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Eight months on strike is a long time. While some union members of the SQDC sometimes have difficulty seeing the end of it, "the last two months [have given us] a lot of hope, because we see that there are more and more people who put us forward: we have had several radio interventions, several advertisements that run on social networks too. And even some ministers are now saying that it doesn't make sense anymore," explains Lucas Gizard, an employee at one of the SQDC branches on strike.
Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) at Quebec's cannabis stores, the SQDC, are demanding a wage increase that is actually below that of comparable public services, such as the Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ) or other government customer service jobs. In a context of high inflation, cannabis sales workers say they can't go any lower if they want to at least live a decent life.
"We've had people flatly refusing to recognize us for what we're worth for the past eight months. We've even got an arbitration process going on, which means there's a bureaucrat who's going to tell the government that they're negotiating like crap," he explains with a smirk. "So he's going to say, 'No, you're negotiating badly, here's what you need to do'."
"It's encouraging to see that the money losses are really increasing a lot." It is this historically very effective leverage that unions typically use in their negotiations when the government or a private corporation refuses to bargain with workers. "At a wage of $21/hour, that would be $2 million in losses for them, whereas right now they're at least $10 million in losses over the last six months."
"On a day-to-day basis, we're out in front of our branches, we're lobbying, we're as visible as possible in front of the officials, in front of the reporters. Otherwise, there are still punctual pressure tactics. We went to see the government during meetings and dinners. The entire CUPE has also gone to Ottawa to support other CUPE sections on strike elsewhere in the country."
"The next few months are going to be a big fight," says Gizard, confident. "I think there's more pressure tactics coming. The goal is really to motivate people to keep going, to tell them that it's really only a matter of time, because it is, we're getting to arbitration. It's a matter of time."
"And right now, we're not even fighting for our own interest anymore," he adds. "We're fighting for a common interest, which is to stop having the state crush us, to have the state act in bad faith with this constant two-facedness. If the government really cared about people's health, we would have quality products that would be sold here, and that has really motivated people to stay at the SQDC, to show the state that we're not going to let it happen."
"And that just because they're able to put injunctions and pressure tactics on us doesn't mean we're going to get demotivated. They've even threatened us with blacklists, they're spreading rumours of permanent closure. We're going to show them we're stronger than that."
"We've had the freedoms we've gained through struggle, through blood, through fire, chipped away over the last 20 years. They are being chipped away in a very gentle, very subtle way. Especially with the COVID, it has been seen a lot of laws that have been passed quietly, a lot of amendments, etc."
Despite pressure tactics, injunctions, and bad faith negotiations on the part of the Quebec government, SQDC workers have maintained their strike for over 8 months and are still finding new hope to continue their fight.