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Quebec’s municipal workers fight back

Chantal Sundaram

May 20, 2016

On May 12, thousands of unionized Quebec municipal workers greeted elected municipal officials with a protest at the opening of the annual sitting of the Union of Quebec Municipalities (UMQ) in front of the Congress Centre in Quebec City.

The Quebec government is considering a bill that would limit the rights of workers to freely negotiate by giving elected officials the power to impose working conditions on their municipal employees.

The protesting workers, members of CUPE, were there to remind officials that interfering in negotiations is a direct and unacceptable attack on a fundamental right of all Quebec workers. They were also there to target Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, who was present to give the opening speech of the UMQ meeting. In the words of Denis Bolduc, Secretary-General of CUPE-Québec: “This would be unprecedented in the history of labour relations in Quebec! Elected officials want to offload their financial problems onto the backs of their employees. It’s odious!”

The protest saw some tense moments with the riot police, who held the line for more than an hour in front of workers who were blocking the entrance to the Congress Centre, but there were no arrests. The Quebec government describes its intentions in giving new powers to employers as restoring the balance of power between municipalities and the unions. It is part of a new fiscal pact with municipalities.

Marc Ranger, the Quebec director of CUPE, told the crowd: “We got screwed with Bill 15 (on pensions), but now, there’s no way! This fight, we’re going to win. The government better stop listening to two or three overexcited mayors.”

Union leaders targeted the new president of the UMQ, Sherbrooke mayor Bernard Sévigny, accused of having received illegal party contributions. The protesters promised to « greet » him again when he holds a meeting in Sherbrooke May 19.

This is yet another example of the ongoing struggle against austerity in Quebec, which only rarely makes the news in English Canada, but continues nonetheless.

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