“We have to go to the streets. It’s important to have our rights respected,” bus driver Ginette Langlois, a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), told the Militant.
The spirited and noisy action was the latest in a series of demonstrations organized by the Coalition for Free Negotiations over the past few months. Quebec’s two main union federations, the Quebec Federation of Labor (FTQ) and Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), as well as the municipal unions, Espace 50+, an organization of some 50,000 retirees, and other groups make up the coalition.
Montreal authorities filed criminal charges against 41 members of the firefighters’ union after several hundred angry workers protested inside Montreal City Hall Aug. 18, bringing a city council meeting to a halt.
Street cleaners, road repair crews, electrical underground superstructure workers, garbage pickup workers, firefighters, office workers and others, along with retirees, participated in the action.
“We negotiated our pensions freely, but they are trying to cut the benefits that we won,” Montreal city office worker Andrée Laurin said. “Our pensions are deferred wages. They belong to us. If there is a deficit, then the city should pay, not us.”
Bill 3, the proposed law, targets 172 union contracts, unilaterally changing their pension coverage. The government claims workers should have to pay for a $3.9 billion deficit in the pension fund.
Jonathan Remillard, a municipal worker in Sept-Iles in Quebec’s north, traveled 12 hours with 40 other workers in school buses to make his voice heard. “We are here for the pensions and those who have retired,” he said.
Workers not directly affected also marched to express their solidarity. “I came to support everyone here. The same thing will happen to us. We have to show them we can fight,” said Daniel Letourneau, a letter carrier with Canada Post and a member of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
Marching in the contingent of the International Association of Machinists, David Plourde, Local 1660 recording secretary, said, “We will be next. They negotiated in good faith and won what they have. We have to support them.”
The flags of Unifor, the largest private sector union in Canada, which was formed in 2013 out of the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, were also prominent along the route of the march.
“Never will we allow you to trample on our pension rights,” Daniel Boyer, president of the Quebec Federation of Labor, told the crowd, speaking from a flatbed truck at the end of the march in front of the Montreal office of Quebec Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard. “Quebec should be concerned about the vast majority of the population which has no defined pension benefits instead of attacking workers and retirees.”
Couillard insists he will push the pension cuts through, no matter what the unions do.
“It’s not just about pensions. It’s about working conditions, full time jobs being replaced by part-time jobs, working more for less, less job security,” Marc-André Bernier, an electromechanical worker for the Montreal subway system, told the Militant. “The common front the unions showed here today is a good first step.”
On the Picket Line
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