(Ed.)—We received this contribution from a supporter in response to the article published in the previous issue (55) of the Partisan newspaper about the struggle of city workers against the Québec government’s Bill 3 that attacks their pension plans:
The debate is raging in Québec, as in many industrialized countries, on the future of the pension plans, especially of state employees.
Not only does the state want to raise the employee contribution—while reducing its own—and question the indexation of future pensions, it also challenges past collective agreements and even wishes to cut the pensions currently paid to retired employees.
In these circumstances, it is not surprising that revolt is brewing in the trade unions’ rank-and-file and that militant actions have happened in the recent months. All this is understandable at first glance, but it might be good to ask ourselves about the origins of this predictable disaster.
If the state agreed to establish a public pension system, these pensions would not be sufficient to ensure a reasonable quality of life for retirees. This is why the strongest unions negotiated private plans for their own members, to supplement the shortfall of public pensions.
That formula seemed to be working, at least for some. The state was supposed to ensure a miminal pension plan for all while unions were there to secure an extra bonus for their members. But this worked only for a minority. Unions never succeeded in organizing more than 30% of the working class and, among them, only half have been able to secure a decent retirement plan.
Corporatism of the labor movement reinforced the divisions between a minority of “privileged” workers and the majority of the working class. As for the bourgeoisified “workers’ parties,” they failed to do better than tail this movement.
Now we must not keep our eyes closed and unconditionally support the parochial response of city workers’ unions against Bill 3, even if it’s true that if the state succeeds in attacking their pension plans, others will then face the same kind of attacks in the future. If there is a collective demand that should be considered as fundamental, it is certainly that of a secure retreat for all workers; if there is a struggle that must be waged, it is for a universal pension plan.
Trade union corporatism has demonstrated the inability of the official workers movement to defend the working class and the cul-de-sac in which it is leading the proletarian people. We must ally with the rank-and-file activists in our unions who are wishing and capable of defending the working class as a whole—those who want to forge unity instead of division!
Thank you comrade for sending us your comments. It was never our intention to unconditionally support the union coalition that currently leads the fight against Bill 3. The article we published, which was entitled “A Matter of Class,” was precisely aimed at highlighting the challenge that pensions posed for the working class as a whole.
By putting the emphasis on the fact that the attack being waged by the Couillard government would open the way to similar attacks against other groups of workers, we most probably failed to emphasize the need of an overall strategy that defends the right to pensions for all workers. In fact, even from a purely tactical standpoint in the ongoing struggle, the union coalition is bound to fail as long as it remains confined within the narrow framework of defending pensions of a single group without embracing the general interests of the working class.
All of this was implicit in our article—particularly in our denunciation of the participation in the coalition of those enemies of the working class, the police “unions”—but was clearly neither sufficiently expressed nor explicit.
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