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May Day in Gatineau: a step towards confrontation?

By: 
Benoit Renaud

May 9, 2015

The May Day demonstration in Gatineau, with about 2000 participants, was the largest demonstration of any kind to hit the fourth largest city in Québec in many years.

Called by a coalition of all public sector unions (including those not part of the Front commun like FIQ, for nurses and FAE, teachers), it was mostly made up of union contingents—with identifiable banners, placards and flags. An anti-capitalist contingent, some students and teachers from the local university, a small QS contingent and members of community groups made up the rest. There was a lot of noise and cheering, but very little political content with few slogans and only two speeches.

The march started in front of the office of the local Liberal Member of the National Assembly, which indicated clearly that the target was the current Quebec government with its austerity agenda and authoritarian tactics. The collective agreements of 500,000 public sector workers are currently in negotiations and there is likely to be a major clash between that section of the union movement and the government this fall. Considering how inflexible the Couillard government has been since its election a year ago, the scenario of a negotiated settlement is highly unlikely.

This will be a significant challenge for a union movement entrenched in a strategy of compromises with bosses and the state and weakened by divisions and a bad reputation. The only way to win this fight is to unite not only the whole union movement (including the private sector) but also the broader social movements and all the popular opposition to the current government.

In order to do so, a common set of demands needs to be formulated, including some addressing the concerns of non-unionized workers, retiaries and students. The current coalition against austerity policies, which does include all the significant organizations, needs to move beyond organizing the occasional protest or informal discussion and become the parliament of the popular movement against that government. We can’t wait until the next election, in 2018, to defeat them. 

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