Quebec Labour and Independence

By Paquette, Pierre | Canadian Dimension, December 1995 | Go to article overview

Quebec Labour and Independence


Paquette, Pierre, Canadian Dimension


Quebec labour has been a major component of a broad front in favour of a "Yes" vote on Quebec independence.

Quebec trade unions, and particularly the CSN (acronym for the Confederation des syndicats nationaux or Confederation of national trade Unions, founded in 1921), have in fact long been on the forefront of defending the interests of their members not only as workers but also as part of a community which has had to struggle to maintain its national identity. This struggle began long before the Parti Quebecois was founded in 1968 and, in fact, many years before Canadian nationalism was to become a major driving force in the labour movement in English-speaking Canada.

For the Quebec labour movement, independence is perceived not as an end in itself, but as an important step in creating conditions more favorable to social and economic progress for the workers and ordinary citizens of Quebec. The overlapping and conflicting jurisdictions between Ottawa and Quebec City have led to virtual government paralysis in areas as crucial for development and job creation as occupational training. There exists a complete consensus in Quebec, including even the business community, that occupational training in Quebec should be under the exclusive control of the Quebec government. However, given the low prospect for any type of renewed federalism under the present federal government which, despite its fiscal difficulties, has been merrily proceeding to create parallel structures beside those already set up by Quebec, a mandate in favour of sovereignty appears to be the only means of ending the paralysis in this and other areas of government intervention.

The CSN and other Quebec trade unions are involved in the campaign for independence for other reasons as well. The pro-independence forces are a broad front which, on the whole, is more progressive than those forces generally identified as pro-federalist, which tend to be dominated by big business and their allies. However, the pro-independence front is by no means a monopoly of the Left. Quebec unions consider that their capacity to be effective in a post-independence Quebec will depend to a large extent on their involvement in the struggle for independence and on the efforts they exert so as to influence the manner in which independence takes place.

The CSN in particular has stated that is supports independence insofar as an independent Quebec is democratic, respects individual and collective rights, notably those of indigenous peoples and the English-speaking minority, strives to achieve full employment and a more equal distribution of income, and plays a progressive and cooperative role in the world community.

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