Chantier Politique

November 1, 2017

English Edition, No. 7

Editorial

One Month of Arbitrary Power

Editorial
One Month of Arbitrary Power

For Your Information
Measures Taken and Announced by the Legault Government
- Pierre Chénier -

Reflections
The People's Demands Must Prevail
- Pierre Soublière -
The Issue of Values and Religious Symbols
- Fernand Deschamps -
Quebec Must Not Be Used for NATO Military Training
- Christine Dandenault -

Workers' Struggles
Liquor Board Workers Stage Walkout Against Unjust Disciplinary Measures and to Demand Meaningful Negotiations
Aluminum Workers Fight for Their Dignity and Rights

Workers Speak Out
Work in Defence of Public Education
- Sylvain Mallette -
Governments Must be Transparent in Their Actions and
Accountable to the People

- Clément Masse -

For the Record
Is There a Shortage of Manpower in the Construction Industry?
- Richard Goyette -


Editorial

One Month of Arbitrary Power

The Legault government's first month reveals the dangers confronting the people when arbitrariness is in command. In the name of a "clear majority" and a "strong mandate," we are told that the Legault government represents the will of the people of Quebec. The contradiction is glaring between the claim that the process is democratic and the reality that legislation is just a means to deploy the police powers of the state to criminalize people and divide and divert them on every possible basis.

Workers are aware of that contradiction and are stepping up their struggles in defence of their rights and the rights of all. They are also speaking out to take a stand on what is required to advance their nation-building project for a pro-social future, one decided by the people organized to build it.

The stakes are high. Chantier politique is calling on everyone to participate in developing a nation-building movement by directly speaking out in defence of democratic principles.

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For Your Information

Measures Taken and Announced by
the Legault Government

Since coming to power on October 1, the Legault government has announced a number of measures that it has already taken or is planning on taking, in the name of having obtained a so-called "majority and strong mandate" during the election and of simply representing what Quebeckers want. We now know that the National Assembly will reopen on November 27 and that the session will last for two weeks before adjourning for the holidays. It is not yet clear which bills, if any, are to be tabled during the mini-session.

Cabinet

On October 18, Premier François Legault proceeded with the unveiling of his Cabinet, which he characterized as being of "parity, competent, made up of many new faces" and able to "lead Quebec on the road to prosperity and pride." It is a council composed of 26 ministers, a council, in the words of the Legault, of "managers," many of whom until now have held leading positions in the private sector as bankers, business executives and corporate lawyers. Finance Minister Éric Girard was, until recently, the Treasurer of the Banque Nationale and was also a former candidate for the Harper Conservatives who was defeated in the 2015 federal election. The Minister of the Economy and Innovation and the President of the Treasury Board were also bankers and financiers. The Minister of Labour was the company negotiator for one of the longest labour disputes in Quebec's recent history, the three-year strike at the aeronautical firm Delastek in the Mauricie region. The Minister of the Environment is the CEO of an aerospace company.

Values and Religious Symbols

Just days after the election, Premier Legault announced that he intends to introduce and adopt before the year end a bill on values and religious symbols. The bill would prohibit the wearing of religious symbols by persons in a position of authority in the public sector, namely the police, crown attorneys, judges, prison guards and teachers. The bill would go as far as dismissal if people were to refuse to give up their symbols. Legault said he would invoke the "notwithstanding" clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which essentially allows for the annulment of the rights proclaimed by the Charter other than the right to vote and the five-year government mandate term limit. Legault claims that this bill reflects a "consensus" in Quebec on this issue, which is simply not true. Quebeckers oppose these types of measures (according to many, the PQ was defeated in 2014 largely because of its similarly inspired Charter of Values). Legault dismissed those who oppose it as being mere "pressure groups." According to him, these "groups" are not Quebeckers opposes to such division and diversion, are a source of civil conflict and criminalization of the people by the state.

