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November 23: 600,000 workers will be on strike against the Quebec government

Chantal Sundaram

November 22, 2023
The first Quebec Common Front in 1972 was the largest strike in the history of the Canadian state. The current Common Front strike of the public sector across Quebec is shaping up to beat that record and once again beat all other strike records in North American history.
We get a sense of the magnitude of this moment in an interview with Alfonso Ibarra Ramirez, President of the Central Council of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) in the Outaouais region of Quebec, bordering on the Ottawa river.
Alfonso, what is your role in the Common Front and where do you work?
My job is at “Développement et Paix” (Development and Peace) an international solidarity organization, but I am on full-time union leave for my role as President of the CSN Central Council locally in the Outaouais. We are distributed in thirteen different regions, but the Outaouais is one of the oldest central councils of the CSN, we were founded even before the CSN itself.
How was picketing today for the Common Front strike in the Outaouais?
Today was the start of the second set of general strikes, after the first one on November 6, which went super well. Tuesday was day one of three consecutive days of strikes on November 21, 22, and 23. It went super well too: members really responded to the call, in health and in education. And it was not only us in the union but, but the population. For example, at the CEGEP de l’Outaouais students picketed with their teachers with signs, to say “we support our profs, we support accessible education, and we support the strike of the public sector.” And the public too, who came up to us to ask questions or to offer little gestures of solidarity like coffee and donuts for the lines.
What about elsewhere in Quebec?
What I’ve heard is that it was the same: good participation from public sector strikers and good support from the population. 95% of the 420,000 Common Front workers voted to strike, a historic vote that could go as far as an unlimited general strike. And we can feel it, we can see it on the picket lines: the massive vote has translated on the ground. In Montreal, in Quebec, Côte- Nord, it’s the same, excellent participation by the whole membership.
What is going on right now with negotiations? Is there any news from the government?
Not much. The Common Front held a media conference yesterday to announce that they requested a mediator for negotiations: this is a first, mediators have not been used by the Common Front before, but it is an attempt to unblock negotiations and force the government to negotiate where they should, at the central table and at the sectoral tables, not just in public. They misrepresent things to the public about their offers to the Common Front.
What are the next steps to keep up the pressure?
For now, the three days of strike continue. By our calculations, November 23 will be the biggest strike movement in the history of Canada, probably in the history of North America. Because it will not only be the 420,000 members of the Common Front but close to 600,000 on strike that day, including the FAE (Fédération autonome des enseignants, an independent teachers’ union) and the FIQ (Fédération des infermieres du Quebec, the nurses’ union) who also negotiate with the government but are not part of the Common Front. November 23 will be historic for the labour movement in North America.
Was there coordination with these other unions that are outside the Common Front?
Maybe not ahead of time, but the course of events is bringing us there. We’re in tune with each other. We are feeling workers’ solidarity at the same time, and we are glad that’s the case. And we hope that with the strong message that will be sent on the 23rd the government will move to offer the respect and dignity that workers deserve.
What is the biggest lesson of the strike so far?
The first is that public services are the product of collective social mobilization in Quebec, which founded the system we know, in education, healthcare, and all services that are in principle free and accessible but that are now being systematically dismantled by the neoliberal logic of the CAQ. It’s the same thing the Liberals did, there are many examples, not only of negotiations with the public sector but of laws that show the intent to destroy public services at any cost.
If we want quality public services, it comes through improving working conditions. If there is no respect for those who put their shoulder to the wheel, it is a system that will fall apart. We see it in the retention of labour in health and education. This year there is a shortfall of more than 5,000 profs, and we see it in hospitals and other health services, where professionals and technicians go elsewhere because they don’t get the working conditions they deserve.
So, that is the first lesson: the importance of defending public services and not letting governments like the CAQ destroy what we built collectively.
What is the strategy to involve the public in supporting the strikes?
Our strategy was to be honest about our demands, which the public thinks are just. It’s not true that Quebec doesn’t have the means to improve public sector wages. There was a survey that showed that close to 80% of the population supports the demands of the Common Front.
Do you have any final words about the importance of the Common Front?
Yes. 78% of the entire public sector are women. So, this is a government that is showing that it, once again, it doesn’t care about women and their real needs: salary, good working conditions, and respect. I think this is a very important aspect: the importance of women in the public sector, and in society, that governments systematically neglect.  
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