First Published: The Forge, Vol. 4, No. 33, September 28, 1979
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Following the founding Congress of the WCP, the Central Committee derided to launch an intense political campaign to the coming months to popularize the Party Program among the working class.
The campaign’s objective is to widely publicize the Party’s point of view on the major questions of the day, to win workers’ support and to rally workers to the ranks of the Party.
Many activities will be organized as part of this campaign: public meetings In the major cities across the country, widespread distribution of the Party’s program and newspaper, and a major fund-raising effort are among the important aspects.
The Forge will regularly report on developments in the campaign. The essence of the campaign is the involvement of the Party and its members in the major struggles presently underway. In New Brunswick, for example, the WCP is centering its activities around the Acadian people’s fight and the fishermen’s struggles. In Ontario, WCP members are waging a campaign against racism.
In Quebec, the Party aims to unmask the PQ and build a huge fightback movement against its anti-labour measures. At this time, the most important struggle is that of the 200,000 public sector Common Front members. Their demands are the demands of all workers, and the outcome of their struggle is of major significance for all.
The Forge interviewed two activists in the Common Front, Cecile Tremblay. and Pierre-Paul Roy, members of the WCP, on the stakes involved in this major political battle, and the role the WCP will play. Cecile is a union rep at Montreal’s Notre Dame Hospital, and Pierre-Paul is president of his union at Berthelet Institute, also in Montreal.
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Why do you think the PQ is offering so little; for example, the 0.5% wage increase in the first year?
Pierre-Paul: Some people say it’s a negotiation tactic; the PQ is offering very little now in order to leave itself leeway during the negotiations. We,that is the WCP, don’t think this is the main reason. The government’s offers are part of its economic strategy, which includes cutting back in state expenditures for public services in order to subsidize private enterprise.
The PQ government is committed to rapidly building up the small, medium-sized and large capitalists of Quebec. It needs a strong Quebecois bourgeoisie to realize its political plan of separation. To achieve this it needs a lot of money.
Right now, the difference between the offers to the Common Front and our demands represents about $3 billion over three years. The PQ hopes to use this money to further its own ends.
All provincial governments are cutting back in the public sector, but the PQ is particularly zealous in applying this policy. For example, it is alotting only 22% of its budget to social services, while the Ontario government is allotting 27%.
But the Common Front is jeopardizing these policies. This is one of the reasons why we say this is a political struggle.
How do the workers feel about the offers?
Cecile: Many workers thought that by getting rid of the Liberals we’d put an end to offers like these. Now we’re faced with even worse offers. The reaction has been a little disbelief and a lot of anger. The proof of this is the overwhelming rejection of the offers.
A lot of Common Front members voted for the PQ in 1976. Today its pro-worker mask is coming off. Nevertheless, there is still confusion because the PQ claims to defend our national interests. But workers are realizing more and more that the PQ doesn’t defend their interests and its independence scheme is not in their interest either. It will be up to the WCP to widely expose the PQ’s plans. We will explain that the PQ’s offers are a preview of what the PQ will offer workers in an independent Quebec.
Do the workers think they can win their demands?
Pierre-Paul: All the workers realize that winning is related to the balance of forces. Most see that well have to strike. But many are sceptical about the possibility of winning our main demands. Can we win the $265 minimum? We say yes. In 1972 we won the $100 minimum wage, and in ’76 we won a $165 minimum by the end of the contract, even though that year we were up against the wage freeze. This is concrete evidence that we can win our demands, despite the obstacles.
Cecile: The government has taken the hard line with the Common Front. So it is not with small skirmishes that we will make gains. In the previous Common Fronts, we won our demands because we staged a general strike. Why? Because the Common Front strikes involve so many people and they have such a ripple effect that the government can’t hold out for long. Major strikes in the public sector put considerable political pressure on the party in power.
When is the best time to launch the strike?
Cecile: Clearly the best time for the confrontation is the fall. There are many struggles converging now against the PQ government, like the campaign against the PQ’s Bill 17 on health and safety and the struggle of the 100,000 public sector workers not in the Common Front
On top of being confronted with an upswing in the labour movement, the PQ is racked by internal problems. There is in- fighting among PQ members on how to go about achieving Quebec independence, some party members have resigned, etc. What’s more, the by-elections are coding up. We think it will be a good time to hit.
How should the battle be waged?
Pierre-Paul: The PQ is waging the struggle on the political terrain. It is opposing its nationalist scheme of “Building Quebec” – in other words building up the Quebecois bourgeoisie – to our demands. Therefore the Common Front must also wage the battle on the political level.
Because the question is, will we defend our rights, our right to health care and education, or will we accept setbacks, not only for us but for all the people, in order to subsidize the PQ’s independence scheme.
Waging the battle on a political terrain means the Common Front must win the support of the working class and the public so that together we can fight the PQ government’s policies.
We can learn from the previous Common Fronts. In ’72 and ’76 we waged a political struggle against the Liberal Party. We showed everyone that the Bourassa government was a government that worked against the people, with its ties to high finance and American imperialism. This year we must build a broad movement against the PQ’s anti-labour policies, in the same way as the old Common Front developed a broad movement against the Liberal Party.
How will the WCP support the Common Front struggle?
Cecile: All the Party’s members in Quebec, whether they are in factories, communities or schools, are talking about the Common Front, explaining to people why they should support it. They are destroying the capitalists’ arguments that public sector workers are privileged, that they are using the public as hostages, and so on. They are proposing to coordinate different struggles, like the campaign against Bill 17 and the struggle for daycare, with the Common Front fight.
Pierre-Paul: The WCP is the only party supporting the Common Front struggle and for us it’s not just an electoral tactic, as it was for the PQ in 1976.
Cecile: The WCP is also proposing guidelines in the Common Front to build the balance of forces in favour of the workers. We have outlined our proposals in a Newsletter, we put forward our proposals in local conferences, in union meetings and in the union structures, and so on.
In addition to this, the Party is doing political education with members of the Common Front, not only to unmask the PQ and denounce capitalism, but also to show them the solution – socialism. We explain to workers that in a socialist Canada the right to health care and to a job will be guaranteed, as well as Quebec’s right to decide its future. We call on them to join the WCP. I am sure that many of them will rally to the Party ranks during the course of the struggle.