Towards the end of October, the Legault government also announced its plans to prohibit, either in this bill or another, the wearing of the chador, which veils women except for the oval of the face, for all people who work in the public sector.

Economic Measures

The Legault government claims it is the party of the economy and is planning on announcing some tax reduction measures before the year end, as part of its commitment to "put money back into the wallets of Quebeckers." These measures have nothing to do with recognizing and guaranteeing the right of all Quebeckers to have their needs met and enjoy a standard of living commensurate with that of a socialized economy.

The Minister of Finance Éric Girard also announced that he will provide an economic update before the end of the fall. On October 18, in a televised interview, Girard said that for the Quebec economy to realize its potential, "we will have to work on Quebec's productivity." He said that this would require the government to "provide a regulatory and economic framework that allows private enterprise to evolve and grow," one which promotes a climate of competition, with "well-managed, well-invested dollars" with respect to public funds. These are all euphemisms for the neo-liberal policy of paying the rich, which places all of the nation's human and material resources at the disposal of the monopolies and supranational oligopolies, to the detriment of nation-building in the service of the well-being of the people and in defence of their rights.

Other Measures

At the end of October, the Legault government announced that within the context of the new federal legislation legalizing cannabis, his government will pass a law in its first 100 days to set the legal limit on cannabis consumption at 21 years of age in Quebec instead of the federal limit of 18 years of age. This can only lead to the further criminalizing the youth.

The Legault government also endorsed the extension of the one-year pilot project of the Liberal government regarding the activities of the Uber global passenger transport monopoly. There were no meetings, no consultations with taxi drivers, citizens or Uber drivers. This, despite the fact that many taxi drivers are seriously critical of this company that they describe as violating regulatory norms established for passenger security and other issues. As for the people, they remain uninformed. The government simply announced that it endorsed the extension by way of the media, thereby imposing its decision.

A few days ago, the Legault government informed the monopoly media that it was going to annul the Apuiat wind project on Innu traditional territory (Nitassinan) of the Uashat mak Mani-utenam First Nation and on public lands of the Municipality of Port-Cartier, in Quebec's Côte-Nord region. Negotiations on this 200-megawatt wind farm project had been underway for a few years between the Quebec government, Hydro-Québec, and the Innu associated with the Boralex corporation. The Legault government simply annulled the project without even meeting with the Innu representatives. It added insult to injury by suggesting in a most contemptible manner, that Hydro-Québec could offer financial compensation to the Innu nation, which in its view would settle the issue.

All of the above shows that the financial oligarchy is in need of a government arrogant to the extreme, which the people will simply not tolerate.

The government is also intent on tabling a bill before the holiday break, whereby those in charge at the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), the Permanent Anti-Corruption Unit (UPAC) and the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) will have to be nominated by two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly and no longer by the government executive alone. Time will tell what the specific aim of this measure is, but this in no way indicates a valorization of the role of MNAs, as purported by the Premier. Nor does it alter anything with regard to the fact that the public authority has been stripped of all its features except those of police powers, the arbitrary powers of the state, which the government executive and institutions such as UPAC are part and parcel of.

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Reflections

The People's Demands Must Prevail

During the elections, workers from various sectors put forward their claims as an electoral issue, to be considered with utmost importance. For example, in the health care sector, they said that an improvement in health care begins with the improved working conditions of those employed in the field. One of the main factors that had to be addressed immediately, because of its inhumane and downright dangerous nature for nurses and patients, is mandatory overtime. It was stated loud and clear that it had to be done away with and in several instances candidates were called upon to take a stand on the matter.

In other words, society suffers from serious problems, many of which are directly related to working conditions, but also to the fact that people have no say over such fundamental issues as the direction of the economy and the natural and human environment.

Once in power, the government tells us that all new elected officials will "get down to business" on November 27, almost two months after being elected. In the meantime, they will "familiarize themselves with their files." In the two weeks during which they will sit, they will address the issues the CAQ has put back on the agenda, namely "secularism" and the "immigration threshold."

