December 18, 2015

English Edition, No. 23

Mass Suspension of Montreal Blue-Collar Workers and Union Leaders

No to the Criminalization of the Just Struggle
of Municipal Employees for their Rights and
for Public Services!

Mass Suspension of Montreal Blue-Collar Workers and Union Leaders
No to the Criminalization of the Just Struggle of Municipal Employees
for their Rights and for Public Services!

Government Must Back Down on Wages and Pensions

400,000 Common Front Members Strike
Support Public Sector Workers!
The Anti-Social Austerity Agenda Must Be Defeated!

Bill 86 on Education
Arrangements in Education Sector Should be Decided Upon
by Educational Workers Themselves

- Fernand Deschamps and Geneviève Royer -

Commemorating the 26th Anniversary of the Polytechnique Tragedy
Reaffirming the Struggle to Eliminate Violence Against Women

Mass Suspension of Montreal Blue-Collar Workers and Union Leaders

No to the Criminalization of the Just Struggle
of Municipal Employees for their Rights
and for Public Services!

On Monday, December 14, the city of Montreal announced it is imposing a five-day suspension without pay on 2,400 blue-collar workers for participating in a special union general assembly on December 8, during working hours. The president of the Syndicat des cols bleus regroupés de Montréal, Chantal Racette, was given a two-month suspension without pay along with three other members of the union executive, and according to the city, any official who encouraged workers to participate in the general assembly will be suspended for a month.

The purpose of the December 8 meeting, attended by some 4,000 blue-collar workers, was to develop an action plan to mobilize blue-collar workers and public opinion to oppose the massive job cuts and the privatization of jobs and services that the city is conducting on the sly. The meeting was also aimed at developing an action plan against the Couillard government's decision to table a bill in the spring giving cities the power to dictate the working conditions of municipal employees, after banning by law a year ago any real negotiation by municipal employees of their pension plans.

Chantier politique vehemently condemns this new attempt to criminalize and smash the organized resistance of municipal employees against the dismantling and privatization of their jobs and the public services they provide to the population. We also denounce Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre's propaganda aimed at depicting blue-collar workers as outlaws who operate through intimidation, while the city is simply defending the law and labour contracts.

"A contract is a contract," said the mayor of Montreal, referring to the special general assembly that he deems was held in violation of the collective agreement. This is an attempt to hide the fact that it is the city of Montreal and the Quebec government who are breaking the contracts and arrangements that allow city employees to defend and negotiate their conditions, which are the same conditions for the delivery of public services.

It was the city and the Quebec government who made the struggle for pension plans illegal and now they want to do the same with all the working conditions of municipal employees. They want to impose silence and smash the organized resistance of the workers in order to have free reign over their plan for the privatization and dismantling of services that pilfers the city's funds and places the health and safety of the people at risk. Their dream is to turn Quebec's cities into a hub for the infrastructure projects and transportation and energy corridors of the North American monopolies at the expense of building an economy with its ever-growing needs in the service of Quebecers and their future. They volunteer to do the dirty work of providing investors with a workforce stripped of rights with meaningless labour contracts and drastically reduced regular unionized manpower.

Quebec workers will not accept this affront to democracy where the thief is presented as the one being robbed and the aggressor as the victim. The defence of workers' rights is a key aspect of democracy and of the well-being of the people and society. Municipal employees in particular are playing an important role with regard to public opinion by unmasking and exposing the collusion and corruption of those in power with the monopolies and friends of the regime and an attempt is being made to silence them.

All-Out in Support of the Municipal Workers! It is their Fight that Defends Montreal and Quebec, Not the City of Montreal, Mayor Coderre and the Couillard Government!

Government Must Back Down on Wages and Pensions

In their negotiations with the Couillard government, public sector workers and their allies managed to remove from the bargaining table several of the government's sectorial demands aimed at further eroding their working conditions. Sectorial demands relate to issues such as work schedules, sick leave or the displacement of workers when positions are abolished. Several tentative agreements were signed at the sectorial tables, including in healthcare and social services, with CEGEP professors and school support staff, and unions say they have made gains on demands for which they have been fighting for years.

