Several thousand demonstrate in Montreal
After weeks of protests across Quebec, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in the streets of downtown Montreal. Many CUPE members took part in the event, which also marked the celebration of International Workers’ Day on May 1.
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Initiated by Quebec’s unions and two major organizations defending the rights of the unemployed, the Quebec Coalition against EI Reform assumed a scale rarely seen, assembling a wide range of trade unions, Quebec municipalities, farmer workers, student organizations and many of Quebec’s economic, community and artistic organizations. At noon on Saturday, the spokesperson for four of these 24 provincial organizations held a press briefing in front of the Complexe Guy-Favreau, on behalf of the entire coalition.
A blow to the regions
The president of the Fédération québécoise des municipalités (FQM), Bernard Généreux, praised the massive mobilization observed in all the regions of Quebec. “Agriculture, forestry, fishing, tourism— this reform threatens the very structure of the economy in a number of regions, especially those that rely on seasonality. Such a situation is a major source of concern to which we absolutely must bear witness. The federal government must stop turning a deaf ear to the widespread rumblings of discontent and revise its approach in order to take local and regional differences into account.” The coalition is calling for the immediate suspension of the reform, impact studies on the proposed changes, and public consultations. According to the coalition, the many examples of overspending, recently identified by the media, could have been avoided if we had taken the time to think about the best way to address the structural problems that are at the root of unemployment.
A broad consensus
“Stephen Harper has continually rejected our criticism, dismissing it as part of an alleged misinformation campaign created by the unions and the opposition parties. However, it is amply clear today that these objections do not come exclusively from the unions,” said the president of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec, Louise Chabot. “Just look at the diversity of our coalition; it will go down in history. On two occasions, the four political parties in the National Assembly voted unanimously against this reform. The federal government cannot ignore such a consensus.” Chabot also deplores the fact that this reform will further increase women’s economic insecurity. “The changes particularly affect low-paid workers and those whose status is precarious. And, as we know, it is mainly women who occupy these types of jobs. With this reform, the Harper government is subjecting even more women to insecurity and poverty, which is totally unacceptable,” deplored CSQ president Louise Chabot.
The government’s crusade against “bad unemployed workers”has already had an impact, and the worst is yet to come. Pierre Céré of the Conseil national des chômeuses et des chômeurs represents a number of organizations that offer daily assistance to the unemployed.
“The reform is specifically designed to punish the so-called “regularly unemployed” who constitute 80% of workers in seasonal industries, as if all these people chose to lose their jobs and reduce their income. By forcing them, for example, to accept a job that pays 70% of their usual salary or that is unrelated to their training, an hour away from their home, not only are their wages lowered, but thousands of people risk losing their benefits because of the Job Alerts system set up to monitor claimants. In addition, with the abolition of pilot projects, the reform alters the calculation and duration of benefits for regions with high unemployment (six out of 12 in the case of Quebec), which will deprive many people of vital income. Workers at the lower end of the scale will be the most affected.”
The appeals procedure has also been modified to the detriment of the unemployed, despite the fact that workers and employers were satisfied with the old system. Add to this a quota policy for cutting benefits, which has already resulted in several unjust and inequitable decisions. “Frankly, the government needs to review its plan, especially as this regime is funded exclusively by contributors: the government doesn’t pay a penny,” he noted.
Everyone is affected
The student movement has also joined the mobilization against this reform, including the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante. “The employment insurance reform imposed by the Conservatives is part of a package of austerity measures that the Canadian government is imposing on us, like many other governments around the world. These policies impoverish the population and undermine social progress,” said ASSÉ spokesperson Blandine Parchemal.
We should bear in mind that after advocating austerity policies, the OECD and the IMF, among others, now admit that these aggravated the crisis. “It is the citizens who pay the price,” she noted. “EI is one of the country’s oldest programs for the redistribution of wealth, whether among individuals or regions. It is also a necessary protection for all workers against the vicissitudes of a market economy over which they have little control. As such, we must join our voices to protect this invaluable social asset.”
The Quebec Coalition against EI Reform intends to keep mobilizing against the destruction of EI as the government has not heeded its objections. The 24 member organizations will brainstorm in the coming weeks on new means to put pressure on the federal government.