In other words, after that entire "representative democracy" exercise, elected members will pursue an agenda that has nothing to do with what the workers are putting forward and consider of the utmost urgency. This means that the issue of representatives elected by the workers to sort out the problems they face in everyday life, and which require immediate solution is more than ever before the order of the day.

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The Issue of Values and Religious Symbols

The Legault government has now committed to introducing and adopting, within a year if possible, a supposedly secular law that will prohibit persons considered to be in a position of authority in the public service, namely police officers, crown prosecutors, judges, prison guards and teachers, from wearing religious symbols.

According to Legault, his government has received a strong and clear majority mandate to proceed with such legislation, or any other law or measure it deems appropriate. He claims to be responding to the consensus that exists in Quebec on this issue according to him, that he is merely expressing the values of Quebeckers. He says it is time to put this issue of religious symbols "behind us." The monopoly-owned media echoed his views by stating that such a legislation could put an end to tensions existing within the population on the issue by settling it once and for all. Obviously, this is not the case, as the bill will only exacerbate tensions and heighten the danger of civil conflict in Quebec. And if the government invokes the "notwithstanding" clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to exempt its bill from constitutional and other legal obligations, that derogation would only be valid for a period of five years.

So here we have one of the first bills that will be tabled as a result of the biased and undemocratic electoral process that Quebeckers have just experienced. By way of that process, a fraudulent majority was declared, obtained through with 37.7 percent of valid votes cast and 24.5 percent of the registered voters. All the electoral issues were defined and imposed by the cartel parties of the National Assembly, their private marketing firms and the monopoly-owned media. It is very revealing that the first measure invoked by the government is one aimed at provoking as much tension, division and diversion as possible amongst Quebeckers. Adding insult to injury, the government has now declared that it will also ban the wearing of the chador throughout the public service, something that it did not even raise during the election. Meanwhile it is laying the groundwork to intensify the privatization of public services and accelerate the all-round sellout of Quebec to private supranational monopolies and oligopolies, in the name of prosperity.

This shows to what extent the current political process is an obstacle to sorting out any problem whatsoever. It deprives the people of the power to decide the issues that concern them in a calm atmosphere where they themselves could discuss the problems and develop political unity in order to resolve them. This unrepresentative democracy must be renewed. It must be replaced by a mass democracy in which the decision-making power rests in the hands of the people themselves as it should, as it is their interests and rights which are at stake.

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Quebec Must Not Be Used for
NATO Military Training

From October 19 to 21, the troops of the next contingent to take part in Operation REASSURANCE used the regional county municipalities (MRCs) of Portneuf and Jacques-Cartier for training. They surveyed the roads of Portneuf, Cap-Santé, Saint-Basile, Pont-Rouge, Fossambault-sur-le-Lac, Sainte-Catherine-de-la-Jacques- Cartier, Shannon and Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier on foot or in armoured vehicles.

The activities were presented as safe for the population and harmless. Scenarios played out in public areas were concentrated on the observation and collection of information for military recognizance purposes. Tactical settings on private lands included an ambush and a chemical, bacteriological, radiological and nuclear threat. They involved the use of personal weapons, blank ammunition and pyrotechnics.

Just like the spying exercises on the streets of Montreal in September, in the middle of the provincial election, the exercises are aimed at ensuring that soldiers are able to conduct operations in urban areas. They are treated as routine activities over which the people have no control, as Quebec is already integrated into the U.S. imperialist war machine.

The way the exercises are presented, which attempts to hide their warmongering nature, is aimed at diverting attention from the fact that the training of these forces is part of the aggressive activities of NATO, a key player in the imperialist domination of the world on behalf of U.S. imperialism, of which Canada is an active member.

Operation REASSURANCE deploys the military forces of many countries in Central and Eastern Europe to reinforce "NATO's collective defence" and "the strength of Allied solidarity." In January 2019, these troops will join the "Forward Presence Battle Group in Latvia" as part of Operation REASSURANCE. NATO has deployed four similar battle groups in the Baltic States and Poland.

