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(en) The Unions Fight Charest by Comité des sans-emploi & CLAC-Logement

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 5 Feb 2004 10:04:32 +0100 (CET)

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An article taken from "C'est arrivé prčs de chez-vous" a
newspaper published by Comité des sans-emploi & CLAC-Logement.
To the great surprise of just about everyone, the unions mobilized
against the government. It hadn't happened for ages but this fall the
unions suddenly looked more like a combative social movement than
like a lobby group or an insurance company. A look back...
A gentle beginning
It's worth remembering that the union battle with Charest
began very softly. On October 21, the Réseau de vigilance
(Vigilance Network), a new coalition that we've barely heard
from since, got the ball rolling with a rally to "Sound the Alarm"
as the new session of parliament opened. What was new was
that all the unions, except for the FTQ, mobilized large
numbers. 1,500 people, the majority union members,
participated in the first of a long series of demos in front of the
parliament. In the following weeks, every major union took its
turn demonstrating on parliament hill to register its opposition
to the re-engineering project. The prize for ridiculousness went
without any doubt to CUPE on October 27th, when it organized
a pan-Canadian demo against Charest by parading about 2000
activists who were in Quebec City for their convention. Held at
lunch time during a series of union meetings, the
demonstrations were less than impressive, as they were
essentially composed of union delegates. They rapidly became
so routine that the SQ stopped taking down the metal
barricades surrounding the parliament building.

The government was visibly searching for a way to divide the
movement and prevent a common front from emerging by
means of its legislation on the amalgamation/destruction of
health care unions. But it ended up creating exactly what it
didn't want. Far from impeding mobilization, putting unions in
competition with each other seemed to lead instead to a
one-upmanship that took the form of increasingly radical
actions. The CSN seemed to be the only organization to take
the government's threats seriously. It was also the only one to
equip itself with a real plan of action, which effectively set the
tone for the rest of the movement. It's nonetheless interesting
to think about the fact that at the national level, union activity
seemed to be as much "all against the CSN" as "all against
Charest". Essentially, this fear of the CSN has to do with the
fact that it is by far the biggest labor federation of Quebec's
public sector. Most of the other organizations are either CSN
splinters (SFPQ, SPGQ, SEMB-SAQ) or competitors that have
essentially built themselves up in opposition to it.
Nevertheless, all the periods of strong mobilization were
connected to the dates proposed by the CSN weeks and even
months in advance.

Thus, the first big union demonstration to be held on parliament
hill was organized with less than a week's notice on a directive
from the FTQ, as it was being outwitted by the CSN and
pushed by its base in the health sector who all wanted to see
some action. As a resul, 7,000 people from all the unions
except the CSN demonstrated in Quebec City on November
26th. On November 29th, it was 30,000 CSN union members
(12% of the membership of the confederation) who
demonstrated in Quebec City, alongside other social groups,
but the only union. It was during this show of strength that
Claudette Carbonneau publicly announced a national day of
work-place disruption on December 11th. The following week
got off to a brilliant start -- the office of the president of the
National Assembly was trashed and the Health Minister's
press conference at Sainte-Justine Hospital was cancelled on
December 1st. The reason? Unionized workers' anger. All
week, the FTQ mobilized its members in the health care
network in a series of public assemblies and direct actions.
From that point on, there were no shortage of demonstrations
to attend each day.

A few days before December 11th, each union in turn
announced that it would participate. If they were all going to
strike on the same day, they wouldn't necessarily do it
together. Once again, the CSN was on one side and everyone
else on the other. That day, the FTQ pulled of a tour de force,
blocking the four major ports in Quebec as well as road access
to major "resource regions" -- and stealing the show by
mobilizing 20 times less people than the CSN on a CSN day of
action! All this mobilization nonetheless failed to make the
government back down. On December 15th, the government
muzzles the opposition, as 3-4000 unionized workers
demonstrated noisily outside of parliament. That was, in the
end, the only really national demonstration by a unionized
common front. It was followed by some final skirmishes, and
then by a long holiday period.

A leopard can't change its spots

Right in the middle of the holidays, Henri Massé gave a
first-rate burial to the notion of a general strike against
Charest's policies. The same person who, on December 15th,
had talked in front of parliament about "workers' power,"now
argued that a general strike would be impossible because the
FTQ would be plagued by hundreds of law-suits. Instead of a
call to union-based resistance, Massé called for a return to
"social dialogue". By the beginning of January, Massé had
"private meetings" with Charest, soon after which the Minister
of Labor announced an increase to the minimum wage. Secret
negotiations? Reconciliation? It's hard to say. Henri Massé
has never been a big proponent of mobilization and power
balance. It was only when he was pushed by his base that he
dared to get his feet wet. Besides, it was less the FTQ that
mobilized than its most important public sector unions: SCFP
(at the forefront of radical actions) and the SQEES. And
besides, there was nothing reassuring about the basic
framework of the mobilisation (a constant call to "dialogue and
to social peace"). It's clear that the bureaucrats went into
battle under pressure and with reticence. We will no doubt
have to wait and see what the other unions will propose, and
especially what the base will think of those proposals, in order
to know if the movement will revive itself, or whether it was
merely a flash in the pan. ng of each meeting.

5. Each Dublin Grassroots meeting will elect a secretary
who will keep note of decisions made. These will be read
back to the meeting at the end to ensure that there is
agreement. If circumstances permit, these decisions will be
posted on the Dublin Grassroots e-mail list.

6. Dublin Grassroots will elect a meeting co-ordinator whose
only job is to publicise the time and venue of our meetings to
all those who have signed up to Dublin Grassroots. Except
for emergencies, at least two days notification should be
given for meetings.

The Grassroots Principles

The Grassroots Gathering aims towards a network which

ˇ Be based on the principle that people should control their
own lives and work together as equals, as part of how we
work as well as what we are working towards. ˇ Within the
network this means rejecting top-down and state-centred
forms of organisation (hierarchical, authoritarian,
expert-based, Leninist etc.) We need a network that's open,
decentralised, and really democratic. ˇ Call for solutions
that involve ordinary people controlling their own lives and
having the resources to do so: the abolition, not reform, of
global bodies like the World Bank and WTO, and a challenge
to underlying structures of power and inequality. ˇ Organise
for the control of the workplace by those who work there. ˇ
Call for the control of communities by the people who live
there. ˇ Argue for a sustainable environmental, economic
and social system, agreed by the people of the planet. ˇ
Work together in ways which are accessible to ordinary
people, particularly women and working-class people, rather
than reproducing feelings of disempowerment and alienation
within our own network.

Copied from North East Federation of Anarcho-Communists - NEFAC

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