PQ can count on traditional allies in labour movement

CEGEP union fails to learn lesson about folly of politicizing classrooms

Crise de leadership au PQ

CEGEP students can be forgiven for having forgotten lessons over the summer. Their teachers have, too - or at least the leaders of the latter's unions.
Only last March, Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair was embarrassed when a PQ ally, the Conseil de la souverainete du Quebec, published a textbook on sovereignty intended for use in Quebec classrooms, from pre-school to university.
Conseil chairman Gerald Larose's denial that the book was intended for school use was somewhat undermined by its title: Parlons de souverainete a l'ecole (Let's Talk Sovereignty at School).
The outcry against the proposed political indoctrination in the classroom forced Boisclair to dissociate himself from the book. He issued a statement saying the text "neither can nor should be considered pedagogical material intended for children." It "has and will have, under a Parti Quebecois government, no place in school." Promoting sovereignty was the job of sovereignists, but "in no way that of teachers."
The CEGEP teachers' union leaders either forgot that lesson about the advisability of teachers' using their positions of authority for political propagandizing in the schools, or didn't grasp it in the first place.
It was reported this week that three federations of CEGEP teachers' unions have approved a plan to "raise the consciousness" of students this fall with the obvious intention of persuading them to vote against the Liberals in the election expected by next spring. The plan has also been endorsed by CEGEP student organizations.
The union federation hasn't decided whether to take the campaign into the classroom itself. But they will distribute in the CEGEPs a brochure containing articles analyzing the Liberal record on issues that notably include Bill 142, the legislation by which the government last December imposed contract terms on its unionized employees, including the CEGEP teachers.
"The document will be published in large volume and will be distributed in such a way as to be hard not to find or to put in the recycling," a vice-president of one of the union federations told Le Devoir.
"The texts will make it possible to present a left-wing alternative discourse to counter neo-conservative ideas," said the president of another union federation. And, he added, the pre-election period was "an ideal time" for the exercise.
It's also obvious that the campaign is intended to benefit the official opposition PQ, which, except for a period in the early 1980s when a PQ government imposed wage rollbacks on its employees, has traditionally been close to the unions.
The party's president, Monique Richard, is former president of the CSQ organization of teachers' unions. A political club of labour unionists and progressives called SPQ-Libre enjoys official status within the PQ. And Quebec Solidaire, the new party challenging the PQ from the left, has received little support from organized labour.
In the short term, the unions' "consciousness-raising" exercise might do the PQ more harm than good.
While many CEGEP students sympathize with the PQ and are eligible to vote, many of them don't bother. And the initiative could backfire against the PQ if other voters see it as another example of over-politicization of Quebec life by Pequistes.
Just as Boisclair did with the sovereignist textbook last March, PQ education critic Camil Bouchard quickly distanced the party from any use of the unions' brochure as "pedagogical material intended for captive clienteles."
That didn't stop Action Democratique leader Mario Dumont from linking the PQ to the unions' "propaganda campaign."
Still, this incident shows that the PQ can count on the active support of the unions in the next election.
In the last three elections, the Liberals received about the same number of votes, and the outcome was decided by whether the PQ's traditional supporters turned out.
If they now are as motivated as the CEGEP teachers' unions leaders appear to be, then it's a bad sign for the Liberals.

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