On the eve of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the demands for Canada to withdraw from NATO, for Quebec and Canada to be zones of peace and for an anti-war government are more urgent than ever. The slogan "Never Again" guides us in our actions. It is our collective responsibility to contribute to genuine peace, the sovereignty of nations and the security of all.


The members of the next contingent taking part in Operation REASSURANCE, in Latvia, were at the training exercise on the Valcartier Base and in the regional county municipalities of Portneuf and Jacques-Cartier from October 17-23, 2018.

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Workers' Struggles

Liquor Board Workers Stage Walkout Against
Unjust Disciplinary Measures and to Demand Meaningful Negotiations

During the afternoon of October 26, close to 5,500 unionized workers at the Quebec Liquor Board (SAQ) staged a half-day walkout. The unannounced strike is part of the fight that SAQ workers have been waging since January 2017 to oppose precarious working conditions and demand wages corresponding to a modern standard. Their collective agreement expired in January 2017 and no significant headway has been made at the bargaining table.

The strike action was staged in response to disciplinary measures undertaken by the SAQ against union members' pressure tactics in various outlets to draw attention to their just demands. For example, some donned Halloween costumes denouncing the holding of "phantom" negotiations instead of genuine discussions based on their demands. The union decided that enough was enough and that rather than fighting the penalties imposed on individual members, in a show of solidarity all SAQ workers in all Quebec's outlets would walk out. The union is demanding that SAQ management come to its senses and engage in serious negotiations so that a collective agreement acceptable to its members can be signed.

Close to 70 per cent of SAQ workers are employed on a part-time or occasional basis, often working for only a few hours every week, while being on call almost every day. This causes a lot of issues with family life. Instead of presenting an offer that would reduce such instability, SAQ management is trying to impose even more instability to the working conditions of permanent employees, thus reducing job security overall.

Wages, on the other hand, are not even being kept on par with the cost of living. The union reports that since January, over 500 SAQ workers have left their jobs, in search of more stable working conditions and better wages. Management claims it cannot offer more as it has not been mandated to do so, forced as it is to respect the government-imposed "financial framework." This vicious circle of  irresponsibility is unacceptable for SAQ workers as well as for society as a whole. It only intensifies the increasing penetration of precarious working conditions in the economy. It is simply unacceptable that a suitable arrangement cannot be found in a modern society that would allow all workers to live in dignity. First and foremost, those who do the work must be the ones to determine suitable working conditions.

Added to all this is the threat of the privatization of the Quebec Liquor Board, as the party which now forms the majority government, the Coalition Avenir Québec, made no mystery over the years about its intentions to privatize the SAQ, either partly or fully.

Determined to fight against the precariousness of their conditions, over 2,500 unionized SAQ outlet and office workers held a general membership meeting on September 28, where they voted 96 per cent in favour of a new 18-day strike mandate, to be used when the union deems necessary.

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Aluminum Workers Fight for
Their Dignity and Rights


Announcement for rally in support of ABI workers, at 11:30 am on November 28, 2018, outside Hydro-Quebec offices in Montreal. Click to enlarge.

The Alcoa-Rio Tinto cartel has locked out 1,030 aluminum workers at the ABI smelter in Bécancour since last January. The global oligarchs have unleashed their supranational strength against the workers to extract extensive concessions that will damage not only the individual workers involved but also the economy, the Bécancour community, Quebec and Canada.

The workers organized into United Steelworkers Local 9700 confront a global company that controls much of the aluminum and alumina production worldwide. The oligarchs are using this power over the productive forces and social wealth to force workers to submit to their dictate and as a result seize even greater private profits from the value workers produce.