The President of the Treasury Board, Martin Coiteux, said in an interview with La Presse a few weeks ago that now that tentative sectorial agreements could be signed across the board, he expected workers to show "openness" at the central bargaining table, which deals primarily with wages and pensions.

La Presse quotes him as saying, "With regard to the [wage] parameters, if there is no movement, a clear signal on pensions, it is difficult. If there is movement on pensions, yes, but the margin is narrow." Later in the article, Minister Coiteux talks about modest budgetary flexibility that the government could use for wages if workers accept concessions on pension plans.

This position of the President of the Treasury Board is unacceptable. The organization of work schedules, the deployment of staff, wages and pension plans are all part of the living and working conditions of workers, which are the very conditions for the delivery of public services. They go hand in hand and there is no "deal" to be made between them. The workers are demanding improvements in all of these conditions in order to stop the dismantling of public services as well as block their privatization. We know that nurses in particular, faced with impossible schedules, are under strong pressure to move to private agencies to work more flexible hours and for higher wages (without however the same benefits and pension plans).

At the central bargaining tables the government is maintaining its unacceptable demands on wages and pensions.

It proposes the ensured impoverishment for workers for a period of up to 5 years (workers want a 3-year contract) and the impoverishment of future generations of workers and retirees. It is offering 0%, 1%, 1%, 1% and 0%, which is well below the current inflation rate, with no clause to protect against cost-of-living. Instead of a salary increase, it is offering a hypothetical 2.3% increase in salary relativity, which is a reorganization of the wage structure and job classification that was not supposed to be part these negotiations, with a drop in entry level salaries for various categories of workers. Pay scales are to start at a rate lower than the current lowest wage. The government's wage offer is a way of lowering overall total wages in the public sector and of giving more power to the government to restructure wage and working conditions during the duration of the contract.

Lowering overall total wages means lowering pension plan payments. This is accompanied by other measures demanded by the government, such as postponing the retirement eligibility age without reduction from 60 to 61, then 62 years and an increase in penalties for early retirement. Again the government is seeking the power to change the conditions during the duration of the agreement by demanding mechanisms that would allow it to make certain changes such as the age of retirement and cost-of-living clauses. By reducing pensions the government wants to reduce its contributions to the plan, a goal it also made clear upon presenting its offer a year ago. Just like with wages, it is part-time and casual workers, and in particular women who make up the vast majority of them, who will be most affected by these measures.

The "openness" demanded by the President of the Treasury Board translates into a concession to government dictate of impoverishing those who provide services, dismantling and privatizing public services and the denial of the right of workers to determine the conditions they require to ensure the delivery of services.

It must not pass!

400,000 Common Front Members Strike

Support Public Sector Workers!
The Anti-Social Austerity Agenda Must Be Defeated!

50,000 public service workers in the streets of Montreal on December 9 (SEPI)

On Wednesday, December 9, the 400,000 members of the Common Front held a one-day strike to break its continued deadlock with the government at the negotiating table as a result of its refusal to meet the workers’ just demands. At that time, only 20 tentative sectorial agreements had been reached so far out of over 60 sectorial bargaining tables, with a complete stalemate at the central bargaining table on the issue of wages and pensions. The strike took place in all of Quebec’s 17 administrative regions, which mobilized teachers, healthcare and other professionals, technicians, support and administrative staff, workers and officials from all health and social services institutions and networks, school boards, colleges, government agencies and the public service. It was learned that the Couillard government, which on December 1 said it would soon resolve the situation at the central bargaining table, had not even submitted a new offer almost ten days later.

On December 9, Montreal white-collar workers, who have been without a contract for 4 years, also held a half-day strike to protest the austerity and privatization of services measures undertaken by the city of Montreal.

Montreal white-collar workers' action

Also on December 9, the 34,000 members of the Autonomous Federation of Teachers (FAE) began three days of strikes to force the government to negotiate with them on the basis of their demands in defence of public schools and also set up an around the clock campsite near the offices of the Ministry of Education in Montreal. The 60 teachers who slept there the night of December 9 to 10 were brutally evicted by Montreal police (SPVM), under the order of the Quebec Ministry of Transport, which owns the land where the campsite had been set up.

