer more because it would require raising taxes, which he refuses to do, he said.

While the people of Quebec recognize the immense value to the economy that public sector workers create, the Legault government refuses to recognize the claims of public sector workers on the value they create. The government has no intention of taking responsibility for their well-being or that of the public service sector or even holding a public discussion on how to fund public services. Fast talk about upholding the interests of so-called taxpayers will not disguise his government's attacks on those who deliver the public services when it puts those services and those who deliver them at risk.

With its "offer," the government is also denying the reality of the deep crisis in public services, including the problem of attracting and retaining labour, the acute labour shortage that is largely caused by the government's refusal to provide wages and working conditions that workers find acceptable. The exodus of public service workers, whether through career change, early retirement, or migration to private labour agencies, has become a critical issue affecting workers, services and the public. Hospital beds are being closed at a time when they are badly needed because of the lack of staff which is largely due to this exodus. The government is deliberately catering to the private agencies which has exacerbated the crisis caused by the anti-social offensive. It is nothing short of criminal, and it is precisely this problem that public sector employees are trying to address with their demands for better wages and working conditions.

The premier's attempts to turn the public against the public sector employees is pathetic. He said that he has been very patient with public sector workers up until now but that his patience is wearing thin; that he expects a resolution to negotiations within the next few weeks. Negotiations should be "put behind us," he said, which is utter mischief-making given that the government refuses to negotiate in good faith. His words are seen as a threat of further attacks including legislation to decree wages and working conditions for public sector employees. This would be in addition to the ministerial orders that already exist in the health and social services sector which allow collective agreements in the sector to be declared null and void and working conditions to be changed unilaterally.

It will not be long before what Legault is doing with "people's taxes," paying private agencies through lucrative contracts to provide labour for the jobs in the public sector, will come to light.

(Photos: APTS, J. F. Couto)

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Quebec Premier Legault's
Imperialist Reference Point

Public sector workers demand wages and working conditions acceptable to themselves not according to Legault's reference point.

Premier François Legault spoke at a news conference on May 2 regarding contract negotiations with Quebec's nurses, teachers, elderly care workers and others in the public sector. He used his platform as government leader not to negotiate in good faith with the union leaders of the workers' collectives but to state his opinion as a representative of the neo-liberal elite which is pursuing the anti-social offensive. Legault said, "We've reached the capacity of what we can pay. So when some union leaders say 'We want more money,' well, we don't have any more money." Referring to talks surrounding the contracts with public sector workers that have languished for a full year he reiterated his anti-worker position saying, "I think it was important to say clearly to the union, even if you continue asking for [more money for] another six months, or a year, there won't be any more money on the table."

No money in the public treasury is the constant refrain and reference point of the Quebec government along with a promise not to raise taxes. From a fanciful reality contrived in his brain, Legault demands public sector workers give up their claims for wage increases and working conditions acceptable to themselves and what they consider necessary to sustain vibrant public services that the people, economy and society require.

Legault's Reference Point Does Not Accord With Reality

In return for the sale of their capacity to work, public sector workers are demanding individual and social reproduced-value that they produce with their work. The wages and working conditions they consider necessary to receive arise from the new value they produce as productive workers in the social sectors of education, health care, long-term care and elsewhere. They are not demanding wages and working conditions paid from taxes but from a portion of the new value they produce.

The value they produce should be realized (paid for) in a proper exchange with those enterprises in the economy that consume and profit from it. The government has the social responsibility to ensure that occurs. The government as employer and purchaser of workers' capacity to work has authority over the value public sector workers' produce. The duty of government in this situation is to ensure that the value public sector workers produce is realized in the Quebec and broader Canadian economy. The social value workers produce exists materially and does not just evaporate into thin air but is consumed throughout Quebec and beyond as socially produced value. Without the production and consumption of this socially produced value, the economy and indeed the society could not function or even exist. So what happens to this socially produced value? Where has it gone and why is a realized portion of it not available to meet the just claims of the workers who have produced it?

Legault's reference point of having no money in the public treasury provides a clue as to where the socially produced value has gone. The money in the public treasury is mostly raised through individual taxation of working people. The money has not come in payment in exchange with private and public enterprises in the economy for the socially produced value they consume. They refuse to do so. They refuse to pay for (realize) the value public sector workers produce even though they benefit from it and consume it on a regular basis via the workers they employ and in other ways and could not operate or survive without it.

The socially produced value is found in the educated and healthy workers who sell their capacity to work to employers, and in reproducing and maintaining working people and others from birth to passing away. The value exists just as much as the value of electricity exists to power and meet the needs of private and public enterprises throughout the economy. Workers at Hydro-Quebec claim a portion of the new value they produce when electricity is realized by companies that consume it. The government cannot falsely say that its coffers are bare and cannot pay Hydro-Quebec workers what they consider necessary. The value Hydro-Quebec workers produce is readily consumed and realized in the economy for all to see. Well, the working class can likewise see that the social value education, healthcare and other public sector workers produce is readily consumed as well, otherwise the economy and society would collapse!

Legault's farcical reference point has been concocted over the years as a pay-the-rich scheme for the big companies, oligopolies and elites who have usurped power to exploit public sector workers. They do this by expropriating the new value public sector workers produce not directly by employing them and expropriating the added-value they produce as profit but through stealing socially produced value by refusing to pay for it in a proper exchange.

Public sector workers and others do not accept Legault's reference point and are in no mood to allow it to be used as a bludgeon to attack their just demands and claims on the new value they produce. The government must meet their just demands and come up with a method to properly and fully realize the social value public sector workers produce. A portion of the money received in exchange for their socially produced value should go towards their wages. Their wages should not come from raising taxes of the people. They should come from a proper exchange with the enterprises that consume what they produce and without which they could not exist. Furthermore, governments must be made to stop making contracts for public services with privatized agencies which provide labour for large fees to themselves. If governments paid proper wages and stopped being socially irresponsible as concerns working conditions and stopped imposing laws which decree untenable working hours, the current problems would not be cause for concern. Organizing this to be done is a responsibility of the government. The working class is speaking out  demanding what belongs to them and society by right.

Workers reject Legault's neo-liberal anti-people, anti-social and anti-national reference point! Whether money in the public treasury from taxes is big or small is irrelevant to the fact that public sector workers have a legitimate claim on the new value they produce. The Quebec government must meet the public sector workers' demands for wages and working conditions acceptable to themselves! They produce the value; they deserve their claim on the value they produce!

(Photos: WF, FIQ)

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