In this struggle, the aluminum workers are receiving broad assistance from fellow workers throughout Quebec and Canada but nothing from governments. In fact the Quebec government has directly assisted the Alcoa-Rio Tinto oligarchs by allowing them to renege on their Hydro-Québec contract to pay the state company a monthly agreed amount. The total amount of money saved by the anti-social cartel thanks to the government-orchestrated manoeuvre now surpasses 172 million since the lockout began. Growing numbers of working people are denouncing the Quebec government for this treacherous anti-social capitulation to the oligarchs and demand that it cease immediately, do its duty to the people, force the aluminum oligarchs to abide by the hydro contract and also pay all that they have so far refused to pay.

The aluminum workers also face the international intrigue of the big powers, especially U.S. imperialism that has enacted 10 per cent tariffs on aluminum imports. This has increased the market price of aluminum dramatically worldwide, allowing the Alcoa oligarchs to restart idled aluminum production facilities that had been unproductive compared with their Quebec smelters.


Delegates at USW District 3, Western Canada, convention send message of solidarity to locked-out ABI workers, October 30, 2018.

Adding to the global intrigue is the doubling of the market price of alumina since 2016. To make one ton of aluminum requires two tons of alumina. Alcoa specifically is benefitting from these price increases as its workers also produce alumina. Alcoa's global profits from refining alumina now account for 70 per cent of its aluminum business according to the Financial Post. While profiting already from the 10 per cent U.S. tariffs, Alcoa has cynically said it opposes them and has applied to the U.S. for exemptions on imports from one of the three smelters in Quebec that it operates, but not Bécancour. While Rio Tinto owns 30 per cent of the Bécancour smelter, Alcoa with its 70 per cent control is the operator.

The Alcoa/Rio Tinto dictators want to fatten their coffers even more and expand their global empire with these attacks on the Bécancour workers. If successful, the concessions it seeks from them will undoubtedly be sought from other aluminum workers in Quebec and BC.

Within the battle, the oligarchs have engaged mercenaries in a social media campaign to demoralize the locked-out workers and force them to give in to the concessions but the Bécancour workers are standing firm. The workers denounce the rants in Facebook and elsewhere that call on them to drop to their knees and accept a minimum wage and no pension if that is what it takes for the oligarchs to allow them to work.

The Bécancour workers denounce the slurs and are maintaining their 24-hours-a-day picket line and mobile pickets wherever and whenever company managers show their faces. They have called on the Quebec and Canadian working class to go all out in their support for their just cause, as the struggle of one section of the class is a crucial part of the struggle of all. They refuse to have their and their community's dignity besmirched and their standard of living and working conditions trampled in the mud. Within this struggle for their rights, a special target is the Quebec government, which has pointedly sided with the private interests of the global oligarchs in opposition to the interests of its own working people and the national and public interest.

All out to support the Bécancour aluminum workers!

Their struggle is the struggle of the entire working people for dignity and rights!

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Workers Speak Out

Work in Defence of Public Education

The funding of public education is a big topic of concern for the Autonomous Teaching Federation (FAE). The funding required is to address the need not of organizations, but of students, as well as teachers and staff working within the network. What this means is that funding must be predictable, stable, and truly respond to the needs expressed. What this also means is ending the public funding of private schools. In our opinion, sooner or later the government will have to do just that. Year in, year out close to half a billion dollars is being siphoned off by schools that often select their students to then toss them out later in the year. This results in public schools competing with private schools as well as with each other. An expression of this is the proliferation of certain pedagogical projects whereby in public schools, students are selected on the basis of the results they have obtained, which runs counter to the plan we developed during the Quiet Revolution by putting in place the public education network. In particular, what has pushed public schools into such competition is the funding of private schools, the issue of a diploma driven by results, the obtaining of success markers on the basis of percentages set in terms of school results, etc. From that point on, we are no longer dealing with student needs.

The issue of funding is not only a question of the financing of services, it is also about placing funding in the service of a vision of the role of public education. Once public education is introduced, it must ensure social cohesion, it must allow for equal opportunity and must be provided the means for the realization of that vision.

