Struggle for a decent minimum wage reaches over border from US

On Wednesday, October 7, 2015, the Coalition contre le travail précaire (Coalition against Temporary Work) (CCTP) announced a day of action, which included a press conference at the Parc Jarry in Montreal, Quebec in solidarity with the International Trade Union Confederation’s annual World Day for Decent Work (Journée Mondiale du Travail Décent), an all-day conference held across the street from the action at the Centre Justice et foi (Justice and Faith Center), which was attended by about 100 people. The coalition’s list of demands are 1) a $15/hour minimum wage indexed to the cost of living; 2) universal health care for all regardless of immigration status; 3) regulation and monitoring of temp agencies and access to justice for those who have been victims of employer abuse; 4) ending discrimination against domestic workers by granting them legal rights to sick pay and worker compensation and 5) the right of temporary workers to apply for permanent residency in Quebec.

With this effort, the Coalition Contre le Travail Précaire seeks to join Montreal to the growing number of North American cities and even provinces and states that have adopted (with varying conditions) the $15/hour minimum wage, namely, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Alberta (by 2018) and New York State (for fast food workers). However, as its platform makes clear, the coalition sees the fight for $15 as one part of a series of demands for better treatment of temporary workers, in particular, immigrants. In so doing, the CCTP joins forces with the 15+ campaign in Quebec led by Socialiste Alternative, whose posters “TOUT AUGMENTE SAUF NOS SALAIRES: INDEXEZ LES SALAIRES AU COÛT DE LA VIE” (Everything Is Going Up Except Our Salaries: Index Salaries to the Cost of Living) were already glued to public structures, blazing the way from the local metro station to the site of the action.

The CCTP represents a number of student and immigrant worker organizations who came together in 2013 to pursue better working conditions for the estimated 450,000 non-unionized workers in Québec, who work at or near the current minimum wage of CA$10.55 an hour at short term contract jobs - often only a day long - and lack the benefits of unionized workers, such as collective bargaining, sick days, compensation for work-related injuries, disability pay and pensions.

The constituent groups of the coalition include le Centre de Travailleuses et Travailleurs Immigrants, (Center for Immigrant Workers), Étudiants.es socialistes de UQAM (Socialist Students of the Université du Québec à Montréal), Dignidad Migrante, Méxicain.e.s Uni.e.s Pour la Régularisation (Mexicans United For Monitoring), PINAY (A group of Filipino women in Québec), Collectif des Immigrants Espagnoles de Montréal (Spanish Immigrants of Montreal), Association des Travailleurs/euses Temporaires d’Agences de Placement (Association of workers for temporary agencies) and Association des Travailleurs/euses Étrangers Temporaires (Association of Temporary Foreign Workers). The day of action was led by Viviana Medina, a member of the Centre pour Travailleuses et Travailleurs, and a founding member of the coalition, who had been invited to speak later in the day at the World Day for Decent Work conference.

The day of action, which initially numbered about 30 people, grew to about a 100 at noon when the panelists at the World Day conference - a combination of academics, union activists and community activists - urged all attendees to join the day of action in the Parc Jarry across the street. Ironically, the subject of several panel discussion was precisely about the need to mobilize: something the immigrant workers were already making concrete.

During the action, coalition members from Mexico, Bolivia, China, the Philippines and Mauritius spoke about the inhumane labor conditions they faced, the destructive role of temporary agencies, the despair caused by these conditions, and how they see the fight for $15/hour as part of a wider struggle, as expressed by Julien Daigneault of Étudiant.es socialistes de UQAM: “The Fight for 15 opens up many questions about who really does the work in our society, and who has power to effect the changes we all wish to see. As workers, we press the levers and supply the energy that makes the trains run, the factories produce. Let’s think about how to harness this power to create our own party, a workers’ party that will represent our needs and pose a challenge to the existing corporate order”.

Most importantly, in Quebec the Fight for 15 is being waged against the backdrop of rotating, province-wide 6-day strikes called by the public sector unions, and protests by public school parents angry about the cuts to their children’s education called "Protegez Nos Écoles" (Protect our Schools). By highlighting the exploitation of immigrants by temporary or placement agencies, the CCTP also raises questions about the larger role these agencies play in fragmenting worker solidarity, as well as their potential to provide replacement workers during strikes. Likewise, by making demands for all temporary workers, the CCTP seeks to erase distinctions that divide workers, such as that between domestic and non-domestic workers, made by politicians and employers.

One key challenge to the Fight for 15+ and the CCTP is how it can build on this labor momentum and mobilize for adoption of the $15/hour minimum wage by the left sovereigntist party, Québec Solidaire. A second challenge, increasingly important in light of the Islamophobia unleashed during the federal election, is broadening demands for higher wages and immigrant dignity to include explicit support for Muslims.

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