May 28, 2021 - No. 50
Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, May 26, 2021
teachers, support staff at public schools, education specialists and
health care workers are holding a series of one to two-day strikes to
back their right to negotiate collective agreements with the Quebec
government that improve their wages, working conditions and the
services they provide to the public. Public sector workers reject with
contempt the government's neo-liberal decree that it has the "right" to
dictate their wages and working conditions and deprive them of
Quebec government's dictate of a wage increase of five per cent over
three years plus certain lump sums is an insult not only to public
sector workers but to all workers throughout Quebec and Canada. The
dictate tramples on the right of all workers to negotiate the price of
their capacity to work that employers buy and to improve the working
conditions they face every working day. These conditions include the
growing prevalence of precarious work, in particular at the colleges,
which workers are determined to eliminate.
The government dictate
does not raise wages to keep pace with the cost of living or contribute
to pensions. It fails in general to make any dent in the decades of
neo-liberal attacks on the wages and working conditions of working
The dictate refuses to increase investments in social programs and
public services. Failure to invest in social programs and public
services has been cruelly exposed by the pandemic as disastrous for
society. Public sector workers and their collectives have long said
that wages, pensions and working conditions which workers deem
acceptable are key not only to attract and retain workers but to
improve the social programs and public services the people need and
have a right to in a modern cultured society.
Investments in social programs and public services add value to the
economy and improve the social and natural environment. To
arrogantly declare, as the government does, that investments in social programs
and public services, including the wages of those who do the work, are
"costs" that the government cannot bear is neo-liberal nonsense
and disinformation. These investments result in added value for the
economy and society. They are important aspects of nation-building and
to say and act otherwise is to be exposed as anti-people nation-wreckers.
To deprive workers and the people generally of their rights and
needs through government decree reveals that the ruling elite is unfit
to govern! It must not pass and will not pass! All out to support the
public sector workers in their just struggle!
Research published before the pandemic on the
wages of the Quebec working class was recently brought to light by CBC
News. Jacques Rouillard, a retired labour historian, and his son
Jean-François Rouillard, an economist at the Université
de Sherbrooke, studied the buying power of wages from 1978 to
2017 and released their findings in 2019.
to the study, between 1983 and 2017, the productivity of the Quebec
economy increased 34.5 per cent. From workers' base rate in 1983,
hourly wages increased only 9.5 per cent, falling well behind the rise
in productivity. The study also shows that wages of unionized workers,
which began from a higher level than the average in
1983, increased less than 9.5 per cent.
Commenting on the discrepancy between productivity and wages, the
Rouillards write in their research paper: "That means that salaried
workers, who contributed with their work to the productivity gains ...
did not benefit as they should have."
paper reflects on the reasons for this occurring, including a series of
recessions in the 1980s and 1990s that left Quebec with chronically
high unemployment and workers competing for the available work. Also,
the onslaught of free trade agreements, beginning with NAFTA, exposed the
working class to global competition for the sale of
their capacity to work. In addition, the paper suggests that a decline
in rates of unionization contributed to lower wages. The
decline in unionization occurred within an atmosphere of increased
government attacks on the working class and restrictions on their
The research shows that state-organized attacks on the working class
and its collectives became intense -- such as the use of legislation and
court-ordered injunctions to deprive workers of their rights. A current
example is the Legault government declaring it will impose a
collective agreement to deprive public sector workers of their right
to negotiate wages and working conditions agreeable to themselves.
The Rouillards say neo-liberal state policy of restricting the
rights of workers played a role in wages not keeping pace with
productivity. They give the example of the Robert Bourassa government
in 1972 dictating that public sector pay increases must be in line with
those in the private sector. This self- serving "policy"
means that private sector employers can then declare that their workers
must not be paid more than public sector workers and on it goes. In
this way, official policy is to sideline the voices of the workers and
their considerations and allow the global oligarchs to run roughshod
and benefit from increased productivity by pocketng an ever larger
portion of the social wealth that workers produce. The paper says that
successive Quebec governments, including those of the Parti
Québécois, pursued this objective of securing maximum
profits for the oligarchs without let-up, using the power of the state
to deprive workers of their rights.
A Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) study published in
2015 in the context of Quebec public sector negotiations gives examples
of how state power has been used to keep wages below the rise in
productivity. The study details the use of more than 40 special Quebec
government laws between 1965 and 2015 to force an end to organized
actions of the working class to impose wages and working conditions on
workers in violation of their right to negotiate terms of employment
agreeable to themselves.
The result of these state-organized attacks proved particularly harmful to organized workers in the public
and para-public sector. Back in 1982, their wages on average were
nearly 12 per cent higher than private sector wages when benefits were
factored in. But by 2020, with the increasing use of state-organized
attacks such as the current
attempt of the Legault government to deny public sector workers their
rights through decree, unionized public sector workers were making nine
per cent less than other salaried workers in the province.
This is no minor affair as it affects 550,000 Quebec public sector
workers, almost 20 per cent of the workforce. According to the report,
by forcing public sector wages downward the government, representing
the global oligarchs, has negatively affected wages and living standards
generally throughout Quebec and Canada.
"We conclude that government policies regarding public sector
remuneration played a significant role in the quasi-stagnation of real
wages and purchasing power of all salaried workers in the last 40
years," the Rouillards write.
The public sector workers' current actions and demands for wage
increases agreeable to themselves are attempts to reverse the
negative trend. A victory for them would be good news for all
workers in Quebec and indeed throughout Canada. In the case of public
sector workers, better wages and working conditions tend to
improve the social programs and public services they deliver. It would
certainly go some way in addressing the crisis of recruitment and
retention in the public sector.
The Quebec Premier's claim that the government cannot pay higher
wages because its coffers are bare is gross disinformation. The
government buys workers' capacity to work and puts them to work
producing new value. By denying that workers produce new value, Legault
seeks to obscure that the struggle of the public sector workers is
really over how the new value they produce is realized and distributed.
Will the big enterprises in the economy realize (pay for) the public
sector-produced value they consume or not? Whether they are forced to
pay for the public sector-produced value or not is a major issue facing
Quebec, along with recognizing in deeds the right of public sector
workers to negotiate their wages, pensions and working conditions.
Legault is proving he is on the side of the oligarchs and their aim for
maximum profit. He is proving in practice that he represents the
monopoly right of the oligarchs and their narrow private interests for
maximum profit. In opposition, the workers represent themselves and
their rights and claims on the value they produce, which coincide with
the general interests of Quebec society and the rights of all.
Denounce the Legault Government Disinformation and Attacks on the
Working Class and Nation!
All Out to Support the Quebec Public Sector Workers and Their Struggle
for Wages and Working Conditions Acceptable to Themselves!
des salaires réels au Québec de 1940 à 2018:
Analyse historique, September 2019, Jacques Rouillard and
Jean-François Rouillard. The CBC News item bringing the research to wider attention appeared
May 26, 2021.