Over the last ten years, the public education network has been deprived of $1.5 billion. The government claims that at present it is re-investing in education, while all it is doing is reimbursing a portion of what has been taken out of public education. In its upcoming budget, not only must the government fully reimburse all that has been cut, it must also inject new money. This must be done based on needs, not government budgetary choices.

People working in the network and those using the public education network must be given access to those resources. The Education Act stipulates that public education must address the needs of students attending those schools. Nowhere in the law is "taking into account the ability of the government to pay" found.

Another significant sphere of work is the revalorization of the teaching profession. Action must be taken, particularly within a situation of a glaring shortage of teaching personnel. The question that must be asked is why is there such a shortage. Although part of it has to do with demographics, it is not the only reason. Teachers are dropping out, the rate of psychological distress is going up, as is the rate of absenteeism, people are quitting and deserting the profession. This all puts added pressure on the network. The action required has to be geared towards better working conditions as well as the inclusion, in the Education Act, of the recognition that teachers are the primary pedagogical experts. What must be defined and recognized is that teachers are the only ones capable of choosing pedagogical approaches. At present pedagogical methods are being forced on us and the ability of teachers to make choices on such issues is being questioned. Teachers have been under-valued, their expertise not recognized and their judgement placed in doubt. We want to recuperate that pedagogical space because at present it is occupied by lots of people who have either never been in a classroom or have not been in one for quite some time.

The profession has been under-appreciated through years of cuts. What have governments done to justify such cuts? Other than the kind of government talk such as that, "we are in a difficult economic situation," it was said there is a lot of money in the network, but the results are not there. They demonstrated that the results were not there by putting achievement goals in place. As of that time, there was no longer any talk about students. From the time they demonstrated that the network was not producing the results they wanted, their fingers were pointed at the teachers. While doing that, they cut resources in services, placed a greater workload on teachers, deprived them of the means to do their work. This then allowed them to set the stage, in the public space, for the following round to be played out: the denigration of the work carried out by teachers, the questioning of their ability to make choices, to be trained, to evaluate, to critically judge the work they are asked to do.

The work of the FAE in defence of public education is based on exchange with our members, within the levels of organization we have provided ourselves with. In order for that work to speak to the people, it must first be based on the reality of our members. This is also work to make the people aware, of informing them, of making our claims known to them and to governments, so that they can be heard and implemented. With regard to public opinion, it is crucial to be able to explain a certain number of issues so that the people can join in the debate. First and foremost, the struggle for public education is a citizen-oriented fight, as public education is a common good.

The work that we are doing is to ensure that the human beings we are working with are able to become critical thinkers, citizens capable of questioning, of forming their own opinions. Above and beyond our own working conditions, we are also working to ensure that Quebec society benefits from public education. This is not only a struggle that rests on our shoulders, but also on those of the entire population.

Sylvain Mallette is the President of the FAE.

(Translated from original French by Chantier politique.)

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Governments Must be Transparent in Their Actions and Accountable to the People

The conflict we are experiencing right now exposes a flaw in the Labour Code with respect to scabs. Although we have anti-scab legislation in Quebec, it is almost impossible to apply. It's very legalistic -- you must present evidence, go on site, catch people in the act. That's not easy to do because we have to notify our employer before going into the plant. We need to have an inspector. We have a lovely law but it is difficult to apply and this prolongs conflicts. The legislation on scabs is supposed to strike a balance, so that the employer cannot run his business the way he wants during a lockout or strike. However, it is almost impossible to apply. We see it in our plant. We saw it at Delastek where it took around three years before the decision was rendered to remove the scabs from the plant. The Labour Code must be revised to give teeth to the anti-scab law so that the balance of power between the parties is more equitable.

We also have a problem with Hydro-Québec. Often when governments negotiate agreements with companies where workers are affected, they are not consulted. Hydro-Québec negotiated the lockout clauses with the employer. The lockout involves another party, but we were not at the table when that clause was negotiated -- when they decided to put in the agreement that a lockout is considered a force majeure. Even though a lockout affects the workers, we were not able to give our point of view.

