A few months ago, Martine Desjardins, former President of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) [Quebec university student federation] and leading figure in Quebec’s Maple Spring movement, had two options: leave or remain in the public eye. She decided to put on boxing gloves and step into the ring as a political commentator on television.
She spoke at the CUPE-Quebec convention on June 19, 2013. The team from Au jour le jour, the convention’s bulletin, interviewed her.
Au jour le jour (AJLJ): What was the most important message you wanted to get across to the delegates?
Martine Desjardins (MD): I wanted the union movement to understand that there are young people who want to become involved and that we must find a way to give them room.
AJLJ: What would be the best way to ensure that they get involved?
MD: They must be given concrete objectives. They must be given responsibility. Working in a union must be fun. They must be met one on one. The use of pamphlets, e-mail or posters is not enough.
AJLJ: You have described yourself as pro-union and a left-leaning progressive militant. Why are those values important to you?
MD: It was when I saw and realized that social change is the product of union action and major strikes. I understood that a group effort and solidarity were necessary to reach objectives. No person can achieve them on his or her own.
AJLJ: What is the main challenge facing the union movement today?
MD: The defence of non-unionized workers! Let me explain. Unions are very good at defending their workers, but it is harder to defend those who are not unionized. Other issues must be considered besides those that concern only their members. For instance, contesting the employment insurance issue is an excellent example of an action that concerns all workers.
AJLJ: You think that the effects of the student conflict will have an impact on the personality and behaviour of young people when they join the labour market. Could you elaborate?
MD: Not all young people, but a good majority. What is important for them is that, in the end, we won. I think that it helped them understand how things work when it comes to demands and that tenacity is what really counts.
They will probably be more determined as workers and more capable of understanding the workplace. I am convinced that the experience will help them to be more open to the world of bargaining demands.
They will surely be called upon to change jobs often. But when they decide to stay in one place, it will often be because they feel they belong to a group that stands together. This will provide a real opportunity for the labour movement.
AJLJ: In closing, where does Martine Desjardins see herself five years down the road?
MD: I have no idea. I have no career plan. One thing is certain, however. I will definitely be in a place where social involvement is possible, where I can be a militant. I never close a door; I take the time to consider all aspects whenever something is suggested to me.