Large-scale strike action hits Quebec – but how effective will it be?

Image: a crowd of thousands marches through a Montreal street. (Image credit @MyMyvall)

This past Wednesday, the long-threatened mass strike by a coalition of public sector unions finally took place.

Up to forty thousand people took to the streets in Montreal in a march that the Gazette described as reminiscent of the student strike of 2012. Across the province, as many as 400 000 workers were on strike for the day, including elementary, high school, and CEGEP teachers, nurses, and civil servants. It was the largest workers’ strike in the province since 1972.

Oh, and they brought a drum ensemble.

The coalition of unions involved, known as the Front Commun or Common Front, is focussed on fighting austerity – not only cuts to the wages and pensions of public sector workers, but decreases to the quality of service the public receives as well. 

 

The Quebec government was extremely critical of the strike, with Treasury Board president Martin Coiteaux quoted in the Gazette as saying that the action was counter-productive:

…Coiteux questioned the wisdom of Wednesday’s strike saying that both sides are close to a final deal. Coiteux pointed out that Quebec has reached tentative agreements on working conditions with nurses, CEGEP teachers and support staff at some schools. However, deals still have to be reached on salary and pension issues.

Coiteux said it’s possible for the government and the Common Front to come to an agreement soon. “We have made so much progress in the recent days and recent weeks that if there is some goodwill on their side, and I’m sure that there is, we can resolve this whole issue of negotiations very quickly,” he said in Quebec City.

Ah, but the two sides are not as close as Coiteaux says. It’s true that several unions have reached tentative agreements with the government on issues relating to workplace conditions, issues on which the two sides were not initially very far apart.

But the issues of wages have always been central to the labour dispute, and aren’t looking any closer to resolution.

Image: a plane flies a banner reading “Coiteaux on mérite mieux” (“Coiteaux: we deserve better”) (Image credit: @catgau)

As with any movement this large, there are obviously internal disagreements about where things should go from here. The socialist factions are already preparing for back-to-work legislation, which may seem a little preemptive given the lack of an ongoing strike situation. However, despite the fact that nothing of the sort is yet on the table, governments across Canada have been quick to legislate an end to strikes for the last several years, and so some planning and discussion in this area is probably pretty important.

Having shown their numbers in the streets, the unions will no doubt try to return to the bargaining tables in a position of renewed strength. It’s vital that they not make any further concessions – they’ve already negotiated themselves down from their initial positions. (You can read a fantastic summary of the inter-movement politics here.)

For now though, la lutte continue! Solidarité!


Solidarity Saturday is a weekly examination of activism and protest in Canada and (occasionally) around the world. You can reach me at matt@thealfalfafield.com or leave a comment below.

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