Another example was in 2008, when the government negotiated minimum job levels with the company without our being able to present our views on what job levels are. There were things in the employment levels that we were not comfortable with, that were detrimental to our workers. Governments or state corporations sign such contracts with companies that affect workers but don't even bother to consult them. We're experiencing this in the case of force majeure as well as with regard to the minimum job levels.

This was signed in 2008, but later during the economic crisis, the employer wanted to cut jobs at our plant. The employer wanted to lay off workers and demanded that the collective agreement be opened, threatening to close shop if it wasn't. At the time, I had met with the Liberal government minister responsible for the file, to request that at the least, what had been signed with regard to the minimum job levels be respected, because according to those levels the employer did not have the right to lay workers off. We finally had to intervene, search everywhere to find the agreement, as it was not available. These are things that have been negotiated, that affect the workers, but the workers are not there to defend themselves when they are being negotiated. Then we have to run after the agreements because they're secret, or are part of a government decree, and so on. We're forced to make inquiries because there is no transparency on the part of government when they are negotiated. We ended up finding it through access to information. They always have a reason, they tell us it's a matter of confidentiality, because of business contracts. They always have a reason not to make the agreements they sign with the multinationals accessible.

In our current dispute, Hydro-Québec has so far lost close to $200 million in revenues because the employer decided on a lockout and the agreement with Hydro-Québec considers the lockout a force majeure, which releases the company of its obligations. If the employer had been required to pay the $200 million, the dispute may have been resolved. It would have had to do a lot more explaining about its decision to lock us out.

With regard to governments, it's an issue of transparency. It is very difficult to have transparency and governments in place have a duty to be transparent in the actions they take and in being accountable to the people for their actions. Governments often talk about accountability, but are they accountable to the people once elected?

I also want to say that the Legault government should not get carried away with its so-called big majority. The fact is that it was elected by less than 25 per cent of voters registered on the electoral list. It should show some humility and not think that it can do as it pleases.

Clément Masse is the President of the United Steelworkers Local 9700 at the ABI aluminum smelter.

(Translated from original French by Chantier politique.)

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For the Record

Is There a Shortage of Manpower in the Construction Industry?

Declarations about the shortages in manpower currently abound in Quebec. Business representatives are complaining about not being able to fill the positions available in their establishments and these cries of alarm are repeated ad nauseum by the traditional media. One of the latest statements, to that effect, is that the construction industry is suffering from from the same problem to the point of having to call on the government. So the question is, "Is there a lack of manpower in the construction industry?" Before answering "yes" or "no," we first need to briefly describe the prevailing situation in construction.

An Economically Unstable Industry

The construction industry is mainly characterized by instabilities of all kinds. First, these instabilities are of an economic nature. Investment varies from one year to the next and, in the short term, one can easily observe a period of overheating and another of intense crisis during each decade. During a crisis period, tens of thousands of jobs are lost and once the crisis is over, tens of thousands of workers must be recuperated or trained, swelling the labour pools until the next crisis.

The periodic economic crises and the inability of our neo-liberal governments to respond adequately to the frenzy of their free-market policies are the main culprits for the current state of affairs.

Difficult Working Conditions

With no seniority or job security, insignificant recall rights in practice, excessive constraints on working hours, no anti-scab measures, conditions imposed unilaterally by special laws adopted by a government acting out of self-interests as it provides 68 per cent of the jobs, the construction industry is experiencing real difficulty in providing itself with a labour relations regime on par with its importance in the economic scheme of things.

Workplace Health and Safety

The construction industry is the sector of economic activity that has the worst record in terms of health and safety at the workplace. Over the past 10 years alone, 525 workers have died on Quebec work sites. Although construction workers only represent five per cent of the total active workforce, their sector account for 25 per cent of deaths.

More generally, it is estimated that there were some 58,000 accidents and over 6,000 occupational illnesses during the same period.

