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Labour Day demonstration re-ignites anti-austerity movement

Activist organizations to push for collective action

On September 7, around 200 people gathered in Parc des Faubourgs to protest the austerity measures of the Quebec government. Groups of Service de Police de la ville de Montréal (SPVM) officers, some wearing riot gear, were also present, with more around the area in squad cars and vans.

The march launched from Parc des Faubourgs, with the demonstrators carrying picket signs with the words “PLQ dégage” (Parti libéral du Québec, get out!) and “Respect existence or expect resistance.”

The group then marched down Ontario until St. Hubert, continuing on to the entrance of the Berri-UQAM metro station. The group largely dispersed after police barricaded the doors to the metro and occupied one of the platforms.

A smaller group of just over 100 people reconvened at a small park near the Frontenac metro station, at around 7:15 p.m.. They marched until Dézéry, then dispersed as SPVM officers arrived with over 15 vans, cars, and buses.

“Austerity is basically a proven ineffective measure, and I think it is frankly silly that is is in place.”

However, the anti-austerity activities in the park had started earlier that day. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) met to celebrate Labour Day with workers and public service employees, including nurses, social service workers, and postal service workers.

Some demonstrators were there because they are facing increasing economic insecurity. Others, like McGill student Connor Spencer and Concordia student Ben Goodman, were there in solidarity with public service employees.

In an interview with The Daily, Spencer said that things could change “if McGill starts paying attention and caring a little bit, if the student union at McGill starts actively involving the McGill population in what’s going on in the city that houses it.”

Students are also directly affected by the provincial austerity measures. According to Goodman, austerity measures greatly affect students: “Especially as we start school, [with] the budget cuts that are going to be taking place […] it’s frankly unfair.”

Public sector workers hit hard by austerity

The collective agreements of many public sector workers in Quebec expired on March 31, and a few have already started their renegotiations. The provincial government has expressed its conviction to reach a zero-deficit budget by 2015-16, which goes against the public sector unions’ demand of a 4.5 per cent salary hike per year over the next three years.

Speaking to The Daily, IWW member and acting s Nicholas Harvest said, “The reforming of unemployment insurance at the federal level hits employees drastically.” He continued, “There’s huge compressions in the public sector, these teachers are living [in] horrible, horrible working conditions, and they will also find themselves out of a job. […] That, coupled with what’s happened to the [postal workers], it’s a general push towards privatization, we can see that very well.”

Goodman noted, “Austerity is basically a proven ineffective measure, and I think it is frankly silly that is is in place.”

Harvest said, “We think that the real political power comes from the workers, comes from collective organization and direct action.” He added that despite the fact that IWW has no direct stakes in the federal election, it “still aims for an ‘automne chaud’ at the provincial level.

Labour Day, as a first step toward this goal, saw IWW joined by groups including the Revolutionary Student Movement, the Front d’action socialiste, and Concordia’s Whalebone Collective.

Harvest explained, “I feel like the police basically saw our capabilities organizing May 1, and saw our capabilities of bringing people together and bringing a sense of community to those that don’t have privilege, and I think they’re afraid of that and I think the state is afraid of that. […] When the state sees workers organizing, it tends to get scared.”