May 28, 2021 - No. 50

Workers Reject Having Their Rights Trampled in the Mud

Quebec Public Sector Workers Strike Against Government Dictate on Wages and Working Conditions

Strike action by school support staff in the Chaudière-Appalaches region, May 26, 2021

Decades of Neo-Liberal Attacks on the Working Class Exposed

Workers Reject Having Their Rights Trampled in the Mud

Quebec Public Sector Workers Strike Against  Government Dictate on Wages and
Working Conditions

Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, May 26, 2021

Quebec 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 their rights. 

The 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 people.

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!

(Photos: CSN)

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Decades of Neo-Liberal Attacks on the
Working Class Exposed

May 18, 2021, Quebec teachers hold one-day strike.

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.[1]

According 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."

The 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 rights.

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!


1. L'évolution 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.

(Quotations translated from original French by Workers' Forum. Photos: FSE, FSSS-CSN)

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