Once again, one can only conclude that the human person counts for far less than the economic imperatives set by the market.

Faulty and Self-Serving Industry Management

In addition, a parastatal administration governs the building sector: the Quebec Construction Commission (CCQ). Moreover, the ties between the CCQ and the government are so "incestuous" that it is currently impossible to know whether the CCQ is leading the Ministry of Labour or whether the Ministry still has a say in this sector of activity.

The CCQ is incapable of adequately combating undeclared work, of adequately managing labour mobility, of meeting the placement requirements it granted itself the exclusive control over. Furthermore, far from adopting policies of transparency, the CCQ favours obscurantism and confidentiality. It is trying to replace the unions, proving itself to be less efficient and poorer in results. In fact, Quebec's Auditor General recently severely criticized its management of several files relating to workforce management. Many of the industry's players continue to denounce its inability to provide the results expected of an administration serving the population.

Channeling the Workforce

If a construction worker is only employed between 700 and 1,200 hours per year, depending on his trade or occupation, or because of the region that he lives in or as a result of business cycles, then understandably, getting a job is one of his main concerns. One must also keep in mind the fact that on average, a construction site has an average duration of 2 1/2 months.

Which is why over time, the industry set up regional labour pools. A worker living in one of Quebec's major administrative regions would normally prefer to work in his or her home region. But, as we will see, the reality is very different.

First, because economic development varies from one region to another. The centres receive most of the investment, although occasionally some regions may benefit from massive investments. Such disparities have a direct effect on the labour force as, depending on the regional employment rate, the labour force one region may invade another. The other important factor is that in times of shortage in his region, outside labour may be brought in. But, in such a case, the employer must assume the costs of transportation, accommodation and food. However, the employer also has the opportunity to bring someone new into the industry. He will choose the most economical solution. But economical for whom?

Once again, we come face to face with the current economic imperatives. Rather than managing employment in a responsible manner in order to foster a provincial workforce development plan, at the end of the day the preference is to nickel and dime. What does it cost the citizenry of Quebec for the loss of a large part of their active population, in terms of EI benefits, social assistance, or transfer payments because of a lack of vision?

Consequences Regarding the Workforce

Statistics don't lie. We know that 18 per cent of workers leave the industry within one year of entry. After 5 years, 45 per cent of workers will have left the industry.

45 per cent of those who leave talk about job instability, 21 per cent about restrictive hours, 11 per cent experience health or health and safety problems at work and 16 per cent were hired only to fill a temporary position.

The inflammatory statements from senior management at the CCQ about a climate of intimidation prevailing on the building sites don't hold water, as only three per cent of those who leave the industry raise the issue of relationships with coworkers, the boss or the union.

In terms of pay, 31 per cent of those who leave will receive better pay in their new job. Roughly another 29 per cent of workers who leave will obtain equivalent remuneration. In short, 60 per cent of those who leave the industry seem to improve their lot.

The following observation can be made: for the last 10 years, despite the tens upon tens of thousands of workers who joined the industry, the net inflow is 1,895, or just 1.2 per cent of the labour pool.

Thus it is not surprising that the industry claims to be looking for 10,000 new workers each year.

To provide the construction industry with a skilled and competent workforce essentially depends on the humanization of work and its environment.

The shortage, if it exists, will never be filled as the labour pools turn out to be empty vessels. Which is why it can be said that construction does not suffer from a problem of shortage, but from an inability to retain its workers.

Conclusion

One must therefore conclude that there is no shortage of manpower in the construction industry. The sector is actually managed according to operating methods dating back to the early 20th century.

As the long as the modes of production remain uncivilized in one of the most active industries, both in terms of its investments ($46.8 billion in 2017) and its payroll ($6.1 billion in 2017), or its number of workers (157,086 in 2017), we will remain in a deficit situation in human as well as social and economic terms.

Richard Goyette is a lawyer in Social and Labour Law and a former Director General of the FTQ-Construction.

(Translated from original French by Chantier politique.)

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