By November 15, 2015

Quebec: Biggest Public Sector Strike in 40 Years

QuebecStrikeQuebec’s half-million public-sector workers have been without a contract since March 2015. Philippe Couillard’s Liberal government is trying to use this as an opportunity to “reign in spending” by attacking employees’ working conditions and the quality of the services they offer.

Unions are seeking a 13.5% raise over three years while the government has countered with an offer of a 2-year salary freeze and then 3% over three years – essentially a pay cut. While teachers are calling for smaller class sizes in order to reduce preparation and to help individual students, the government wants to increase teacher-student ratios, cut support for special-needs children and increase teachers’ work week to 35 to 40 hours from 32, with no extra pay. Benefits are also on the chopping block such as raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 for all public-sector workers.

As a result, Quebec’s 400,000 unionized public-sector workers formed a “Common Front” in order to negotiate with the Quebec government. However, negotiations held over the summer but did not lead anywhere and in September the Common Front voted to begin a series of rotating and consecutive strikes over six weeks. Workers represented in the Common Front voted overwhelmingly for strike action with 85% in favour.

Job action began the week of October 26th, with government services from health care to ferries limited to essential services and two-day shutdowns of public schools across the province.

Negotiations are still at a stalemate. The government’s latest proposal has been weak: moving one year of salary freeze to the fifth year of the contract and giving pay extra pay increases to 80% of public-sector workers while lowering the pay of the other 20%. The Common Front has rejected this unsatisfactory offer and plans to continue its strike plan in the coming week. Meanwhile, the Fédération autonome de l’enseignment, a union representing French-language teachers also in negotiations with the Liberals, suspended negotiations on November 3rd, saying the Quebec governments’ “obsession with austerity” amounts to “sacrificing an entire generation of students.”

Below is a translation of “Front commun en santé : Protégeons nos services publics !” (originally published on October 26th) written by health workers and members of Alternative Socialiste. Alternative Socialiste is Socialist Alternative’s sister organization in Quebec and organizes in unions, universities and on the streets.

Common Front in Health: Protect Public Services!

The collective agreements of public sector workers in Québec, many of which are in the health sector, expired at the end of March 2015. Over the summer, several rounds of talks were held between representatives of the Common Front (a coalition of public sector unions) and the provincial government.
Instead of coming to a compromise, the government unveiled an all-out attack on working conditions in the public sector. Attacking our working conditions is preventing us from doing our job well, which is to take good care of those who are sick.

Do we want a free universal healthcare system for all or do we want to become like the United States, where you can get a mortgage on your house in order to be able to treat a case of appendicitis?
What the Liberal government is suggesting, are not offers, but attacks:
• Freezing salaries (our buying power has not been in line with the rise of the cost of living for over 10 years);
• Raising the age of retirement to 62;
• Attacks on work schedules (abolishing overtime and the regular work week);
• Obliging workers to see the employers’ doctor in case of an accident at work;
• More precarious work in the form of zero hour contracts.

We have been enduring cuts for years and are already propping up the system at risk of collapse. Taken together, the government’s measures aim to further open the door for a two-tiered health system.
Contrary to what it says in the media, the government is not implementing these cuts to balance the budget, but to please its friends: the banks and the pharmaceutical companies. Are we going to let them do this?

Shifting the Balance of Power

Since the start of September we have been participating in assemblies to decide what actions to take. We’ve voted for 6 days of strikes. On October 3rd, a rally with over 150,000 participants showed our ability to mobilize. Throughout October, several direct actions aimed at disrupting the economy took place – especially aimed at the banking sector and companies facilitating fiscal evasion.

It is now necessary to pull out all the stops to save our public services! We’ve voted for 6 days of strikes – 3 days of regional strikes and 3 days of province-wide strikes. It is necessary to participate in picketing to show our strength but it is also necessary to lead actions aimed at the government and the 1%.
What to do in the case of back-to-work legislation?

The question has been on everyone’s lips for months. If the government orders us back to work, we’ll go back to the general assembly so that it is we who decide whether or not to continue our fight. This is necessary and will take time. In the meantime, we have to show the government that we don’t want another more back-to-work legislation. It has a tradition for the Québec over the last few decades, but we have to make it understand that the right to strike is still a right!

We are the ones who keep the machinery running, so let’s be confident in our power. We obviously cannot refuse to treat the sick by blocking hospitals, but we can paralyze the administration. So let’s do it!

During the general assembly in September, the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux (Confederation of National Unions) Central Council of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM-CSN) adopted the following resolution:
That the CCMM, in the largest possible alliance, organises an action denouncing the government within 48 hours of the government decreeing back-to-work legislation during this fall’s public sector strike.

We encourage all unions to adopt this strategy, to publicly denounce through actions the creation of any and all back-to-work laws. The government and management despise us and treat us like numbers … let’s answer them with our anger.

Illegal strike or not, it is necessary to continue disruptions, to shake their cage and to show the strength of ordinary people when they organize. It is possible to bring down the government as soon as possible before it destroys more of what we hold dear.

  • For decent pay, work and retirement for all!
  • For free, high quality public services for all!
  • For a public health system that is democratically run by communities and workers!
  • End tax-havens!
  • Tax the rich and place the banking and financial sector under public ownership!
  • For a government that serves the interests of working people, not banks and corporations!
Posted in: Canada, Quebec