This past Saturday (4th Dec.), thousands of workers, coming from as far as Gaspesie, braved the cold to march in solidarity with the locked out employees of Journal de Montréal. Pierre Karl Peladeau, a media baron who owns 99 newspapers and magazines, has locked out the Journal de Montréal workers for nearly two years. These 253 workers have become a symbol of resistance against the media monopoly of the big bourgeoisie.
Organized by the CSN, the parent union of the STIJM (Le Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal), around 10,000 protesters—according to the union estimate—filled Lafontaine Park, with thousands of red CSN balloons and placards calling for boycott of the newspaper, and hundreds of union flags representing CEP, CUPE, FTQ, USW, etc. Dozens of Quebec solidaire members, including Amir Khadir, were also present in the demonstration with their banner and placards. The mood was mainly festive, but also contained anger as chants of “thug, thug, thug” (“voyou, voyou, voyou”), referring to Peladeau, who is suing CBC broadcaster Sylvain Lafrance for calling him a “thug” in a 2007 interview, echoed through the streets.
The protesters then took to the street and marched towards the offices of Journal de Montreal, where a large stage was waiting for them. “Welcome home,” said Raynald Leblanc, the president of STIJM, as he opened his address to his fellow co-workers and the thousands of workers gathering before him.
A number of union representatives and politicians also took turn on the stage to express their solidarity. CSN president Claudette Carbonneau talked about the need to reform the Quebec labour code that allows virtual scabbing: “We need the National Assembly to assume its responsibilities. It has become a breeze crossing a virtual picket line. But know that this is not an innocent game because it crushes the workers.”
Quebec solidaire MNA Amir Khadir pressed Paledeau to bargain faithfully: “I said to Pierre Karl Peladeau: If you want to prove you’re not a thug, it is not before the courts it must be done, but at the bargaining table with your employees.” Chants of “thug, thug, thug” from the crowd followed.
The mayor of Plateau Mont-Royal, Luc Ferrandez from Projet Montréal, didn’t spare the newspaper, saying, “Their report indicates that this is no longer a newspaper but an advertising catalogue. It promotes goods but also ideas of the boss, disguised as articles. … Following this report, we made a recommendation to Health Canada to affix, as on harmful products and cigarettes, a warning stating clearly that there is a risk of toxicity for this product.” This candid joke drew immediate laughter from the workers.
As this article is written, negotiations has come to a standstill. On October 12, Quebecor made a reprehensible proposal that was rejected by 89.3% of STIJM members. The proposal included the layoff of 80% of the staff, a non-competition clause that prevent these laid-off workers to work at La Presse, longer working hours, the slashing of vacation time, production outsourcing, reduced benefits, and over 700 amendments to the collective agreement. Reynald Leblanc was right when he said, “If we would have accepted this offer, the union would have been totally destroyed. I think this was a test of the resolve of our unions. They thought we would buckle, but our message today is clear. We want to fight this battle.”