Workers in Quebec’s daycares unionized with the CSN have been on strike for five days. As things are heating up, more daycare workers unionized with the FTQ and the CSQ are set to join the strike on Thursday, Dec. 9. With public opinion firmly on the side of the workers, this is a fantastic opportunity to show that the Legault government can be beaten. We must not back down!
The CAQ shows its true face
This strike represents the first major showdown between the CAQ and workers since the party came to power. And it hasn’t taken long for this government of bosses to show its true colours.
The CAQ’s anti-union propaganda is not even original. In an advertisement in various media, the CAQ says it is offering wages of “up to” $30 an hour to qualified educators, and adds that “despite everything, educators are on strike”, implying that they are spoiled brats. Then it’s the usual bosses’ propaganda: “Quebecers pay for their wage increases with their taxes”.
The spoiled children of the public sector for whom “we” pay the wages: we’ve heard it all before.
Moreover, at this point, the strike is not even about what the CAQ is offering in wages to educators. Rather, the main issue is the salaries of the support staff, for whom the government is offering an increase of just 9.3% over three years—which isn’t even enough to bring them up to the level of support staff in the health-care system. The CAQ is surprised that educators are on strike now when the dispute is mostly about wages for support staff because the concept of solidarity is completely alien to them.
On the issue of wages for the support staff, the CAQ is showing why it is so stubbornly unwilling to meet union demands.
François Legault said last week, “I’m asking the unions to come to the table, to be reasonable and to understand that the 20 per cent increases are for educators, not for the 550,000 employees of the Quebec government.”
Similarly, commenting on Treasury Board president Sonia Lebel’s remarks, Radio-Canada explains that “according to her, her government simply cannot offer comparable raises to CPE support staff without exposing itself to equivalent wage demands from other public service support staff unions who will want to reopen their collective agreement.”
In a nutshell, this is what it’s all about. If the daycare strike wins, it would send an intolerable example that the CAQ can be defeated. Other sectors of the labour movement would be inspired and would also demand an increase in their wages and conditions.
The CAQ constantly tries to present itself as the defender of the “nation”. But every time the workers of the “nation” demand their due, it is clear which side the party is on.
A good example of this was when Legault, responding to questions from Québec solidaire spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, said: “That’s what he wants, to make a big speech like Michel Chartrand and say, ‘It’s terrible, we treat educators badly’!”
In the space of just a few weeks, Legault has come to the defense of the arch-conservative Maurice Duplessis and then used Michel Chartrand (the great Quebec revolutionary syndicalist and socialist) as an insult. We can see that the CAQ’s “defense of the nation” is the defense of the interests of the bosses and contempt for workers. To his credit, GND took Legault’s comment as a compliment.
As the CAQ discredits itself by attacking workers, one thing will become clear: there are two Quebecs. There is the Quebec of the bosses: that of Legault, of the big media, of the rich who care more for their profits than our daycares and public services. And there is the Quebec of the workers: the one of the exhausted teachers, of the nurses, of the “essential” workers paid starvation wages, of the people keeping the daycares and nursing homes from falling apart. The interests of these two groups are irreconcilable.
Fight until victory!
The daycare workers strike has polarized Quebec between those who support the CAQ, and the majority who are behind the workers. A victory for the daycare workers would be a victory for the entire working class!
The pressure will be immense for the unions to back down. But the balance of power is clearly on our side. With the CSQ and FTQ joining the strike on Thursday, Dec. 9 this will give the movement even more momentum.
There are some worrying signs however. Very little seems to have been done by the three unions to counter the CAQ propaganda in the media. Legault’s lies should be answered publicly to ensure that people know the government is lying.
In addition, rather than focusing on mobilizing the rest of the union movement and parents, the three unions involved have called for François Legault to intervene directly to resolve the conflict. What’s more, the statement calling for his intervention was signed jointly with representatives of the opposition parties, including the Quebec Liberal Party—the same party which bled the daycares dry before the CAQ came to power!
We do not believe that asking Legault to intervene is the way to go. If he intervenes, this former Air Transat boss and great supporter of back-to-work legislation will not do so to defend workers.
What is needed to win is to mobilize the broader working class. The three union federations must call on their members to come to the picket lines to show their support for the workers. A mass demonstration must be organized as soon as possible to give everyone a chance to send the message that we are behind the workers!
It is interesting to observe that after first stating that back-to-work legislation was on the table, the government has since backtracked. For the past few days they have been saying that it is not on the table every time they are asked. This is because the government can see that the strike is popular, and they are clearly trying to not inflame things. But let’s not be naive: this is only for appearances. The bill is probably already drafted, and the CAQ will put it to a vote if necessary. As we explained in our last article, the labour movement as a whole must be prepared to launch a movement in defiance of these anti-democratic laws. In the context where the daycares are on the verge of sinking, such a challenge to the CAQ will be immensely popular. We must be prepared to defy back-to-work legislation if we want to win!
Legault and the right-wing commentators in the media say that it is impossible to offer support staff the same thing as educators. But nothing is impossible a priori. The “possibility” or “impossibility” of a victory can only be determined by a fight to the finish. The entire labour movement must support the educators and staff. A victory would be a breath of fresh air for the movement, and would help to reinvigorate the class struggle in Quebec. All out for the daycare workers!