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Building unity between workers in Quebec and English Canada

Carolyn Egan

May 18, 2012

There is no doubt that the ongoing student strike in Quebec is the high point of struggle in the pan-Canadian state. The overwhelming rejection of the tentative settlement shows the resolve of young people who have been fighting not just for themselves but for all those coming after them. They have a sense of their role in history and are hoping to spark broader protest against the austerity agenda in the province.

With Quebec on the political map it is particularly important for those of us in English Canada to understand the principle of Quebec’s right to self-determination. This is something that we must support along with that of the First Nations.

Over the last decades most trade unions and progressive organizations in Canada have taken official policies supporting the right to self-determination. It is important that these policies be discussed again today by union members to give the rank-and-file an opportunity to fully understand the situation facing their sisters and brothers in Quebec.

The Toronto and York Region Labour Council has done exactly that. After the death of Jack Layton the council made the decision to honour his memory by developing closer relations with Quebec workers. The president and a rank-and-file delegate traveled to the province and took part in meetings organized by the Montreal Labour Council (FTQ). They were very well received by the membership.

More recently the president of the Montreal Labour Council along with two others came to Toronto and attended the 10th annual Aboriginal and Workers of Colour Conference which was dealing with equity in the age of austerity. They addressed the council on the national question as well as the Quebec student strike and the Rio Tinto lock-out.

It was an excellent meeting with most members wearing the small red square in solidarity with the student strike. At the same meeting a representative from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees spoke of the fight against austerity in Wisconsin and other US states. He and other workers who were involved in the occupation of the legislative building in Madison were visiting Toronto for the premier of “We Are Wisconsin” which depicts the struggle there.

The Quebec delegation viewed the movie and was very inspired. We are hoping to get it subtitled in French for a launch in Montreal. The coming together of the two labour councils was a very important step. A resolution was passed supporting the student strike and a background paper outlining why workers must support the right of the Quebec people to determine their own destiny was distributed.

A delegate from the building trades raised from the floor that Toronto and Montreal labour councils should twin and have an ongoing relationship. This was enthusiastically accepted and a joint declaration is being developed. There will be another trip to Montreal by Toronto delegates to make the relationship concrete. We have a lot to learn from each other.

The ongoing lock out of 800 Steelworkers at Rio Tinto in Alma, Quebec is another opportunity to put solidarity into action. Members of the Steelworkers in Toronto have twice taken a bus to the lockout, driving 13 hours and bringing support from English Canada. There are benefits being planned at the end of June in Toronto, Hamilton and Sudbury to broaden the struggle. This type of worker-to-worker support for fights against the austerity agenda whether in the public or private sector are the best way to build the unity of the working classes in Quebec and English Canada.

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