Report by Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) correspondent
Nearly 100,000 public sector workers, from all regions of Quebec, a state in Canada, demonstrated on Saturday, 23 September to make themselves heard as one voice to demand humane working conditions. The demonstrators included workers of childcare centres, teachers, students and parents. They came from all corners of Quebec to show the government that they do not accept its dictate and the terrible working and living conditions it imposes on them. A wave of banners, flags, caps and scarves fluttered with the slogan: “We with One Voice!” marking the unity of all public sector workers in their demand for working conditions worthy of their social responsibilities.
The demonstration ended at the Place des Festivals, where all the speakers affirmed that it is the hundreds of thousands of public service workers who provide services like health and education to the whole population. They said that the vast majority of people of Quebec support their struggle. They pointed out that the government is refusing to negotiate on the demands of the workers and is therefore responsible for the disruption of these services.
A striking aspect of the demonstration was the number of young people, the next generation, expressing their enthusiasm for viable public networks of health care and education. For many, this was the first time they participated in an action of its kind. The fact of being together like this with all the energy that emanates from it was a great encouragement for the battles that are on the horizon.
In Quebec, public sector collective agreements expired on March 31. This is a time public sector workers face the most brutal anti-social offensive and are fighting back. Their unions have once again formed a Common Front to raise awareness about their demands, their working conditions, and the urgent need for public funding of the public sector so that the needs of the society are met.
All these workers have been negotiating their contracts since March 31, 2023. What’s more, workers in the health and education sectors also have to deal with two bills that modify their working conditions and intensify the private sector’s takeover of these sectors.
In health, the main demands are to reduce the ratio of patients and students for whom workers are responsible. A safe patient-to-staff ratio is decisive in protecting the population’s health.
Quebec teachers and their colleagues are making the same demand. By recognizing the needs of young people, whether in terms of mental, social or physical health, or in terms of pedagogical support, education workers are also assuming their social responsibilities by demanding that the government establish conditions that enable them to meet these needs.
It is known that a public system is far less expensive than a private system whose aim is to guarantee profits of private providers. Everyone also knows that a public system can be administered efficiently and that in order for this to happen, it must be provided with the newest technological advances and people must be enabled to flourish.
“For us who have borne the burden of keeping education, health care, social services, higher education and government agencies going throughout the crisis, the pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated the problems inherited from decades of austerity: outdated facilities, disorganized networks, cumbersome administration, understaffing and overwork. Despite the uncertainties, the improvisations and the emergency decrees, we stood firm,” the Common Front pointed out.
On the question of wages, the Common Front pointed out that after decades of austerity, cuts and wage freezes, the demands of public sector workers to make up lost wages and fall in working conditions are justified and essential to ensure good public services.