Opposition to the destructive anti-social austerity agenda and a way forward for Quebec in defence of rights were at the heart of these actions! The fight will continue! The anti-social offensive must be defeated!

Montreal and Quebec public sector workers' actions (Photos: Chantier politique, SEPI, CSN, CSQ)

Bill 86 on education

Arrangements in Education Sector Should be Decided
Upon by Educational Workers Themselves

Bill 86, An Act to modify the organization and governance of school boards to give schools a greater say in decision-making and ensure parents' presence within each school board's decision-making body, was presented to the National Assembly by François Blais, Minister of Education, Higher Education and Research, Friday, December 4th. The 55 page bill repeals the existing law on school boards, modifies 6 regulations and 13 existing laws, including the Education Act, the Labour Code, the Act to establish Administrative Labour Tribunal and even the Election Act. The repeal of the School Boards Act means the cancellation of 781 positions elected by the Quebec population. This "education reform" also modifies the Tax Administration Act, the Code of ethics and conduct of the Members of the National Assembly, the Act respecting contracting by public bodies and the Act respecting workforce management and control within government departments, public sector bodies and networks and state-owned enterprises.

On December 3, Primer Philippe Couillard had already outlined his government's intentions. "We know this is a touchy matter, but it is also a topic where we must recognize, first, that the education system in Quebec has great qualities, so we do not want to back down on it, but we must go further, particularly with regard to greater autonomy for the school, more space for parents, for teachers and I think we're heading in that direction."

At a press conference the following day, Minister Blais said, "Our proposal is to first enhance the indispensable role of parents. As primary educators of their children, their concerns should be given further consideration and we should value their involvement at all levels of the school organization. This is what we offer them not only on school board councils, but also in parent committees and governing boards." He continued by saying, "Our approach will also allow teachers to confirm their role as key experts in education by granting them a spot within the local school governance, in addition to the one they already hold on governing boards. They can then further influence the orientations and choices concerning educational services in the territory of their school board."

At first glance, the bill gives more power to principals. Thus, each school board will establish an allocation of resources committee where principals will make up the majority. At the same time, the minister is given new powers of control over school boards. It will allow the minister, after verification or inquiry into the management of a school board, to "recommend or order" the school board to "comply with oversight or monitoring measures or apply the corrective measures the Minister specifies [...] if of the opinion that the director general of a school board has been doing anything that is incompatible with the rules of sound management." The Minister may "appoint one or more persons to temporarily replace the director general for a period of up to180 days," -- in other words a trusteeship.

It was learned that the Ministry of Education will produce a guide presenting the best practices in decentralized management to support school board managers and ensure the quality, equity and efficiency of educational services offered to all Quebec students. "It is a system that has been borrowed in a way from the Ontario reforms in recent years. They set up a small team to ensure the best management practices, particularly in relation to decentralization, that those best management practices be known to school boards and can be implemented." In fact, the so-called education reform in Ontario is reflected in practice by an attack on the participation of teachers in decision-making and especially the imposition of deteriorated working conditions. Ontario teachers are waging an epic battle for education. (On this topic see the many articles in Ontario Political Forum.)

This bill is part of the nation-wrecking measures put forward by the Couillard government, in particular the exclusion of the social forces taking decisions that directly affect their lives, in this case the teachers. One cannot claim to "bring schools closer to the decision-making" if those who teach the younger generation each day have no control over the resources that must be invested in schools. The role the bill imposes on them is to make do with the anti-social dictate in education by seeking to "influence" the "orientations" that they never decided upon and that run counter to their demands to modernize the public education system. The fact that the National Assembly has agreed to consider the bill and has placed it on its agenda while many of the teachers' demands for improved working conditions are still unresolved illustrates how the voice of workers is absent in that institution. At present, it is the teachers and their allies who are taking up their responsibility to defend modern working and learning conditions within a pro-social outlook, where education serves the needs of the people.

