Friday, February 9, 2007

The Constitutional Politics of Labour: From Confederation to the Quiet Revolution - Summary

This series of posts on the constitutional politics of labour has documented the ideological shift of the trade union movement in Quebec from the late 20th century to the end of the Quiet Revolution. For most of this period, the QPFL and QFIU embraced the same type of centralist federalism espoused by their respective parent organizations, the TLC and CCL. Decentralization was perceived as a hindrance to working-class solidarity and national standards. These labour organizations spoke out against any constitutional proposal which would limit the powers of the central government, particularly in the areas of labour law and social welfare. For its part, the Catholic Quebec based CCCL espoused a protectionist form of Quebec nationalism which was closely aligned to the Duplessis regime and its constitutional outlook. When the QPFL and QFIU merged in 1957 to create the FTQ, it coincided with a radical transformation of Quebec society and politics. The Quiet Revolution unleashed a fury of progressive social reforms which primarily benefited the francophone majority. The rapid modernization of Quebec society fostered a new progressive form of nationalism which all segments of the Quebec labour movement embraced without exception. The CCCL shed its Catholic roots and transformed into the secular and more radical CSN. The CSN effectively harnessed the new sense of nationalism in Quebec and grew tremendously throughout the 1960s, sometimes at the expense of the FTQ. Under threat from the CSN, the FTQ began to adopt a more independent outlook vis-à-vis the CLC and on several occasions requested more resources and autonomy from the Congress to better service and represent its francophone membership base. The CLC’s repeated reluctance to devolve powers or responsibilities to the FTQ frustrated the Federation and contributed to the FTQ’s own growing sense of nationalism as a distinct provincial federation of labour within the CLC. Although both the FTQ and the CSN officially rejected separatism as a political option during this period, both were increasingly becoming impatient with the constitutional status quo. The series concluded by documenting the Quebec labour movement’s reaction to the federal government’s decision to invoke the War Measures Act to deal with the October Crisis of 1970. The labour movement’s principled stand against the War Measures Act solidified its new nationalist orientation, a political outlok that remains firm today.