Negotiations in the public sector: a common front ready to use all means of pressure

This text is part of the special Syndicalism booklet

In The myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus told us to imagine the titular protagonist, happy. Let’s say that these days, the mythical writer would certainly have trouble with the union leaders as another chapter of the eternal union revival is announced: negotiations in the public sector.

History, as we know, has the unfortunate habit of repeating itself. In the Quebec labor world, particularly in the public sector, this redundancy is accompanied this year by a cruel irony since the four main unions in the public sector will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the common front of 1972… by forming a common front in the face of a government closed to their demands.

On January 25, the union league, representing 420,000 workers and made up of the CSN, the FTQ, the CSQ and the APTS, unanimously rejected the salary offer of the President of the Treasury Board, Sonia LeBel, namely an increase of 3% on 1er April 2023, then 1.5% per year until 2027. However, for the same period, the common front recalls, by means of a press release, that forecast inflation oscillates between 6.8% in 2023 and 2% in 2027.

The unions, for their part, are asking for an increase corresponding to the consumer price index plus 2% for 2023, 3% for 2024 and 4% for 2025. To this are added demands concerning the improvement of general working conditions. , work-family balance, the pension plan, group insurance and a reduction in regional disparities.

Negotiations will officially begin on March 31.

“Psychodrama” and an unhealthy climate

From the outset, the president of the CSQ, Éric Gingras, denounces the initial communication strategy of Mme LeBel. “We are in the psychodrama of negotiations with the public sector,” he said. The government says: we are in crisis, we want to help, but the problem is the bad unions. We hear about “flexibility”, it allows them to offer less. Mr. Gingras also perceives that the Legault government “brings out its caquiste petticoat”. “Mr. Legault gives us a speech that we had already heard about “the efficiency of the State” to better reach us with the private sector in the public sector. »

The COVID-19 pandemic is obviously no stranger to the generally stale climate that sets in from the start. “We were told for two years that we were guardian angels, but that does not translate into better working conditions,” insists François Enault, first vice-president of the CSN’s executive committee. “We held society at arm’s length,” adds Robert Comeau, president of the APTS. “We had no sign of life from the government before the filing [de l’offre patronale] at the end of December. »

For her part, the president of the FTQ, Magali Picard, is asking for clarity from the government. “We are ready to discuss with the government, but we are waiting for it to give us dates, for it to invite us to the table. She also recalls the importance, in the current context, of putting union raiding aside. “The discussions are currently very constructive, but if we have to come to pressure tactics, we must be able to do it together,” she explains.

A necessary unity

This inter-union tightening of elbows is considered by all to be vital for negotiations with the Legault government. François Enault already considered its importance even before the current movement. “After being elected in June 2021, I took the first steps to find out who wanted to join forces. Without having a crystal ball, I knew that the CAQ was going to be elected. We had already seen his way of negotiating in the public square to divide the world, ”he explains, citing as an example the way in which Mme LeBel speaks directly to workers in the public space, bypassing their union representatives.

This denunciation of government maneuvers in public opinion finds an echo on the side of Robert Comeau, who speaks of an act of provocation. “It is minimally an act that aims to distance the unions from their members. But what we see is that it doesn’t work. »

And what about the morale of the troops? Does the professional fatigue inherited from three years of pandemic immediately lead to militant fatigue? The four leaders of the common front recognize a fairly difficult state of affairs. “We will not hide it, morale is not at its best,” laments Mme Picard. ” The situation is critical. Our members need quick action and we, together, have heard them and we will do everything to improve the conditions as quickly as possible. Mr. Gingras, for his part, believes that despite the fatigue, the resilience of public sector workers will prevail. “These are people used to taking care of others. They will be ready to mobilize. »

“Sometimes, there is nothing better than the attitude of a boss to mobilize workers,” added Mr. Enault.

The four union leaders unanimously believe that despite the government’s rhetoric, public opinion will line up behind the common front. “Nobody currently needs to be more convinced that the public system is in bad shape,” says Picard. “Quebecers value their public services,” adds Mr. Gingras.

The four union leaders finally agree on one point: it is the government that will decide the tone to adopt during the next rounds of negotiations, emphasizing that even if we do not expect to relive the storm of 1972, the common front will go all the way and is already preparing its means of pressure, if necessary, including the strike.

This special content was produced by the Special Publications team of the Duty, relating to marketing. The drafting of Duty did not take part.

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