Negotiations in the public sector: should we fear a special law?

This text is part of the special Syndicalism booklet

The governments that have ruled Quebec over the past decades have accustomed us to resorting to special laws to break strikes in the public and parapublic sectors.

Already, in 1972, during the first Common Front, the government of Robert Bourassa had promulgated, on April 21, law 19 forcing the return to work. This had been rejected by the union coordinating council, which had urged members to challenge it. Despite a council resolution ultimately calling for compliance with the law, the courts had condemned in absentia the three union leaders, Marcel Pepin (CSN), Louis Laberge (FTQ) and Yvon Charbonneau (CEQ, now the CSQ), to one year in prison for inciting civil disobedience.

More recently, the Legault government passed a special law forcing the return to work of longshoremen at the port of Montreal, whose employment contract decided by arbitration will already expire next December.

Should such a scenario be feared in the context of current bargaining in the public sector? In the opinion of the four leaders and leader of the common front, there is nothing impossible, but we do not really believe in the imposition of such a law, although we recognize the arrogance displayed by the Legault government.

For Éric Gingras, of the CSQ, it would be a “fiasco”. “The government would shoot itself in the foot with a special law imposed on people who are struggling, in their communities, to do a day’s work,” he said. “It would be the worst message to send,” he adds, recalling that even the great popularity of the Ford government in Ontario did not prevent it from having to back down after the coup.

Magali Picard (FTQ) considers this possibility from a similar point of view. “I could anticipate it,” she explains, adding that you would have to be disconnected from reality to get there. “A special law would be really unwelcome and indelicate on the part of the State, given that we are ready [à négocier], that we have done our duty, that we have recommendations and that we are open. »

On the side of the CSN, François Enault fears the reaction of its members if such a scenario materializes. “For two years, they devoted themselves to their task, they returned to work. If the only thanks they get is a special law, I don’t even want to imagine what their response would be. »

Then, although no possibility should be ruled out, Robert Comeau (APTS) affirms that the most essential remains the unity of the members, regardless of the possible outcome. “We are already talking about preparing for the strike. Afterwards, our members are squarely with us in this, we peddled their anger. They are helpless, but we will go all the way,” he said, adding that, despite this, he does not believe in this scenario.

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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