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Quebec Labour and the Referendums

  • Larry Savage (a1)

Abstract

Abstract. The Quebec labour movement's decision to withdraw its support for Canada's federal system in the 1970s and instead embrace the sovereignist option was unquestionably linked to the intersection of class and nation in Quebec. In this period, unions saw the sovereignist project as part of a larger socialist or social democratic societal project. Because the economic inequalities related to ethnic class, which fuelled the labour movement's support for sovereignty in the 1970s, were no longer as prevalent by the time of Quebec's 1995 referendum, organized labour's continued support for the sovereignist option in the post-referendum period cannot adequately be explained using the traditional lens of class and nation. This paper employs an institutional comparative analysis of Quebec's three largest trade union centrals with a view to demonstrating that organized labour's primary basis for supporting sovereignty has changed considerably over time. While unions have not completely abandoned a class-based approach to the national question, they have tended to downplay class division in favour of an emphasis on Quebec's uniqueness and the importance of preserving the collective francophone identity of the nation. Party–union relations, the changing cultural, political and economic basis of the sovereignist project and the emergence of neoliberalism in Quebec are offered as key explanatory factors for the labour movement's shift in focus.

Résumé. La décision du mouvement syndical québécois de retirer son soutien du système fédéral, dans les années 1970, et d'embrasser l'option souverainiste, a été liée incontestablement à l'intersection de classe et nation au Québec. Dans cette période, les syndicats ont vu le projet souverainiste en tant qu'élément d'un plus grand projet de société à caractère social démocratique ou socialiste. Toutefois, puisque les inégalités économiques associées à la classe ethnique qui avaient poussé le mouvement syndical dans le camp de la souveraineté n'étaient plus aussi prononcées lors du référendum de 1995, l'analyse traditionnelle de classe et nation ne peut plus expliquer le maintien de sa position souverainiste durant la période postréférendaire. Cet article se fonde sur une analyse comparative et institutionnelle des trois plus grandes centrales syndicales québécoises en vue de démontrer que les motifs premiers de l'appui syndical au projet souverainiste ont changé considérablement avec le temps. Même si les syndicats n'ont pas complètement abandonné l'approche militante surla question nationale, ils ont relégué les divisions de classes au second plan et plutôt mis l'accent sur le caractère distinct du Québec et sur l'importance de préserver l'identité francophone collective de la nation. Les relations entre les syndicats et les partis politiques, la base culturelle, politique et économique du projet souverainiste, et l'introduction du néolibéralisme au Québec sont présentées en tant que facteurs principaux expliquant l'évolution de la position syndicale à l'égard de la question nationale.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Larry Savage, Department of Political Science, Brock University, 500 Glenridge Avenue, St. Catharines, Ontario, CanadaL2S 3A1, lsavage@brocku.ca

References

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Quebec Labour and the Referendums

  • Larry Savage (a1)

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