Source: Révolution communiste

The voting period on the tentative agreement between the Common Front and the CAQ government has begun. Although the government was forced to grant some concessions, this agreement does not put an end to wage erosion. Given the scale of the mobilizations, many workers are rightly asking: what was it all for?

[This article was first published on on January 20.]

Wage catch-up and indexation?

“There will be no agreement without protection of purchasing power and without enrichment leading to a wage catch-up for our members. We won’t let anyone get poorer, and the CAQ government must understand that.” These were the words of the Common Front’s spokespeople on December 7.

Indeed, according to the most recent statistics, the wage gap for public service employees was 16.6 per cent compared to all Quebec employees, and the overall pay gap, 7.4 per cent. This contributes greatly to the exodus of public service employees to other sectors. For this reason, Common Front members had voted for pay rises equivalent to inflation plus nine per cent over three years. This was a minimum to start narrowing the gulf that was growing year after year between the public and private sectors.

François Énault, vice-president of the CSN, said in a media scrum: “We have some catching up [to do], you know that, you’ve seen the stats. We’re talking about seven per cent in total compensation, plus the indexation clause. That’s what we’re asking for.”

But that’s not what was gained. In fact, since the inflation forecast for 2022-2026 is 18.1 per cent, this means that the proposed five-year agreement of 17.4 per cent barely covers inflation over the next few years, and does not offset the huge inflation of 2022, nor that of 2021. In fact, it’s not an enrichment, but a slight reduction in purchasing power!

The agreement also includes a purchasing power protection clause in the event of higher-than-expected inflation in 2025-2027. However, this clause is capped at a maximum of one additional percent per year for these three years only. If the galloping inflation we saw in 2022 returns, this clause will be clearly insufficient. The banks assured us in October that inflation would return to normal soon, but forecasts are already being revised upwards, as inflation rose again in December and could well spiral out of control due to the explosive situation in the Middle East. The forecasts of bourgeois economists are worth little more than the paper they’re written on.

Only “an automatic and permanent purchasing power protection clause”, as the Common Front leaders were calling for (permanent indexation to the CPI, for example), could really protect us.

To paint a better picture, Common Front spokespersons insisted on sectoral gains. But delegates from the CSQ-affiliated Fédération de la santé du Québec are calling precisely for rejection of their sectoral agreement! Some CSQ-affiliated local unions in the education sector have also rejected theirs. There’s nothing there to suggest that the sectoral agreements make the overall deal any more attractive.

From the point of view of all Common Front members, the proposed agreement offers no real catch-up for decades of wage erosion, nor any real protection against inflation. One worker told us that his colleagues feel they’ve been sold a dream. This agreement does not deliver the goods. This is why we think it should be rejected.

It is certainly significant that the CAQ was forced to almost double its initial wage offer. Overall, the fall events demonstrate the immense social weight and strength of the working class. Faced with a historic mobilization of public-sector union members, supported by 71 per cent of Quebecers, the CAQ found itself isolated and weakened. Knowing this, Legault kept the usual anti-union verbiage to a minimum. The CAQ’s popularity plummeted this fall. The overwhelming majority of Quebecers sympathized with the struggle of public sector employees, who had been battered by the pandemic years—not to mention the appalling deterioration of the health and education systems long before COVID.

But that only highlights the inadequacy of this tentative agreement. Legault was on the ropes, all workers had an unlimited strike mandate, the public was on our side. So why did we back down on wage catch-up and a real inflation protection mechanism? Why back down like that, without even resorting to unlimited strike?


The agreement has not yet been ratified; there is still time to reject it and continue the battle. Unfortunately, Common Front leaders are already in demobilization mode.

Voting is being stretched over more than a month when it would have been entirely possible to consult all members much more quickly. All this could ultimately have the effect of breaking momentum and spreading cynicism and apathy while what we need is confidence and a fighting spirit.

During the press conference announcing the agreement, a journalist asked Common Front spokespeople whether a new strike was conceivable in the event of the agreement being rejected. They essentially explained that unless all four member organizations of the Common Front rejected it, a united strike was out of the question. In practice, they have dissolved the Common Front.

“So, [a strike] would be unlikely?” asked the reporter bluntly. Magali Picard, president of the FTQ, answered plainly: “I think it’s wise to say it would be unlikely.”

