PQ Minority Government for Quebec

by Johan Boyden

Quebec headed to the polls on Sept. 4 for a historic election. The Liberals, including leader Jean Charest, went down to defeat, as voters granted a slim minority government to the Parti Québécois (PQ) led by Pauline Marois.

Supporters of the Parti Quebecois celebrate their election victory

The PQ’s first act will be to cancel the tuition fee hike and abolish Law 78, which effectively criminalized the student strikers. Their platform also called to abolish tuition increases until 2018, eliminate the health tax, reconsider additional fees for Hydro Quebec usage, increase taxes and fees on natural resource exploitation, expand daycare spaces, and enact Employment Insurance reforms by repatriating EI to Quebec. Continue reading

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Quebec’s Bill 78 Shifts the Struggle to a Battle for Democracy and the Right to Dissent

Rebel Youth Montreal Bureau

Last night the Charest Liberal government tabled its repressive Duplessis-style legislation while thousands of protesters marched well past mid-night in the streets of Quebec City and Montreal, waving flags, chanting and even burning a draft of the repressive law.

Bill 78 passed this afternoon with the right-wing CAQ party voting in favour, propping-up the precarous posistion of the Charest Liberals who are currently holding onto a majority of only one vote (following the resignation of the Minister of Education last week).  Links to the law in English are below.

The vote passed 68-48 at about 5:30 p.m. Continue reading

Students-Labour-Environmentalists Unite for “Quebec Spring”

by Marianne Breton Fontaine and Johan Boyden, based on a presentation given by Marianne, leader of the YCL in Quebec, to YCL student activists

After almost eighty days of protest, the Québec student strike is entering a record 11 weeks. After 250,000 students and their allies from community and labour groups flooded downtown Montreal with a river of people on March 22, another enormous demonstration was held on Earth Day, April 22.

Close to 300,000 people were in the street ‑ students, environmentalists, labour activists and others from diverse backgrounds. The rally, linked explicitly with the student struggle, showed the unprecedented mounting public anger against with the Charest Liberals and strong support for pro‑people and pro‑nature policies and a “Québec spring.”

Making History

The Québec student strike is one of the longest student protests in North American history and has seen some of the biggest mobilizations in Canadian history. Continue reading

Air Canada Wildcat Sparked by a Sarcastic Exchange

by Stephanie Findlay, Lesley Ciarula Taylor, and Alyshah Hasham
Toronto Star

A sarcastic exchange between Air Canada employees and federal labour minister Lisa Raitt was all it took to set off a nation-wide wildcat strike.

Raitt was walking through Toronto Pearson International Airport Thursday evening when three Air Canada ground workers began heckling her.

“Workers started clapping and saying, ‘Thanks for taking our right to strike,’” said ramp worker Geoff Ward.

The trio was slapped with a three-day suspension. Ultimately, 37 employees received some kind of penalty.

By 10:30 pm, the ground workers, members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), were banding together for a brazen wildcat which would last 13 hours.

Employees in Vancouver, Montreal and Quebec City followed in solidarity, throwing Air Canada’s domestic flight schedule into chaos for the day.

It’s a confrontation nine years in the making. To keep the airline from bankruptcy, unions have agreed for their membership to take pay cuts, delayed pension payments, salary freezes and layoffs.

Today, the company is faring better, but the relationship between management and employees is battered by chronic negotiations, government intervention and talk of a discount airline.

As of Friday evening, the peace between Raitt and the union was tenuous.

“We encourage the parties to resolve this internal dispute, return to work and restore the confidence to the travelling public,” said a statement released by Raitt’s office.

“We’re making our members fully aware that if they decide to walk off the job and protest anything they could be fired,” said IAMAW spokesman Bill Trbovich.

“As it stands right now everyone is back to work with the exception of three guys who were suspended last night,” he said.

“I hesitate to say everything is back to normal.”

Air Canada has been plagued by labour troubles for the past year. The airline and its pilots and mechanics have been in a bitter contract feud that recently prompted the federal government to step in with legislation banning strikes or lockouts at the airline.

Ottawa also had to intervene in contract disputes involving the airline’s flight attendants and its customer service agents.

Air Canada’s stock price remained stable at 82 cents a share, but S&P placed the airline on credit watch with negative implications. The rating agency worried about labour disruption and the possibility Air Canada would be on the hook for severance packages for laid off Aveos employees.

Those booking flights also said the company took a hit.

Travel agent Maria Stenardo booked an April flight for a client whose only request was: “not Air Canada.”

Stenardo, of Etobicoke’s Belview Travel Services, says they are reluctant to book Air Canada flights until the labour dispute is resolved.

“We like Air Canada…but we just wish they’d fix it once and for all, for both parties,” she said.

More than 200 Air Canada flights in and out of Pearson International Airport and dozens more flights in and out of Montreal’s Pierre Trudeau International Airport and the Quebec City and Vancouver airports were hit by the walkouts.

