September 24 marks the 100e anniversary of the first Quebec central created, the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN). One hundred years of struggles that have marked Quebec.
Let us remember that at the beginning of the last century, the infant mortality rate in certain neighborhoods of Montreal was 27%. With its terrible hygienic conditions, we compared the metropolis to Calcutta, India. What about Quebec City? Even more horrible: one in two children would die at a young age… A catastrophe difficult to imagine today, when we have a Quebec health insurance plan, a very present middle class and living and working conditions far from last century.
However, it was not always so. It would be good to remember that modern Quebec is largely due to the great union struggles waged since 1921. For example, before the public health insurance plan, demanded by the CSN and obtained after 10 years of struggle, Quebeckers would die at the end of the day. house for lack of care or for lack of being able to afford it. This is evidenced by this anecdote from a former colleague: when her mother found herself in the hospital during a difficult childbirth, the family had to sell the house to pay the bill. A heartbreaking decision that fortunately belongs to the past.
During the 1960s, the CSN actively participated in the Parent Commission, which led to the creation of CEGEPs and universities. The central trade union’s objective: to enable the sons and daughters of workers to go to school and thus have access to better jobs and to improve their lot and that of their families. It’s hard to imagine that the modern school system is barely 60 years old as access to education is taken for granted.
For a century, the CSN has also embraced the cause of women and has successfully led its fight to obtain the Quebec parental insurance plan, pay equity and the creation of childcare centers. For the record, it was in 1924 that the first major strike by the CSN took place. This one was carried out by women, the matchmakers of the company EB Eddy, in Hull. They won their case and marked an important milestone in union history.
We must remember that the CSN and the other central labor organizations are true creators of the middle class, with their mission to lift people out of poverty by giving them decent jobs and decent and safe working conditions. The labor movement is the largest distributor of wealth in Quebec, and it is redistributed in all regions, thus making it possible to create other wealth through local purchases.
If we are a long way from the years when young Quebecers of four or five years old worked in textile factories, there are still many struggles to lead so that each worker has a decent income and is adequately protected in his workplace. . The trade union movement will be there for all these struggles. For another 100 years if necessary.
* The author retires from the CSN on September 24, 100e, after 40 years of activism.