Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

Inspired by the expression adopted by comedian Yvon Deschamps, we interviewed actors from the union and political circles about the role and influence true of this means of pressure.

< p>Picketing, “what’ossa » gives? | Strikes in the public sector in Quebec

Demonstrations in front of workplaces, picketing, what difference does it make? We asked actors from the union or political world what this means of pressure is used for.

  • Fannie Bussières McNicoll (View profile)Fannie Bussières McNicoll

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Around hospitals, schools, CEGEPs, thousands of them are on strike several weeks after the start of the current labor dispute between the Quebec government and public sector unions.

However, some union members are quietly questioning the real value and impact of this means of pressure. , flags and signs in hand, really moves the negotiations forward? asks this teacher from Montérégie. Basically, the real battlefield is in Quebec… We often wonder, she admits, if there's any point in going picketing in front of an empty regional school.

I understand why it was necessary to block access to factories in the past. But I see a little less relevance in being present every day in front of our workplace today, says a CEGEP professor from the South Shore near Montreal. There's already pressure from not teaching, after all!

So, what is picketing? what does it give?

Strikes in the public sector in Quebec

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To find out, Radio-Canada consulted actors from the union and political circles, who represent different generations, to ask them to answer the questions raised by certain picket skeptics.

From the outset, everyone is ready to recognize that it is not a panacea or a magic tool leading to the outcome of a labor conflict. However, everyone thinks that picketing still has its role to play in influencing, to a certain point, the progress of the negotiations and in rebalancing the balance of power between the management and union parties.

Picketing is something very important in a negotiation, in establishing a balance of power between the employer and employees, immediately launches Claudette Carbonneau, who was the first female president of the CSN.

It is also a way to break the isolation of workers. It’s an opportunity for solidarity and socialization, adds Ms. Carbonneau.

Picketing is the barometer of the spirit, solidarity, tenacity and resilience of workers, continues Éliane Scofield. -Lamarche, president of the CUPE-Québec youth committee and former student activist.

The more numerous and enthusiastic they are, the more it sends the message to the employer that they are ready to go all the way.

A quote from Éliane Scofield-Lamarche, president of the youth committee of CUPE-Québec

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Éliane Scofield-Lamarche has been active in the union sector since her involvement in the student mobilization of 2012. She also hosted a podcast on unionism.

It is also a tool to make a social movement visible and to generate a wave of sympathy among the population, adds Stéfanie Tougas, former student leader during the Maple Spring in 2012.

The former liberal minister Michelle Courchesne also finds virtues in it. MPs and citizens can meet the picketers. It creates a social dialogue. And in a democracy, I believe that it provokes debates which are healthy.

But does picketing really influence the decision-makers at the table? negotiations?

This is a question that bothers many.

Michelle Courchesne, who has seen her share negotiations as Minister of Education or as President of the Treasury Board, ensures that the answer to this question is yes.

When I was a minister, I was very sensitive to the picket lines. They make noise. They send a message to elected officials. You have to be able to hear it, to listen to it.

A quote from Michelle Courchesne, former Liberal Minister of Education and former President of the Treasury Board

As ministers, we have a responsibility: to ensure that services are provided. So, for decision-makers, this picketing is a sort of reminder, a sort of additional pressure, adds Ms. Courchesne, who always carefully monitors the political scene in Quebec.

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Michelle Courchesne was Minister of Education and President of the Quebec Treasury Board.

Contacted in his corner of the country, Abitibi, which he represented as a PQ MP for more than forty years, former minister François Gendron adds his two cents. When you're picketing, you can't help but show that you're serious, he explains. It helps create and maintain "momentum" on the side of the strikers. The day there is no longer this mobilization, you weaken the zone of pressure on the government.

In addition to having actively participated in the student mobilization of 2012, Stéfanie Tougas has also entered the political world as a political advisor for elected officials in Quebec and abroad. She is also convinced that the presence of employees on strike in front of their workplaces is far from useless.

It has a direct impact at the tables negotiations, she said before explaining herself. If we feel that workers are demobilized, the government could bet that they will give in. On the other hand, if they are still very visible in the streets and there is a movement of popular support behind them, the government has less room for maneuver to maintain a firm line.

So, the big demonstrations, the brilliant gestures, the thousands of employees on strike, that's not what really matters?

Obviously picketing cannot be the only means of pressure that unions and students use. It has its limits, that’s for sure, agrees Stéfanie Tougas. But it sends a signal that there is a unified and mobilized front to oppose a decision.

I believe that picketing is part of “a continuum of complementary means of pressure,” adds Claudette Carbonneau. When we make the sacrifice of going on strike, we must ensure its effectiveness. And we must use all the tools at our disposal.

It seems to me that when we want to maximize our balance of power, we don't think and say to ourselves: "If I had fewer cards in my deck, things would go much better." It's quite the opposite!

A quote from Claudette Carbonneau, former president of the CSN

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Claudette Carbonneau is one of the big names in trade unionism in Quebec.

When there is no participation of union members, notably [by means of] picketing, it makes the job of an employer easier to pretend that it is facing disconnected union leaders who have abusive demands, specifies Ms. Carbonneau.

The strike does not happen without picketing, adds Michelle Courchesne, in agreement with this logic. If schools are closed but there are no picket lines, what happens? Inevitably, among the population, this will cause a sort of disinterest. We will ask ourselves: is there still a strike or not?

However, has this means of pressure not lost its effectiveness over time? In 2023, is picketing as relevant as before?

Indeed, historically, picketing served to create a human barrier for prevent strikebreakers from having access to a workplace during a walkout. Since then, Quebec has adopted anti-scab provisions.

Thus, picketing today plays a less crucial role than in the past, but this is not a reason to relax its be careful, according to Claudette Carbonneau. Be aware that there are continually complaints of violations of this law, so vigilance around her business remains very important, she warns.

And for Éliane Scofield-Lamarche, picketing is far from being outdated.

It is possible to change the picketing. It creates a world of possibilities and often calls for hyper-creative ways to express mobilization and solidarity.

A quote from Éliane Scofield-Lamarche, president of the CUPE-Québec youth committee

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Stéfanie Tougas was president of the Federation of Student Associations on the University of Montreal Campus (FAECUM) during the 2012 student strikes and was a political advisor for elected officials in Quebec and abroad.

Social networks are good, they can be powerful for getting a message across. My generation grew up with these tools. But that's not how you bend a government, insists Stéfanie Tougas, convinced that physical mobilization is always one of the keys to extracting compromises from an employer like the government.

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