Commemorating the 26th Anniversary of the Polytechnique Tragedy

Reaffirming the Struggle to Eliminate
Violence Against Women

Over 100 women together with their parents, families and friends, gathered in the Place du 6-décembre-1989 park in the Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood in Montreal to mark the 26th anniversary of the Polytechnique massacre. Twenty-six years ago, on that date, an individual opened fire on twenty people, killing fourteen women and injuring ten others as well as four men, before ending his own life.

The public commemoration took place in a very solemn and dignified manner, with many speaking and making symbolic gestures in honour not only of the women murdered at Polytechnique, but also all women who are victims of violence. The event was also the culmination of the 12 Days of Action Campaign for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. "In 2015, women are still victims of violence just because they are women. Violence against women continues, and we must act both individually and collectively to stop it," said Carole Benjamin of the Table des groupes de femmes de Montréal. One by one she named the fourteen young women to ensure these names are never forgotten.

Viviane Michel of Quebec Native Women (QNW) and Mélanie Sarazin of the Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ) spoke with great emotion of the harsh reality of the continual violence that wreaks havoc on the lives of entire families. They exchanged roses and a braid of sweet grass to symbolize the link between the 14 women killed in 1989 at Polytechnique, simply because they were women, and the 1186 missing and murdered Native women, because they are women and because they are Native. "In offering these roses and adding the braid of sweet grass to the 14 white ribbons, we wanted to honour the missing and murdered Native women and symbolize our commitment to fight side by side with Native women to transform policies, institutions and colonialist and sexist laws that encourage violence against them," said Melanie Sarazin.

"For us, all forms of violence against Native women and girls, irrespective of their source, are rooted in the marginalization and discrimination stemming from colonization. There is no doubt that this violence is systemic, because it operates through various institutions -- the police, media, education and justice systems -- and degrades the lives of Native women," said QNW President Viviane Michel.

Chantel Henderson of Missing Justice spoke about the organization's work for missing Native women. Chantel, a member of the Segkeeng Pinyamootang First Nation of Manitoba, gave the call to carry on the fight for justice for the nearly 1,200 missing or murdered Native women in Canada from 1980 to 2012 as well as since then.

Two testimonials were given, including that of Sindy Ruperthouse's parents. Sindy, aged 44, has been missing for 18 months. They spoke of their pain and the disruption to their lives, demanding that justice be done. The family had also spoken at the press conference in Val-d'Or in October on the revelations of sexual abuse by police officers from the SQ against Native women.

"Violence and abuse of all kinds against women stems from the fact that society is blocked in its development," said Christine Dandenault, leader of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec (PMLQ), present at the rally. "This violence becomes the solution within the context of the growing insecurity we are witnessing, of lack of jobs and future possibilities for everyone, and of worldwide instability, anarchy and chaos. The proof is there that far from diminishing, violence and abuse against women and girls is on the rise. Society is in urgent need of renewal."

The Odaya group sang two Aboriginal songs dealing with violence against women and expressing hope. In closing the ceremony, 14 women were asked to place a white rose on each of the fourteen mounds bearing the names of the victims. These steel mounds, landscaped in 1999, are surmounted with a strip of black granite that together form a larger monument entitled Nave for Fourteen Queens.

Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Native Women Announced

Two days after the commemoration, on December 8, the Trudeau government announced the holding of an inquiry into the murder and disappearance of Native women and girls in the country.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu announced they will hold meetings with survivors, the families and relatives of victims, representatives of national Native organizations as well as those from the provinces and territories as part of the first phase of the commission's work to define the specific mandate of the commission.

This first phase should take at least two months and allow time to choose the commissioner who will chair the commission, Minister Bennett said at a press conference. She said that such a national inquiry "can only be defined once those who are directly concerned have spoken."

For over 10 years, through protests, vigils, petitions and statements, a vast movement of thousands of women, their organizations and their allies from coast to coast has been calling for an inquiry. The spirit of the December 6 commemoration has shown that women are not going to allow this to become a commission, like so many others, that is used to remove the initiative from citizens and justify the status quo by placing the blame on a few individuals.

As for violence, sexual abuse, the murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women in Quebec, Quebec Native Women officially launched its report "Naniawig Mamawe Ninawind -- Stand with us" on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women in Quebec, on December 14, in Kahnawà:ke.


Read Chantier politique
Website:   Email: