The State of Our Democracy
– Martin Bélanger, Quebec Construction –
First and foremost as a citizen, I find that our right to vote is biased. Yes, we go to vote, but what are we voting for? Candidates are imposed on us. We already know that there’s a big machine behind them, that the big multinationals are the ones pulling the strings.
When there’s talk of a leader’s debate we’re told that the debate will determine who to vote for. However, that leaders’ debate was all worked out ions ago; the questions are pre-determined and deal with topics meticulously chosen to make an opponent look bad. Everything is organized so that people there only respond to questions presented within a perspective of getting votes. Where are the questions that people have, such as why election commitments are not respected? Have those concerned, those who are going to vote, really been consulted as to what their preoccupations are, what they want, what their worries or problems are? These are not open, public debates. We’re told that the concerns of those who are going to vote are dealt with through opinion polls. Everyone knows that you can bend figures to get them to say whatever you want, to control or filter information.
Yet it’s the people who vote. That’s democracy as we have it. I think that increasingly, democracy has become an image we are given rather than a real system that enables us to function together.
We have the same problem in the construction industry. We’re told that democracy is expressed through a 50 per cent plus one vote. Yet, for the ratification of collective agreements, the Quebec government adopted a law eliminating the established procedure of 50 per cent plus one of votes cast. Now, three out of the five unions involved in the construction industry must also vote in favour of ratifying a collective agreement for it to be adopted.
What’s also being limited is the right of union representatives to communicate with workers on construction sites. The representative does not have the right to disturb workers while they’re working on site. He doesn’t have the right to organize a meeting and once you are two, you’re considered a group. If we do meet, we may be subject to prosecution and lose the right to represent workers for five years. The right of workers to speak to their union representatives is being restricted. We’re required to speak to each other outside of working hours.
We’re seeing a similar problem with health and safety on construction sites. Health and safety are crucial on worksites but because they come at a cost, despite proof that for every dollar invested in health and safety at least $100 is saved, companies remain reluctant. Increasingly, rather than using the issue of health and safety for prevention, it’s used as a means to control the worksite, and to carry out repression against workers. Operating through repression allows for the laying off men and women in the name of health and safety, rather than undertaking the required prevention measures.
Construction workers have fought many battles on the issue. Not only have we fought for reasons related to the well-being of workers, we’ve also fought for the system to work for us all. Take for example the case of the crane operators where we provided well-founded arguments in support of their security and that of the public at large, against a reduction in crane operator training requirements that creates risks for us all.