Pierre Beaudet's Blog

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Pierre Beaudet, active in international solidarity and social movements in Quebec, is founder of Quebec NGO Alternatives, and Editor of the Nouveaux cahiers du socialisme. He blogs on rabble.ca in English and French.

Why the FTQ backs the Bloc

| September 11, 2008
The Federation des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec has decided to officially support the Bloc. Since the 1970s, the FTQ has supported the PQ and since the entrance of the Nationalists in federal politics, it has also supported the Bloc.

The FTQ is the equivalent in Quebec of the CLC of which it is a sort of member. A «sort of», because it runs its politics in total independence from the CLC. FTQ regroups militant trade unions like CUPE, the CAW, and many others unions including US-led pseudo unions inherited from the cold war. It claims over 400 000 members but in reality, member-unions are very loosely associated with the FTQ itself. But the FTQ has another big card in its hands. It controls the Fonds de solidarité des travailleurs du Québec, which is a multi- billion union-led investment fund that was created with the support of the PQ back in the 1980s. The FTA pretends that it is saving thousands of jobs with that scheme. Critics say it is major bifurcation from traditional union work whereas FTQ officials are busy all year long in selling shares instead of organizing. But that's another debate.

Why the FTQ supports the Nationalists? There are many reasons for that. Historically, Quebec workers have faced a dual system of oppression and exploitation, as workers and as part of a Nation without a State. When I grew up in Montreal in the 1950s, business and work was almost completely controlled by an Anglo-Canadian elite which
was the descendants of the British conquerors. Pierre Vallières wrote a provocative book about us, «White Niggers of America». It was hardly an exaggeration.

That situation changed over the struggles of the 1960s and the 1970s
when mass movements surged around social and national issues. A
minority of the activist's crowd was dreaming of a left alternative,
but the majority thought that the best way out of our misery was
through the PQ which was at that time a left-center alliance. In its
early years, the PQ had many of its leaders coming out of the labor
movement, like the extremely popular Robert Burns. As time went by,
the PQ was defeated in the first referendum, then had to «manage» the
fiscal crisis of the 1980s and turned «social liberal» by the early
1990s. Most of this left legacy was dilapidated.

But not completely. In the last PQ government for example (1995-1999),
the then Minister of health (and today leader of the party) Pauline
Marois established a universal daycare system with very low prices,
making Quebec the lead in this matter. Time and again, various
policies were put in place along the lines of the Keynesian
«compromise» although it became less and less with the big neoliberal
squeeze.

So now Canadian readers should understand why there is this historical
alliance. But that's only one part of the explanation. The flip side
is less buoyant. The FTQ, like many big institutions have avoided
tackling the difficult issue of an independent popular alternative.
The CSN and the CSQ (the other big confederations) have initiated the
debate many times: should trade unions and other social movements form
their own political voice? Often, these organizations have taken the
risk of coming together with social and militant social movements, and
even supporting here and there political alternatives, not to the
point however of putting their full weight into these new projects as
the Brazilian trade unions did with the PT in the 1980s. But with the
FTQ, never ever. The leadership is content with supporting the
Nationalists, running the trade union «business» and avoiding rocking
the boat. For example, it refused to participate in the quite
successful Quebec Social Forum (August 2007) where over 5000 activists
from labor and community movements gathered to develop new strategies.

With Harper, the FTQ is justified to be worried. The manufacturing
sector with its relatively well-paid and secure jobs is crashing. Only
a strong interventionist State could save it while establishing other
measures to defend its competitiveness and sustainability. Obviously,
it's not on Stephen's radar. The same fear is about the continuation
and consolidation of the public sector which is mostly provincial
managed but holds on because of federal payments. To be honest, it was
the Liberals under Chrétien and Martin that already started to destroy
Keynesianism. Harper is about consolidating these policies and giving
them an «ideological flavor».

The hope of the FTQ, and in fact many others in Quebec, is that a
strong Bloc presence in the House of Commons will be able to prevent
Harper of imposing his views and that along with the other opposition
parties, it will be able to slow down the neoconservative revolution.
You could think that is the reason why people will (or should) vote
for the NPD. But in Quebec, the NPD is out of the game mostly, except
where they can hope to tackle a «left» federalist vote which is a
reality that exists in a few sub-regions where are concentrated anti
rightwing and anti-Harper Anglophones and immigrants.

In many ways, I share the FTQ view on the «useful vote» («anything but
Harper», which in reality means, in most areas of Quebec, voting for
the Bloc). However, I still think that progressive forces, on the long
term, should detach themselves from the Nationalists and create their
own political alternative. There is embryo -just an embryo- of this
called Quebecsolidaire. We can discuss this in the future.

 

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