Editorial, Opinion

Support workers against the collapse of the public sector

Since the end of September, public-sector employees unionized under the Centrale des syndicats du Québec, Confédération des syndicats nationaux, the Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux and the Fédération travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, in Quebec have been marching to demand better pay and working conditions amid negotiations with the provincial government. With salaries that have fallen behind rising inflation and the increasing cost of living, public-sector workers have been consistently neglected by the provincial government. Quebec has the highest unionization rate in North America, and the common front has made a historic 95 per cent vote in favour of striking action, with some in favour of rotating strikes and others for full-fledged walkouts. While Quebec’s anti-scab legislation prevents the provincial government and companies from calling on “replacement workers” to substitute those on strike, the law also means that a workers’ strike would completely disrupt social services in the province, causing an urgent need for the reception of the public’s demands. As Quebec workers fight for their rights, citizens must stand with them against the government’s neglectful behaviour or face the collapse of the public sector. 

The COVID-19 pandemic particularly intensified problems within public services. While we celebrated nurses for their hard work, no action was taken to mitigate their material conditions. Administrators expected educators to transition to new styles of teaching with little to no aid or support. Despite acknowledging these issues, the province faced a massive teacher shortage with upwards of 8500 missing just weeks before the start of this school year. This shortage, paired with the consequences of the pandemic, has caused many students to fall behind and contributed  to mental health issues for many others. The lack of interest in those qualified to enter the public education workforce is a clear sign that this system is no longer sustainable. This burnout epidemic echoes in other social services such as healthcare, considering the loss of nearly 21,000 health workers in Quebec in less than two years. The provincial government continues to have an inadequate and weak response. Instead of allocating resources to those who actively contribute to the betterment of society and ensure the wellbeing of others, Premier François Legault has chosen to increase the salary of Members of the National Assembly, which would make them the highest-paid politicians in Canada. As the  public sector employee shortage worsens, the province refuses to recant the discriminatory Bill 21 and allow for wrongfully-terminated teachers to return to the classroom. 

The Quebec government does not value public sector workers. The redirection of blame to the workers in Premier Legault’s responses demonstrates a greater political agenda to increase private sector services. In a province where the socioeconomic gap continues to grow, further privatization, especially within the health and education sectors, will increase inequality to devastating levels. If the government continues to ignore public sector employees, the small number of those who can afford private schools and healthcare will reap the benefits, while lower-income communities who lack access to basic services continue to suffer. With even less opportunity to access needed care in a discriminatory healthcare system, immunocompromised people, communities of colour, and disabled people will suffer Quebec’s disregard. 

Informal and fugitive networks of care such as protests and peaceful demonstration are crucial for those in power to hear the demands of workers. McGill students must join these networks and stand with Quebec’s public sector workers. The “McGill bubble” has prevented students from demonstrating solidarity with the rest of the province and tying the university’s lack of regard to teaching assistants, floor fellows, and workers to broader social transformation. The common front’s action reminds us that strikes bring negotiations outside the private arena to the public sphere—giving workers power over the ruling class. Students have the chance to make their voices heard and change the narrative at McGill, and supporting the strike is essential to protecting workers’ rights in the future.

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