And thus, while giving members the choice of whether or not to accept the agreement, the leaders imply that we have already reached the end of the struggle. This approach is profoundly undemocratic: why vote no if the battle is already over? One worker put it well in the Facebook comments to the press conference: “So if it’s unlikely [that we’ll strike], what’s the point of our vote at the GA?” She’s quite right.

Negotiations ‘in good faith’?

So our leaders negotiated a deal that didn’t meet our demands, and now they’re suggesting it’s time to go home. Was it really impossible to get anything better?

On the contrary: as mentioned above, the more the movement gained momentum, the more Legault was on the defensive. The members had voted for an unlimited strike mandate that could be used for a decisive victory. If we were able to push back the CAQ in December, we could continue to do so. Uniting with the FAE and FIQ in a joint strike would have put even more pressure on the government. But our leaders preferred to accept a clearly inadequate agreement, which they are now recommending (openly or implicitly).

Last November, justifying the seven-day strike in December rather than joining the FEA in an unlimited strike, François Énault affirmed: “We have an unlimited general strike mandate in our pocket, but we agreed to go with another short seven-day sequence to give the government a chance to show its good faith.” [Our italics]

In reality, no capitalist government negotiates “in good faith”. Hasn’t a year of contempt and empty negotiation meetings shown that?

The words of Éric Gingras, president of the CSQ, are also illuminating. In a press conference given on January 8, he stated:

“The psychodrama that is public sector negotiations, I think it can be done differently […]. Do we need negotiations in Quebec that last more than a year and a half? […] If we were able to discuss things without starting from so far away. The government tabled ridiculous offers in December 2022 with nine per cent […]. We’re going to have to come to an agreement first and discuss if we can do things differently.”

It’s true that the negotiations dragged on and that the struggle had to intensify before any concessions were made; the fault for this lies primarily with the government. But should we be surprised? Dragging out negotiations, making derisory offers, talking down to workers… Capitalist governments, regardless of which party is in power, systematically act this way in negotiations. What did the Common Front leaders expect?

This idea of convincing the government to negotiate “in good faith” and “talk it out” is a fundamentally flawed perspective. It’s the corollary of the idea that it’s possible to reconcile the interests of workers and their bosses, that it’s possible to find common ground between the classes without having to resort to decisive action like an indefinite strike.

Of course, nobody wants to strike for the sake of it. But when we cannot reach an agreement that satisfies our needs, the threat of an indefinite strike must be carried out. In fact, the facts here demonstrate that the leaders of the Common Front wanted to avoid an indefinite strike just as much as the CAQ, that it was their common objective.

A period of struggle is opening up

What Éric Girard calls a “psychodrama” is simply the normality of union struggles in the current era. The capitalist system is incapable of satisfying workers’ needs. The Quebec economy has long since stopped growing significantly—and has just entered recession. The bosses jealously defend their profits, and their friends at the head of the state keep public spending to a minimum. This is not a time for massive investment and wage increases, but for cuts in public services and attacks on workers. In this context, granting public sector workers a good collective agreement would have threatened to spread these gains to other sectors—something the province’s capitalists simply can’t afford.

No, we won’t receive any gifts from the bosses and their government. Our age is one of bitter struggle: we will make no real gains without fighting by the sweat of our brow. If we limit ourselves to trying to convince the government and we only take action half-heartedly, we will always get disappointing agreements. The bosses won’t make any concessions unless they fear losing even more otherwise. That’s why the workers’ best weapon is the strike, especially the indefinite strike; that’s why solidarity with the broadest possible layers of the working class through inter-union common fronts, and the mobilization of the population in support of the strikers is so important.

This is not “psychodrama”, but class struggle. As long as our leaders don’t have this perspective, we won’t make satisfactory gains.

This is why Communist Revolution fights for revolutionary trade unionism. Understanding that the capitalist system and its representatives won’t do us any favors, we’re fighting to ensure that our unions don’t accept any concessions until they’ve waged a serious fight. We defend the united struggle of all workers, rather than isolated struggles here and there. We fight for a new society in which workers are in power, rather than always having to fight for crumbs from the rich. And our aim is to unite communists to spread this perspective throughout the workers’ movement.