“Lisa Raitt came on one of our flights. Got heckled…Entire ramp walked out at YYZ (Pearson),” said a text received by one striker Thursday night shortly after 10 p.m.

“Corporate security was trying to provoke us,” said baggage worker Pascal Leroux, 43. “The reaction was heavy-handed.”

It turned ugly. An Air Canada customer service employee was spat on by an angry passenger who had been swearing at the picket line.

Police moved in and the spitter came back shortly afterwards to apologize, a man who identified himself as the Air Canada employee’s husband said.

“The public doesn’t understand. They think we’re overpaid monkeys,” said ramp worker Randy Hale.

Striking ground workers were circulating a document explaining their wildcat.

“The use of forced overtime and the systematic and persistent discipline of employees without due process with the heavy-handed tactics they use to intimidate and demoralize the workforce must cease.

“We want a ruling from the CIRB (Canadian Industrial Relations Board) on whether or not we are an essential service.”

Airport workers belonging to the CAW and CUPE unions joined the strikers with signs. A purple bus belonging to CUPE 966 arrived at midmorning with President’s Choice chocolate chip cookies and water.

One customer service worker said she was there because the suspensions “were the icing on the cake. The meat and potatoes of it is that our right to strike has been stripped away.”

The Government of Canada was opposed to the strike, threatening to enforce fines of up to $1,000 a day for employees and $100,000 for the union, IAMAW.

Though most wildcat strikers were working by noon, about a dozen others remained outside. The cluster of militants booed as workers walked through the terminal.

“We’re not going back to work until we get a promise from Air Canada at the negotiating table,” said ground worker Sean Goveas. “The actual issues haven’t been addressed. We won’t go back if any of us are disciplined.”

At Pearson, about 50 people lined up in front of the Tim Hortons counter as stranded passengers clogged Terminal 1.

Sitting nearby was federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver, whose Toronto to Sudbury flight was cancelled. He called it “regrettable” that passengers were inconvenienced.

Jane Halas’s Vancouver to Ottawa flight stranded her in Toronto en route to visit a sick mother-in-law.

“I think they should be fired. I won’t be flying Air Canada anymore. I’ll be flying WestJet.”

Soon after the job action began, many passengers said they had no idea where their luggage was, or how they were going to get to their destinations. One passenger described the situation at the airport as “a zoo.”

Many people had to leave flights already on the tarmac until management was able take over some baggage handling duties and allow the delayed flights to continue.

In order to facilitate changes to travel plans, Air Canada has revised its ticketing policy for customers booked on flights until Sunday March 25, 2012. Those wishing to rebook can do so free of charge until the last day of April.

Later in the day, an Occupy group briefly set up camp in Lisa Raitt’s Milton office. A Facebook group calling for her resignation also popped up.

The wildcat may be over, but some say the repercussions will linger — at the customer’s expense.

Fred Lazar, an economist at York University’s Schulich School of Business and long-time airline observer, says it would be optimistic to expect smooth sailing when flying on Air Canada.

“Just because you go back to work doesn’t mean you’ll be working all that hard,” he said.

“I think some people will feel ‘why should I care about the customer if my employer doesn’t care about me?’”

*note: with files from Josh Rubin and The Canadian Press. Original article here.

Air Canada Gets Injunction to End Wildcat Strike, Some Workers Defying Order

by Stephanie Findlay, Toronto Star
A man spits onto the face of an Air Canada baggage handler during a a wildcat walkout at Toronto's Pearson International Airport early Friday.
A man spits onto the face of an Air Canada baggage handler during a a wildcat walkout at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport early Friday.  VICTOR BIRO/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A dozen or more striking Air Canada ground workers defied an injunction and their own union Friday to continue a wildcat walkout that snarled air traffic across the country.

By 11:30 a.m., the 13-hour wildcat that spread to other airports was effectively over, but not without throwing Air Canada’s domestic flight schedule into chaos for at least the entire day.

The workers in Toronto walked out Thursday night, after some of them were disciplined for heckling federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt.

Ground workers in Montreal, Quebec City and Vancouver followed for a few hours today in solidarity, further disrupting air traffic.

Air Canada asked for and won a civil injunction at midmorning. Shortly afterwards, the IAMAW (note: International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers) union learned that most of the discipline against 37 workers because of the Raitt incident had been rescinded.

“That’s what we were hoping for,” IAMAW spokesman Bill Trbovich told the Star.

“We don’t condone the strike. This is a sad situation,” he said.

*Editor’s comment: The image above captures very clearly the physical dangers faced by striking workers. Open hostility to organized labour is encouraged by the capitalists and right-wing politicos, often with violent undertones.

200,000 March Against Tuition Hikes in Montreal

Canadian Union of Public Employees

Photo: Michel Chartrand

Two days after an unacceptable budget was presented, an estimated 200,000 people marched through the streets of downtown Montreal to say no to the tuition hikes proposed by the Charest government – in the biggest demonstration in Quebec since the protests against the Iraq invasion in March 2003. The student movement has made its mark on Quebec history.

