On October 20, more than a 100 people gathered at the Centre Tétreau in Gatineau, Quebec (Hull) to launch a local version of the campaign for a $15 minimum wage in Quebec. The crowd was made up of CEGEP and University students, local community and antipoverty activists, and union members and representatives from CUPE, the CSN, the FTQ, healthcare unions, and the President of the Outaouais Labour Council.
The meeting followed on demonstrations of thousands on Saturday October 15, which was Quebec’s national day of action for both the “Minimum $15” campaign launched by the FTQ, one of Quebec’s two major union federations, and the new “5, 10, 15” coalition. On that day in Gatineau (Hull), activists petitioned and leafleted for the campaign launch at a local shopping mall.
In addition to a $15 an hour minimum wage, the “5, 10, 15” coalition aims for 5 days’ notice of scheduling, and 10 paid sick days. “5-10-15” includes the CSN – the other major union federation in Quebec – and two other smaller union federations, the CSD and CSQ, as well as important community organizations like Au bas de l’echelle (“At the Bottom of the Scale”) the FDNS (Front in Defence of Non-unionized Workers), the Immigrant Workers’ Centre, and the “Collective for a Quebec Without Poverty.” The campaign as a whole is also supported by Quebec solidaire (which had a contingent of 200 on the October 15 march, and helped initiate the launch of the campaign in Gatineau).
The Gatineau meeting heard from a panel of speakers who inspired almost everyone in the crowd to sign up at least for more information or to be part of the local organizing and leadership of this campaign in the Outaouais region.
The first presentation came from a representative of Femmes immigrantes de l’Outaouais (immigrant women of the Outaouais region) who spoke about the particular challenges faced by immigrant women, including the difficulty of even securing paid work outside the home. Then a former organizer with the Workers’ Action Centre in Toronto who has now relocated to Ottawa, spoke about the Fight for 15 and Fairness campaign in Ontario and its organizing model for creating links between pre-existing organizations for non-unionized workers through the campaign. And finally, a representative of both Au bas de l’echelle and FDNS talked about the history of minimum wage campaigns in Quebec – noting in particular the importance of the Bread and Roses march of 1995 and the World March of Women of 2000 which brought the minimum wage issue to a mass audience, and gave a detailed presentation busting the myths and arguments most often raised against minimum wage campaigns.
There is a difference in strategy between the FTQ, which has adopted a timeline of 2022 for the Quebec government to reach $15 an hour provincially, and the “5, 10, 15” coalition (and Quebec solidaire) who embrace an immediate raise to $15, as well as a certain “fairness” component beyond the minimum wage.
The Quebec solidaire petition on the issue demands that the immediate raise to $15 be indexed to the cost of living, and that this be for all workers in Quebec regardless of migratory status, schedule, place of residence or type of work. QS has plans to present a Bill to the Quebec National Assembly for an immediate increase to $15 an hour along these lines.
While it is unfortunate that the FTQ chose to launch a campaign separate from “5, 10, 15”, some of their own members have demonstrated that it is possible to fight for 15 without delay. Hospitality workers in the Old Port of Montreal have struck for $15 as a floor wage in union contracts without waiting for a change in which party forms the government. And they were inspired by the Fight for 15 movement – in general – to do this.
Regardless of organizational differences, this is a movement that is drawing people into action in a variety of ways and through a variety access points. The more that existing activists from different sectors and completely new people are drawn into a movement that is posing a real demand for employment fairness with a united voice, the more those differences can be resolved through common action for what is winnable.