The first national meeting of CUPE university workers—the largest group of organized university workers in Canada, with 70,000 members from Victoria to Newfoundland—started with a bang on Thursday evening.
French student leader Bruno Julliard opened the conference by highlighting the significance of a “united front” between unionized workers and student organizations, who essentially share similar values and objectives. “Too often, in recent years,” Julliard stated, “youth and unionized workers organized separately without supporting one another. This lack of support resulted in few victories.”
For Julliard, the social crisis that came to a head in France last year around the question of “a first employment contract” (Contrat Première Embauche) is a perfect example of the potential for future victories.
“The Contrat Première Embauche was a real insult to our youth,” he said. “This contract, with its proposed two-year trial period, was a new measure of exclusion which would have created a dramatic situation of even greater insecurity for our youth. Without any justification, employers could have dismissed young employees under the age of 26 years from one day to the next.”
The consequences of this departure from the Labour Code would have been devastating. How can you rent a home when you are not certain of having a job tomorrow? How can you build a future when insecurity is part of your daily life? How can you dare join a union when the employer can dismiss you without cause?
The Government claimed that increasing the employment contract’s flexibility would automatically create jobs.
The CPE would not have created jobs and would have been the first step in destroying the right to work in France. Once workers under the age of 26 years had been dealt with, all the other workers would have come under the gun.
This proposal came up against a massive, united mobilization. From the beginning, all the various labour and youth organizations worked to ensure the movement was as representative as possible. Everyone was aware that dividing the labour movement would have served the Government’s purposes. But in addition to all the unions standing together, this movement was exceptionally intense, with massive demonstrations involving up to three million people and strikes in the universities for close to eight weeks.“Periods of mobilization,” Julliard concluded, “are privileged moments for union solidarity. There is an evident complementarity between the mobilization of students and the mobilization of employees. I hope that each of us will have learned from the lesson which brought us this victory. United, we are stronger. There are so many other battles to be fought that we have a duty to maintain this unity.”