On September 24, 1921, a century ago, the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) was launched. Have we forgotten the struggles led by unions to ensure decent living conditions for Quebecers? Annual paid vacations, as much as occupational health and safety, were not just a gift from the sky.
In 1890, a delegation of bosses made up of some directors of cotton mills visited Prime Minister Honoré Mercier. They are asking him to change labor laws without delay, so that they can again employ children under the age of 14. The reason given? A terrible labor shortage that compromises economic development, they say. The Prime Minister, sensitive to the needs presented by these industrialists, promises to study the question.
For a long time, the mere thought of unionizing was considered a crime.
In 2021, the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) is showing a century of struggles. Quebec at work, a book signed by Yves Desjardins, highlights the history of the movement. Documentary maker Hélène Choquette has directed a film, The unions that osse gives, which will be presented on Savoir.tv from October 18. “This is not a corporate documentary,” she said in an interview with the To have to. I tried to explain to a new generation, including myself, what this movement was. “
Socialism and Catholicism
Initially, when it was founded in Hull on September 24, 1921, this Catholic union was known as the Confederation of Catholic Workers of Canada (CTCC). Less than three years later, this union will support the exploited workers of the EB Eddy Match Company; the matchmakers are denied by the employer the right to unite.
Could a new order of things take shape, on the margins of the advances of the unions of socialist inspiration, in the face of the injustices secreted in series by the meteoric expansion of capitalism? In a theocratic society like Quebec, so-called international unions are hardly popular. How can union action be taken without displeasing the Catholic hierarchy? CTCC is a response.
A shoemaker, Pierre Beaulé, becomes the first president of the CTCC. Coming from the Brotherhood of United Shoemakers of Quebec, he studied the social doctrine of the Church in the shadow of the clergy. In 1926, he was involved in the strike of 3,000 shoe workers in Quebec, one of the most important workers’ conflicts of the interwar period. At its beginnings, to justify its existence, the CTCC affirmed to believe “that it is nonsense, an economic fault, a national abdication and a political danger to have in Canada unions under a foreign center, which has neither our laws nor our cultures, nor our mentality, nor the same problems as us ”. The nation however goes through the religion of Rome: Pierre Beaulé, father of a large family which has three priests and three nuns, will be appointed by the Pope to the Order of Saint-Gregory-the-Great.
In a pre-war scent, the workers of Quebec measure the misery that is done to them.
In Sorel, in 1937, everyone who was a worker claimed to be fed up, first in shipyards, then in metallurgy factories and finally in clothing factories. The power of Maurice Duplessis cries out for insurrection to justify the repression. Strikes nevertheless broke out in factories in Montreal, Valleyfield, Magog and Sherbrooke. In Montmorency, the workers of a spinning mill, where the sociologist Fernand Dumont worked, following in his father’s footsteps, opposed working conditions deemed appalling by a royal commission of inquiry chaired by Judge Turgeon.
After the end of the Second World War, Gérard Picard becomes a major president in the history of what will be the CSN. Like many union activists, he is still strongly marked by the experience of Catholicism; He first made a place for himself with the White Fathers before becoming a journalist and then a trade unionist.
Young activists, such as lawyer Pierre Vadeboncœur and his friend Michel Chartrand, are helping to impose, in a secular setting tinged by the teachings of the Church, a new balance of power for the benefit of workers.
Of all the struggles
The CSN will, in its different incarnations and under different directions, be involved in all social struggles. Some are milestones: the asbestos strike in 1949, that of Dupuis Frères in 1952 or the directors of Radio-Canada in 1958. In the 1960s, civil servants unionized, even though Prime Minister Jean Lesage affirmed that “the Reine does not negotiate with her subjects ”. The common front of 1972 made an impression, as did the conflict at the Manoir Richelieu in 1986. Both constitute highlights among others.
It would be good to remember that modern Quebec is largely due to the great union struggles waged since 1921.
Some of the headliners of the CSN belong to history, such as Jean Marchand, Marcel Pépin or Gérald Larose. It is now up to Caroline Senneville to chair the organization, the second woman only to do so, after Claudette Carbonneau.
“It would be good to remember that modern Quebec is largely due to the great union struggles waged since 1921,” says Jean Lortie, general secretary of the CSN. “There was no public security regime for anyone before the union struggles,” he said as he retired this week. “Social gains were not gifts. “
“Trade unionism has helped to raise society on the side of the middle class,” continued in an interview with the To have to Jean Lortie. For him, the CSN has helped reduce social inequalities. Union action “is a way of fighting poverty by providing decent jobs and decent and safe working conditions”. However, he noted a collapse in unionization rates over a large part of the Americas.