Updated on November 21.
On November 17, more than 600 teachers and public sector workers marched through downtown Montreal as part of their two-day strike announced on October 2.
The demonstrators at the march hailed from a variety of different sectors, represented provincially by the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) and the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ).
Demonstrators convened at Place du Canada at approximately 10:30 a.m.. From there, they marched east until McGill College, at which point they turned north. Once on Sherbrooke, the demonstrators marched west and eventually made their way back to Place du Canada.
The march was organized in part by the Front commun, a coalition of public sector unions. According to a Front commun security volunteer, the itinerary of the demonstration was given beforehand to the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM), meaning that it was considered legal under municipal bylaw P-6.
Last week’s strike marked the end of a series of rotating strikes that started in the Laurentians on October 26. The Front commun was expected to hold three consecutive days of striking from December 1 to 3 across health and education sectors. However, it decided against these strike days on November 18.
“It’s clear that [education has] become a question of dollars and cents. […] That’s now the bottom line for all public services: health, education, welfare.”
Speaking to The Daily at the march, Sara Iatauro, an educational consultant at the English Montreal School Board, explained that her biggest concern is the decline in the quality of students’ education as a result of the provincial government’s proposed budget cuts. Students with learning disabilities will be those most severely affected, Iatauro said.
“[The government is] looking to take away codes. Basically, students, if they have special needs, they’re coded, and it gives them extra services in the classroom,” Iatauro said.
“For example, if you have a student who has ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] or ADD [attention deficit disorder], they need extra time, extra services, extra space, where they can get the attention they need, so they can be more successful. […] They need the resources that will help them, give them better strategies to learn,” Iatauro continued.
On November 6, public sector workers rejected the government’s latest contract offer, on the grounds that the improvements offered were negligible. Teachers have been without a new contract since April.
Paul Jones, who has been a teacher in Quebec for more than 40 years, attended the march and told The Daily that his classroom today is very different than it was when he started teaching.
“You can’t separate the teacher from the student. If our reality is worsening, then so is theirs.”
“When I was hired as a teacher, I had about 28 students in my classroom. I’m up to now 40. I started the semester with 45. That’s one concrete example of what the government’s idea is – that we can do more with less,” Jones said.
“It’s clear that [education has] become a question of dollars and cents. […] That’s now the bottom line for all public services: health, education, welfare. […] It’s all now based on this mantra, which is a bunch of bullshit […] that somehow ‘zero-deficit’ is a sacred goal that all society should meet,” Jones continued.
Jean-Michel Sotiron, a professor at John Abbott College, said that he was at the march for a “brighter future,” and argued that teachers’ working conditions directly inform the quality of education they can provide.
Sotiron explained, “The neoliberal government has been […] trying to undermine the public sector. […] I don’t think that’s the proper way of doing things. That will lead to more suffering, greater cleavages in society. […] Together we can build something better.”
“You can’t separate the teacher from the student. If our reality is worsening, then so is theirs,” Sotiron said.