CUPE and the FTQ offered their full support to the student movement. Members of CUPE locals joined demonstrators, along with CUPE Québec president Lucie Levasseur.

In the morning, the secretary general of the FTQ, Daniel Boyer, attended a press conference in support of the movement. Surrounded by representatives of other unions and Quebec opposition parties, he explained why the FTQ and its affiliates oppose the rise in tuition. The FTQ sees it as a fundamental issue of fairness:the hikes would reduce accessibility to higher education for middle-class and low-income students.The FTQ also criticised the obstinacy of Quebec, which has refused any form of dialogue with the student movement.

In the evening, at the Metropolis and Le National, a number of artists, including Chloé Sainte-Marie, Paul Piché, Dan Bigras, Martin Leon, Manu Militari and Zapartistes, performed in support of the student cause.

*note: CUPE is Canada’s largest union and organizers primarily public sector workers. The original article on their website can be found here.

Education Costs Put Heavier Burden on Women

People’s Voice Montreal Bureau

Tuition fee increases disproportionately impact the access of women to education, an example of social policy perpetuating gender inequality, says a new policy report from a feminist research group at Concordia University in Montreal.

The report, authored by the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, was released as students mobilize for increased access to education. The Charest Liberals have announced a $1,625 across‑the‑board increase in tuition fees in Quebec. Across Canada, over the past three decades, tuition fees have increased by 400 per cent above inflation, pushing student debt to a record four billion dollars.

On average, the report notes, women are poorer than men because of pay inequality. In Canada, women workers make 71 cents on each dollar for a man for comparable work. At the same time, to fund their education, more young women students are working than ever before.

In Quebec today, over 40 per cent of students work more than 20 hours a week, considered a threshold‑level critical for academic success. Women are over‑represented in low and minimum‑wage jobs. Many students also work for free, in so‑called “co‑op” placements, for‑profit research, or other such “partnerships” with corporations.

Pay‑inequality has a very negative affect on single parents (overwhelmingly mothers) who are forced to allocate 18 per cent of family revenue on education costs for a bachelor‑level diploma, compared with two‑parent families who already spend 10 per cent of revenue for a diploma. Likewise, child support payments rarely cover the expenses of raising children. (In Ontario, for example, the average child support payments are only $3,000 a year – when they are paid).

Women’s life‑long learning, post‑secondary education or re‑training is further held back by the Harper government’s refusal to implement a country‑wide child care program. The total number of quality child care spaces is inadequate; nor is day care affordable. Even in Quebec, which has a $7 a day child care, spaces are limited with waiting lists up to three years. Child care is rarely available in the evenings, when night courses are offered.

While provincial governments justify tuition increases by claiming education is a good investment and will result in an increased salary, women and men do not get the same financial result out of their diplomas. On a life average, women will make $863,268 less than a man for the same diploma. This inequality is even greater for women from racialized and new immigrant communities.

Aboriginal women face additional obstacles to obtaining a diploma. While 25% of non‑aboriginal women hold a diploma at the age of 25, only 9% of Aboriginal women do so at same age. Breaking Treaty rights guaranteeing access to post‑secondary education, the federal government has capped First Nations and Inuit education funding at two per cent growth since 1996. Métis and non‑status students receive no funding to pursue their education.

This racist policy has likely prevented hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal students from attending college or university. About 20,000 eligible students are on current waiting lists. A dire crisis of unemployment and poverty exists in Aboriginal communities fighting the genocidal legacy of colonial policies, leaving young Aboriginal women struggling to just graduate high school.

Trade school and art and design programs, as well as apprenticeship programs to recruit women into so‑called “non‑traditional” work are also under‑funded or non‑existent.  Despite massive increases in military spending and an aggressive recruitment campaign, there have been virtually no new programs to counter the higher sexual violence, harassment and domestic abuse experienced by women training, working, or living on military bases.

The barriers women face are reflected in the character and quality of education received by students, the Institute said. Greater barriers to post‑secondary education result in fewer women instructors and tenured professors, which can be reinforced by racist and sexist hiring practices. Under pressure to immediately find a job after graduation, women students are less likely to enrol in courses such as Gender Studies. These programs have been the specific target of cutbacks by university administrations. The University of Northern British Columbia, for example, has all but eliminated its Women Studies program.

“Ensuring equitable access to state‑funded education not only supports students; it is one concrete way to support the work of post-secondary teachers, as well,” the Institute said.

Responding to the claim that governments, and particularly the Charest Liberals, do not have sufficient funds to adequately support women’s education, the Institute noted that imposing licensing fees on mining and industrial manufacturing companies using water in Quebec alone could yield $775 million annually (at a rate of just one penny for each litre used). “[C]ollectively, Quebec does have the resources required to ensure that all people have equitable access to post‑secondary education,” the Institute said.

*note: People’s Voice is a Canadian communist publication. You can visit their website here.