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Just over three weeks ago, workers at 26 Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) branches, members of CUPE-5454, ended one of the longest strikes in Canadian public sector history. With their new collective agreement approved by some 85% of members, they won significant wage gains and resisted what they described as government intimidation. Lucas Gizard, third key at SQDC and an activist in this strike since its inception, shares his experience in an exclusive interview with The North Star.
A Continuous Learning Process
At SQDC, a large proportion of employees are young, in their twenties or thirties. Striking was therefore a novelty for many of them, and brought its share of trial and error.
Mr. Gizard explains that the pressure tactics used at the outset were fairly limited, both in scope and impact. The adoption of outfits that went against the dress code may well have demonstrated their discontent, but was largely insufficient. Despite the strike that followed as their main means of asserting themselves, more had to be done.
For him, "where we were most effective were economic blockades or street blockades, for example in front of the SQDC head office. We were also with the blue-collar workers to temporarily blockade the Port of Montreal."
However, Lucas Gizard expressed disappointment at the limited mainstream media coverage of their strike, despite its status as one of the longest in the public sector since the 1950s. If it hadn't been for the workers' outbursts, it seems they would hardly have been talked about. He also lamented the fact that the media hadn't been more interested in their prevention work and its impact, "whether in terms of the impacts of smoke, in terms of pregnant women..."
Indeed, SQDC salespeople are also responsible for informing and ensuring that buyers can consume cannabis safely. He explains that calls for "bad trips" to 911 have increased in their absence, but that the mainstream media hasn't made the connection with workers' issues.
Uniting to Win
Faced with the government and the absence of traditional media, he also stressed the importance of union solidarity, explaining that we must support other sectors on strike, such as the SAQ warehouse, or even other branches of the SQDC unionized with a central other than SCFP. He insists on the need for unity in the face of a state he describes as anti-union.
"We have an anti-union state, a patronizing state. We've got a state that does illegal things to win, so there again, it's pretty complicated to stand up in good faith to the state. You always have to 'be the bigger man', you have to join forces. You have to support each other and not play the State's game of division. We'll win together.
Failure of social mission: SQDC still on strikeSQDC banner
"I think our victory sends out a beautiful message. [...] We got something decent, so the message I want to pass on to the public sector is that we must not give up. And yes, you have to compromise. But you also have to know not to compromise where it's most important, which is the standard of living, and respect."
This Was Only the Beginning
Despite this, Lucas Gizard insists on the formative value of his first strike experience and advocates constant preparation, underlining the importance of remaining constantly vigilant and ready to act.
"Just because we have an agreement doesn't mean we're not preparing for the next strike in 2027." So we have to "be able to earn our stripes too, even in peacetime. It's also a kind of duty we have, especially in the years to come, to train people to understand what unionism is, to understand what it means to fight against your employer or the fight in general in the public or private sector, and just to spread the word."
"So many people didn't know we were on strike. So many people in non-union branches think the union is just big bad guys. There are gray areas, yes, but defend your interests and that's what's going to move things forward."