The actions capped off two weeks of demonstrations and other protests organized by all the main Quebec union federations. Several news commentators here have described the mobilizations as the most important union actions in 30 years, that is, since the general strike that swept the province in June 1972.
Across Quebec, each union federation initiated its own type of action.
Members of the Quebec Federation of Labor (FTQ), the Confederation of Quebec Unions (CSQ), and the Teamsters union closed off access to the ports of Montreal, Trois-Rivières, Quebec City and Bécancour for over 24 hours.
Militant reporters visited one of the seven blocked entrances to the port of Montreal. About 1,500 trucks usually run daily deliveries through there. Some 200 workers were present, waving banners from the Canadian Autoworkers Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), and the Teamsters.
Richard Pigeon, a member of CUPE Local 2873 who works in an old-age home in Brossard, south of Montreal, expressed the mood there. We need to fight, he said. Its time to stick together. The Common Front of the 1970s starts now. He was referring to the common actions of Quebec unions at that time.
Unionists block highways in Quebec
Thousands of unionists also blocked off seven major highways, including the only accesses to Quebecs North Shore, Abitibi, and Saguenay-Lac-St. Jean regions of northeastern Quebec.
We decided to hit the government and its allies, the bosses, where it hurts, said Henri Massé, president of the 540,000-strong FTQ. The Montreal daily La Presse said economic losses were incalculable.
Under the campaign slogan Stop the demolition, the 280,000-member Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), organized dozens of demonstrations and hundreds of workplace actions across the province. The CSN had held a November 29 demonstration of 20,000 in front of the National Assembly in Quebec City.
In a decision taken by parents, more than half of the 900 public day-care centers in Quebec were closed. In Montreal, some 25,000 day-care workers and parents joined a spirited march to the downtown offices of Quebecs premier, Jean Charest, against government plans to increase fees in provincially funded day-care centers from CAN$5 to $7 (CAN$1=U.S.$.76) per day and to open the door to further fee increases based on parental income.
The universal daily $5 child-care fee here was won in 1997. It is unique in Canada and is the product of a 30-year fight by Quebec women and unions.
Elected in April 2003, the Charest government has cut child-care services alone by CAN$60 million so far.
Since the beginning of the fall, with the enthusiastic support of Quebec bosses, the Charest government has introduced a series of bills aimed at weakening union power and cutting social services under the code word of reengineering the provincial state.
Among them is Bill 31, which would amend the Quebec Labor Code to make it easier for companies and government services to contract out work, lower wages, worsen working conditions, and get rid of unions.
Bill 25, a law that will restructure state health-care institutions, sets the stage for carrying out Bill 30, a massive attack on workers right to freedom of association. At a set date, larger health-care unions will be dismantled and smaller unions forced to merge into a set number of unions, grouped into four job categories. Unions would be allowed to bargain collectively or strike only over wages. These workers are now organized in several major unions and federations.
Bills 7 and 8 deny the right to unionize to the 10,000 workers who provide child-care or other health-care services in private home settings. This attack comes in the midst of an organizing drive by the CSN among these workers.
In the flurry of anti-labor legislation, Quebecs Minister of Labor announced the abolition of Law 46, which had extended many of the guaranteed wage minimums and working standards of unionized workers in the garment industry to workers in nonunion shops. As of January 1, a new two-page regulation will increase the basic hourly minimum wage in the industry from CAN$7.30 to $8.00, but remove all previous minimum wages for skilled job categories, leaving it up to employers to define any job categories and relative wages.
According to FTQ president Henri Massé, We have already received proposals from 125 union locals for a general strike that the federation is planning for February. Were not threatening, Massé said. Were promising.
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