600,000 public workers go on strike against Quebec gov’t

By John Steele
December 25, 2023

MONTREAL — The Quebec government is on a collision course with some 600,000 union teachers, education support workers, nurses and health care workers, social workers and other public workers, as well as the vast majority of working people who support them. Their union contracts expired March 31.

As of Dec. 10, the government had refused to meet their demands for wage increases to match inflation and to take steps to address the intolerable working conditions they face, which have created a crisis in Quebec’s health care and education systems. At the end of November two patients in the emergency ward at a Montreal suburban hospital died after waiting  hours to see a doctor.

Over 65,000 teachers, members of the Autonomous Federation of Education (FAE), have been on strike since Nov. 23. More than 420,000 public sector workers in the Common Front of four union federations set up weeklong picket lines for four days beginning Dec. 8. Some 80,000 nurses and other health care workers from the Interprofessional Health Federation of Quebec (FIQ) will join the other unions on strike for four days beginning Dec. 11.

After all the unions concerned rejected the latest government proposals, Common Front officials announced Dec. 8 that if there is no settlement by Dec. 19, they will launch an indefinite strike at the beginning of January.

“If we have to do it, we will do it,” Danny Guignard, who has worked in a Montreal secondary school for 38 years, told the daily Le Devoir.

In contrast to the workers’ demands for a three-year contract featuring wage increases that catch up to inflation, the government proposes a paltry overall 12.7% increase over five years.

“I’ve been teaching for 18 years. Every single round of negotiation has left me poorer in terms of purchasing power,” Robert Green, a history teacher at Westmount High School in Montreal, told the media. “You know, we have never gotten a raise that keeps up with inflation.”

“Things will probably get rough over the next few weeks,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault arrogantly told the press Dec. 8 after the Common Front threatened an unlimited strike. 

“For decades we have failed to improve education and health services, much because of the rigidity of collective agreements,” Legault said, blaming the unions. “It’s not right that our network be managed by unions rather than by managers.” 

Legault says he will give more money if the unions show more “flexibility.” What he means “is ripping pages out of our collective agreement,” countered the Common Front.

Winning more solidarity

Over the past weeks, picket lines and demonstrations by government workers have appeared in almost every city and town throughout Quebec. In Montreal, thousands of strikers demonstrated inside the main hall of the World Trade Center to underline the fact that the “Legault government is a government of the rich that governs for the rich,” said Dominique Daigneault, a Common Front leader. 

The unions’ strikes and demonstrations are supported by the big majority of working people across Quebec. One expression of this is the response to an appeal to help FAE strikers in need. The United Steelworkers in Quebec announced Dec. 11 the union is donating $100,000 in the form of grocery gift cards to the strikers, urging other unions to follow their example.

Stephanie Caron, a French-language secondary school teacher with 22-years seniority, wrote in an open letter printed in the online daily La Presse that she along with all the other FAE strikers have had no income since Nov. 23, and many cannot pay their household bills. The FAE has no strike fund. 

“A group of teachers has launched a Facebook page so that people can support the teachers in need,” retired school teacher and Common Front member Josette Hurtubise told the Militant. In just a few days, 10,000 people signed onto the appeal. “People are donating gift cards for food, health goods and more.” 

Strike supporters are organizing additional efforts across the province. 

And, despite the hardships on parents and students because of the closure of the schools, there is broad support for the strike movement from parents.

“What I would really hope is that they give them more than what they’re asking for. I mean God knows they deserve it,” Gavin Sewell, parent of an 8-year-old Montreal student, told the Globe and Mail