Day of Action demands justice for the unemployed

Thousands of workers give resounding NO! to anti-social changes to Employment Insurance. The theme of the Day of Action was “Harper, NO! All Out to Block the Reforms!” 

Head of the demonstration in Montreal on February 23

Scene from the demonstration in Ottawa on February 23

(TML Daily) – On February 23, close to 20,000 people took part in demonstrations across Quebec to demand the immediate repeal of the anti-social changes of the Harper government to the employment insurance program, with other actions in New Brunswick, Ottawa and at the constituency office of Harper’s Minister of Anti-Human Resources Diane Finley in Simcoe, Ontario. The Quebec Federation of Labour’s construction wing (FTQ-Construction) organized the action in Ottawa and nine others across Quebec in Montreal, Sherbrooke, Saguenay, Rouyn-Noranda, Rimouski, Sept-Iles, Baie-Comeau, Trois-Rivières and Quebec City.

In New Brunswick, more than 2,000 people rallied in Tracadie-Sheila, a town with a population of less than 5,000 on the Acadian Peninsula. The town has been the site of such protests in recent months.

In Simcoe, Ontario, Local 1005 of the United Steelworkers was joined at Minister’s Finley’s office by steelworkers from Lake Erie – Local 8782, as well as members of Local 16506 USW, the United Food and Commercial Workers and others from the community.

At the actions in Quebec and Ottawa, the majority of the participants were construction workers with both the FTQ-Construction and the Conseil provincial du Québec des métiers de la construction (International), including a large number of young workers. In Montreal, they were joined by a contingent from the Syndicat québécois de la construction. There were also many workers from other sectors including forestry (especially in Saguenay), mining and metallurgy (in Sept-Iles and Baie-Comeau), auto, food production, retail, school crossing guards, movie technicians and others affected by the changes. They were joined by community organizations which defend unemployed workers. A number of members of the Quebec National Assembly also participated along with MPs from the NDP and Bloc Quebecois. Contingents from the Marxist-Leninist Party participated in several of the Quebec actions and also the Ottawa event.

The theme of the Day of Action was “Harper, NO! All Out to Block the Reforms!” Demonstrators said they will not give up; that this is just the beginning; that more demonstrations are in the making; and that Harper has no choice but to immediately scrap these changes.

In Montreal, Yves Ouellet, general director of FTQ-Construction, told the crowd: “As I am speaking to you, people are marching from Tracadie-Sheila to Ottawa. We are here to send a clear message, that we are saying NO! to legislation that is dangerous for the workers. We are not going to let the government pass vicious legislation that changes hundreds of regulations and then tell us that they are actually trying to help us; that this won’t affect the income of Quebecers and Canadians; that it is done in order to help us. When people take to the streets, it means they understand that these things are being done to harm us.”

These words reflected the workers’ anger, that these regressive changes will further wreck the economy, not only in the regions where seasonal work is virtually the only economic activity remaining, but in big industrial centres as well. Many construction workers told TML that their situations are precarious too, having to be constantly between two jobs. The government should support them, rather than attacking and penalizing them.

The remarks of the President of the Conseil provincial, Gérard Cyr, were also appreciated by the Montreal crowd:

“Construction workers are proud to work in the industry but there are difficult periods when they are out of work. Construction workers don’t have steady work all year long so they need employment insurance. Instead of stealing more than $50 billion from the EI fund, the Harper government should give the money back to the workers who paid for it while they were working. It is important that in all the regions we all work together to bring everybody with us, even those who think they have a job that is secure, because such a thing does not exist any more as shown by the plant closures we have seen in recent years.”

In Tracadie-Sheila, the only economic activities of note are the fisheries and aquaculture. Signs held up by protestors indicated the people’s opposition to the prospect of being forced to leave their homes and region, as well as their determination to show Harper the door.

The call to defeat Harper was present everywhere in the actions. People expressed great anger about the visits by Service Canada personnel to people on EI to spy on them and harass them at home. They denounced Harper’s claims made in Parliament justifying these visits because they allegedly reduce fraud. Meanwhile, the government has imposed quotas to cut off EI recipients. Many demonstrators told TML Daily that it is the Harper Conservative government and the Liberals before them who are guilty of fraud for absconding with the $57 billion EI fund to put it into the servicing of the debt.

The January-February issue of Forum ouvrier, the supplement of Le Marxiste-Léniniste, highlighted the militant fight of the workers against the changes to EI and was widely distributed. As soon as they saw the front cover with the slogans affirming the dignity of labour and giving pride of place to that fight, workers were eager to take the paper saying “Yes that’s right, that is what we are fighting for!”

In the discussions at the end of the actions, people spoke of the need to organize more actions, to bring more people and workers from more sectors into the fight because this is a major attack against the economy, against the living and working conditions of all. The Harper government is at war against the people and it is the people who must prevail, workers told TML.

For a complete photo display from all the demonstrations, as well as additional reports, visit TML Daily.

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