As soon as she was elected, Sonia Ethier set in motion the theme of the latest CSQ Congress: Notre pouvoir, l’action! CSQ Magazine met with her to discuss future actions and the challenges awaiting her.

CSQ Magazine: What are your priorities over the next three years?

Sonia Ethier: Ensure that we succeed, together, working collectively, in improving our working conditions. For our wellbeing, but also because our working conditions have a direct impact on the quality of services in education, childcare and in the health and social services network.

We have to convince the government to review its personnel management model and replace it with a more humane model that does not endanger our mental and physical health. We can do this through collective action. The challenge is tremendous, but together, we can meet it.

During Congress there was a lot of discussion of overwork, a sense of loss of meaning, and workplace violence. What actions does the CSQ intend to take to address these problems?

We will meet with our members in the field to talk to them about their working conditions. They must realize that they are not responsible for the problems they are experiencing.  They are not the ones who are poorly organized or who poorly manage their time. The source of the problems is the work organization model that is imposed on them, focused on results without taking into account the professional context.

Thanks to our forum on work organization and our Congress, we are equipped to formulate our collective action plan to demand more humane workplaces.

Results-based management has been permeating our workplaces for a long time. How can we fight this current?

The current management models are inhumane and are causing suffering, stress and burnout among staff. We must act swiftly and propose alternatives. The first stage is for workers to become aware of the situation. We must also create and rebuild work collectives.

Furthermore, we must tell the public that the quality of services requires improved working conditions in healthcare, education and childcare. In the past, we have shown that budget cuts far exceeded any reinvestments. If we want to mobilize people, we must inform them of the reality of the situation using accurate data.

Is it possible to rally the support of the public around this major process of collective action?

Yes, by proposing concrete solutions that will have tangible effects on the quality of services. We have to start by unpicking the government’s discourse that has people believing that insufficient public finances are preventing investment that is commensurate with needs.

We have shown that the government could recover billions of dollars by going after tax havens and that the implementation of a fully public drug-insurance plan would enrich the State’s coffers by about three billion dollars.

This money could be reinvested in our schools, our hospitals, our childcare services and our community organizations. There are many solutions that do not require reducing services to the public and that ensure stable, adequate funding for the State.

Over the next three years we will see significant negotiations. What role will the CSQ play? 

We will be front and centre, loudly and clearly articulating the demands of the workers we represent, workers who are experiencing ever-increasing work overload and precarious employment. In all the sectors, we are running up against inhumane management models. Employers want ever-greater flexibility and mobility from their employees. The situation has become insane and we have to tackle it! And we will do so by supporting our affiliated federations and unions in their negotiations.

Is the time right for taking action?

We have to oppose the action of employers who are relentlessly trying to destroy what remains of our work collectives. Management is organizing and wishes to further dismantle unionism in Québec. Why? Because it is a rampart and a means of reducing inequalities and giving power to workers.

We stepped up to the plate to win pay equity and we are fighting for better work-family balance and to amend the Act respecting labour standards. Unionism advances our society in the right direction, and we must not allow ourselves to be silenced.

What lessons can we draw on from the past?

The past has shown us that when we act in solidarity and we persevere, we come out ahead. Today, the challenges before us may be different, but the recipe for victory is the same: solidarity. Employers are pushing us toward individualism and isolation through precarity, the fragmentation of tasks and ever-stricter requirements. We have to break out of this isolation and build a shared agenda around our solidarity.

On another issue, what place will be given to fighting climate change in the CSQ agenda?

During the elections, the environment did not seem to be a priority for the political parties. We should continue to apply pressure so that the CAQ government includes the environment as one of its priorities.

The CSQ is well equipped to deal with environmental issues, thanks to its network of Brundtland green establishments (EVB-CSQ), which is composed of committed activists. It is a very important source of change and mobilization in encouraging our decision-makers to take measures to combat climate change.

What is the CSQ doing to prepare itself for the significant transformation of work and employment caused by digital technologies?

We conducted an extensive consultation with the education network on this issue and we are continuing to consult in all our activity sectors. We are also taking part in meetings with the Ministère with regard to the rollout of the Digital Action Plan for Education, and I believe we really are in the avant-garde.

Technology will continue to advance and intrude on our lives. We must have the ability to have oversight over digital technology and its impacts on our working conditions, particularly with regard to professional autonomy. This is essential.

Do we have the strength to transform society?

Yes, absolutely! One thing is certain, we are not facing any shortage of challenges. Collectively, we’ll have to roll up our sleeves, unite and take action to bring about change. More humane workplaces will not pop up out of nowhere, especially when we are compelled to confront a system that is attempting to isolate us and break our momentum.

The greatest strength of the union movement rests with our capacity for defining a shared project and grounding our collective efforts within it. Of course we do not possess the financial or legislative resources of our adversaries. But we have something better: we have the strength of our numbers and the motivation to advance Quebec for the benefit of everyone. I believe this more than ever. Together, we can accomplish great things!