This article was first published in French by La Riposte socialiste, on Nov. 5.
On Oct. 29, having learned of the Common Front of public sector unions’ plan to strike on Monday, Nov. 6, the CAQ (Coalition Avenir Québec) government tabled a new offer to the nearly half a million workers. This offer is just as insulting as the last one. It proposes a wage increase of 10.3 per cent over five years, which is barely 1.3 per cent more than its last offer (which was nine per cent over five years). The new offer also falls short of inflation which has been eating away at workers’ paycheques for the past two years.
Faced with this, public sector union members have been preparing to strike: on Nov. 6 for the Common Front, Nov. 8-9 for the Fédération des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec (FIQ) (Quebec Nurses’ Federation), and an unlimited strike by the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE) (Independent Teachers’ Federation) starting Nov. 23.
The ball is rolling. But to win, the unions need to act together and all move towards an unlimited strike.
An offer that impoverishes public sector employees
Contrary to what François Legault would have us believe, the government’s offer is completely unacceptable for public sector employees, since it doesn’t even match the level of inflation predicted by the government itself for the next five years. Although the CAQ claims to be offering a 13 to 14.8 per cent increase to Common Front members, including lump sums and differentiated increases in its figures, the reality is clear: the actual increase for most public sector workers will be 10.3 per cent. If we take into account the year 2022, when Quebec’s population experienced shocking inflation, we would have a total inflation rate of 16.6 per cent by 2026. The CAQ is trying to divide workers with differentiated increases. The only response can be a united demand for wage increases above inflation.
Taking the situation into account as well as the fact that the purchasing power of public sector employees has been declining for decades, the Common Front has a simple demand: wage indexation to the consumer price index, as well as a wage catch-up. This is a demand the government refuses to consider at all, even though it did not hesitate to give itself a 30 per cent raise this year and offered a 21 per cent increase to Sûreté du Québec (Quebec Police) officers. Similarly, the CAQ suddenly found deep pockets when it came time to give billions to multinational corporation Northvolt recently. The hypocrisy is obvious.
The situation is quite clear: this is class war. On one side are the workers who want to put an end to their impoverishment; on the other, a government that represents the bosses and wants the workers to pay for their crisis. These interests are irreconcilable. The only way for the working class to win is through class struggle. If the Common Front is to win this battle, it must exercise the unlimited general strike mandate voted for by 95 per cent of its members!
Common Front: a first “day” of strike action
Although there was strong support for an unlimited general strike among Common Front members, its leaders opted instead for a tactic of escalating pressure. The strike mandate they had proposed was for an unlimited general strike preceded by sequential strike days.
While strike days here and there prior to the unlimited general strike are not necessarily a bad idea, they need to be used to mobilize the membership: to make workers realize the power they hold in their hands and that nothing works without them. That’s why the tactics chosen for the first day of the strike are so bizarre. The leaders of the Common Front announced that the November 6 strike would run from midnight to 10 a.m. for its members working in schools and from midnight to noon for college workers; in the health sector, the strike will be all day long, but in small blocks taking turns.
Such partial strikes had been tried by the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ) during the 2020-21 negotiations, representing mainly school employees. The reason given by its leaders was that it was an “innovative” method enabling unions to exert pressure on the administration while preserving service to the population. But in reality, this method achieves neither goal. Service to the public will still be affected. Parents will have to arrive late at work after dropping their children off at school at 10:30 a.m., classes will be cancelled, and the service time of public institutions will be reduced. In short, if the Common Front is afraid of angering the population, this kind of tactic isn’t much better than a conventional strike. Nor does it allow union members to realize their power and truly galvanize the troops. If sequential strikes do take place, they should be done to generate enthusiasm and prepare strikers to lead the movement to an unlimited general strike, which is the ultimate method of breaking the bosses’ backs.
Unity is the working class’ most powerful tool
Following the announcement of the Common Front’s first strike day on Nov. 6, the FIQ, (which is not part of the Common Front) also announced its first strike days, to be held on Nov. 8 and 9. Many will ask: why act separately? The principle of “unity is strength” should be well known, especially in the trade unions.
Similarly, the FAE has now announced an indefinite strike. What happens if the Common Front and the FIQ don’t follow suit?
To win, workers must stand together. Even if the FIQ and the FAE are not part of the Common Front, it is in the interest of all workers to act together. An unlimited strike by all workers would mean public services will be further paralyzed, putting more pressure on the CAQ government. After all, all the members of these unions have a common goal: to improve their working conditions and purchasing power, and to halt the collapse of public services. All public sector unions have a duty to stand in solidarity with each other to the very end. No union should leave the negotiating table if the demands of all are not met.
This struggle is not just for public sector workers either. The government isn’t just attacking public services, it’s attacking the entire working class. A defeat would set the tone for other union struggles. Conversely, a Common Front victory would also put pressure on private sector employers to concede more to their own workers. It is therefore in the interest of all Quebec workers to support the struggle of public sector employees, to join their picket lines en masse on Nov. 6, 8 and 9, and to prepare for action if special legislation is put on the agenda.
Under capitalism, nothing is given to us without a fight. The CAQ is waging war on us, so let’s prepare for class war!