From the Peoples’ Voice Montreal Bureau
Quebec workers were out in force on October 3 for a mass rally of over 150,000 people. Recent mass mobilizations have again brought large numbers of Quebec students into the streets, but this is the biggest demonstration by labour in recent years and continues the trend of giant mobilizations against austerity.
While the main focus of the October 3rd action was against the severe cuts of the Couillard Liberals, labour speakers made reference to the need to kick out Harper on Oct. 19th.
The rally took place at the foot of the Mont Royal massif, which forms a distinctive landmark in the city, and was organized by the Front Commun or Common Front. Together the Front Commun represents over 400,000 public sector workers in health and social services, education, higher education and the public service of Quebec. Their collective agreements expired on March 31st, 2015.
Speaking at an election rally in Toronto, Communist Party leader Miguel Figueroa condemned the corporate media blackout in English-speaking Canada on the demonstration. “The news seeks to hide and obscure people’s awareness of these magnificent protests which our party fully supports,” Figueroa said.
Not one major English-language newspaper gave significant coverage to this action, he noted, adding that the candidates of the Communist Party in Montreal were all present at the mobilization. The Communist Party will be talking about this example as an inspiration during the remainder of the election campaign, Figueroa added, to help break the silence about this struggle.
The workers are fighting against the whole scale dismantling of the Quebec welfare state and a sharp attack on the principle of universality.
“After dozens and dozens of meetings, [the government] continues to turn a deaf ear, they still wants to impoverish us not only today but for the rest of our days, [including] reducing to 40% the pensions of retirees who have dedicated their lives to public service, ” said Jacques Létourneau, President of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN).
“An unacceptable arrogance towards the largest group of workers in Quebec, positions in public services [that are] 75% occupied by women. It should be recalled that the government’s attacks on our working conditions occur simultaneously imposing unprecedented austerity policies,” said Carolle Dubé, spokesperson of the Inter-Secretariat of public services (SSSI). “The government would squeeze the lemon, while our members are exhausted […] and that concerns the entire population of Quebec,” she added.
The labour leaders issued a call to fight, stating that they intend to use all means at their disposal to make the government respond, including actions of socio-economic disruption across the province. The rally showed workers and public sector workers were mobilized and united, participants told People’s Voice.
“If [the government] continues to turn a deaf ear, the Front Commune will be ready to go further, said Daniel Boyer, president of the Federation of Workers of Quebec (FTQ), “ If the government maintains its contempt and arrogance towards workers and public service workers, we will not hesitate to call a strike across Quebec if necessary.”
Banners were on display from workers in the far north of Quebec close to the border with Labrador. According to the newspaper Le Devoir, no less than 384 buses were chartered for the action. The rally was joined by a variety of community and student groups but it was overwhelmingly trade unionists.
“What the government is asking workers is surreal… This is science fiction,” said Andrés Fontecilla, spokesperson of Quebec Solidaire, which also strongly supported the mobilizations.
People’s Voice sat down with Pierre Fontaine, leader of the Parti Communiste du Quebec and a candidate for the Communist Party in Laurier-Sainte-Marie to talk about the action:
People’s Voice: What did you think about the rally?
Spectacular! In fact I just got off the phone with Radio Canada in Nova Scotia talking about this action which was a great achievement by labour. In fact, the demonstration was the biggest in the history of the Common Front, which was first organized in 1972 and has come together several times since then, as a coalition of unions for public sector negotiations. The weeks before there were many votes in the local unions and a major participation from the membership. The votes sent a strong message for a strike – between 85 to 95 per cent. For example, in my former union local over 1,600 people took part, and they voted at 92 per cent.
This came after a series of activities by labour?
Yes. The strike has been building for some time. Most recently, on September 30th, an independent action took place by the elementary and secondary teachers with a one-day strike involving over 30,000 people. The day after, there were picket lines by parents, encircling hundreds of schools.There is clearly a lot of support by parents against the cut backs to education.
And the support of the public is very important to win, because the Couillard Liberal government is still maintaining its position of no concessions regarding wages, working conditions and cuts. There is a threat of a decree, imposing the austerity working conditions and two-year wage freeze, by the government. The support of the public will make the difference and be a critical factor in the workers battle.
Is there a connection with the federal election?
Well, of course we fully support the demands of the workers as we talk to voters. While there is not an obvious direct connection, there is actually a link. In fact the cuts to the federal transfer payments mean that Quebec is missing funds for social programmes. The Quebec government admits this reality, but doesn’t in fact to fight restore the funds. It says nothing about that. Not only labour but all other voices, nationalist forces included, raise this question.
And of course, we are saying this too – to increase all transfer payments and return them at a bare minimum to their former levels. For example we want to increase the transfer for health to a minimum of 25 per cent, something Trudeau’s federal Liberals have refused to do. The NDP has suggested it favours 25 per cent but has not been committal. How can they? They are running on a platform of balancing the budget and keeping military spending the same, so increasing transfers by several billion is impossible. And in the past, the federal role in health care was not 25 but 50 per cent.
Meanwhile, the Harper government is going in the opposite direction. They have refused to negotiate a new health accord, which de facto amounts to a massive cut of several billion dollars, and today in the news is the TPP trade agreement, which will likely increase the costs of medicine and pharmaceutical drugs significantly. This must absolutely be halted and workers across the country need to rise up like labour has in Quebec, with mass united protest, demanding emergency action. One way to send such a message is by voting Communist on October 19th.