Common Front SISP-CSN-FTQ organized a demonstration to remind the government of their demands
by Brian Lapuz
Teachers, nurses and other government workers marched in solidarity with their families to Prime Minister Jean Charest’s office last Saturday afternoon, in the advent of the Common Front 2010 contract negotiation’s deadline on March 31.
At noon when workers from all across the province congregated to Dorcherster Square, on the corner of René-Lévesque Blvd. and Peel St.
Many arrived in buses and some travelled 16 hours or more to get to the city. Workers from the North had to fly before taking a bus. They marched to Charest’s Montreal office by way of St.Catherine, at 1 p.m. The attendance was well above the 50,000 people projected by the union leader.
“We are 75,000 strong, representing almost half a million public and para-public sector workers across Quebec,” one of the agitators shouted.
At the end of the march, a stage was set at the corner of McGill College Ave. and Président-Kennedy Ave. for agitators and union leaders addressing the workers.
The demonstrators stood shoulder-to-shoulder all the way back to Saint Catherine St. and were so numerous that the tail of the march could not go beyond Mansfield St.
Marxist, anarchist and other leftist groups were also present in solidarity with the workers.
Uniting 475,000 Quebec government workers, Common Front 2010 is composed of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ) and the Secrétariat intersyndical des services publics (SISP).
Common Front demands a salary increase of 3.75 percent per year over three years, which they said amounts to $3 billion during that period.
According to the Quebec President of the Treasury Board, Monique Gagnon-Tremblay, Common Front’s demands are “exaggerated” and are closer to $8 billion.
Instead the Charest government is offering a seven percent pay increase over a five-year period.
Also, according to the Quebec Institute of Statistics, Quebec government workers are 7.7 percent behind in salaries on average compared to private sector workers.
Moreover, Sylvie Perron, President of the Dawson Teachers Union (DTU), said that the public sector has had trouble with recruiting employees.
“The salaries are low and the working conditions are bad, so no one wants to work in hospitals and schools,” Perron said.
The DTU said government workers only want to provide proper services to the populations. With inflation rising higher than what they are being paid, Fred Jones, Second Vice-President of the DTU, said that the whole population will suffer if the negotiations fail.
“If we went back to the tax system of the 1990s, [the Quebec government] would have the money [to pay its workers],” said Jones. “For the past 10 years, taxes for higher income earners and companies have been going down.”
At the last negotiations in 2005, the workers were legislated back to work with a salary freeze for two years, followed by a pay increase of two percent per year for four years and an anti-striking law.
“[Their conditions] never improve; the government always imposes their will on teachers and nurses,” saidCharles Couturier, a fourth semester Pure & Applied Science student.
Michel Arsenault, President of the FTQ, addressed the issue for nurses during the demonstration. He said that the fact that 60 percent of health sector workers work part-time is bad for society.
“The worst thing that can happen to our society is mass privatizations,” Arsenault added.
With this year’s provincial deficit of $4.7 billion, Martine Molière, a nurse who works at Gatineau Hospital present at the demonstration said that the negotiations are certain to fail. The anti-striking law will also expire on March 31.
“When the negotiation fails, we will go on strike. Everyone knows this,” Molière said.
The idea of a strike worries some students like Melanie Haennel, a second semester Social Science student.
“I wouldn’t be happy about it, I want to graduate on time,” Haennel said.
Omar Orbegozo Zavala, a Language student in his third semester, also agrees.
“I support them as long as it doesn’t screw up my education; there has to be a balance,” he said.