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Canadian Labour Congress accused of 'selling out' Quebec students

A Vancouver rally in support of the students is scheduled to be held tonight (June 22) at 7:00 p.m. at the downtown Vancouver Art Gallery. Recently the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, CUPE Ontario, and the international union group Public Services International have all issued statements of support for the student protests, and on June 7 the BC Federation of Labour issued a statement that said, in part:

"We join our Sisters and Brothers across Canada in congratulating the students of Quebec for standing up for what's right, and urge the government of Quebec to negotiate with Quebec students to end this strike, while keeping education in Quebec accessible and affordable for all."

But some critics of labour leadership say that the country's national umbrella group, the Canadian Labour Congress, is "selling out," Quebec students. In a statement posted on the Recomposition website and widely circulated in BC labour circles this week, CLC president Ken Georgetti and Michel Arsenault, president of the FTQ/QFL, the Quebec labour umbrella group, are attacked for discouraging Anglo Canadian unions from taking "possibly illegal" actions to support the student uprising.

A letter Georgetti wrote to the CLC's Canadian Council is cited by the critics, who say that the CLC leader, who invokes the protocols governing labour actions that cross Canada/Quebec boundaries, was discouraging solidarity actions by unions based outside Quebec.

Jim Sinclair, president of the BC Fed, says that there is nothing to these criticisms.

"We saw the letter from Brother Georgetti, and there was nothing in it to keep us from supporting the students," he insisted in a phone interview with The Tyee.

"We followed protocol when we wanted to show solidarity, and contacted the QFL," Sinclair said on Friday afternoon. "We were welcomed and thanked for our support. This is just the usual protocol, and certainly not a sell out. We support these students and there will be more support actions in BC."

Dennis Gruending, who speaks for the CLC, told The Tyee by email that the main point of Georgetti's letter was to remind all concerned ". . . that labour leaders from outside of Quebec should, as a matter of courtesy and protocol, contact the FTQ before making any forays into Quebec." He pointed out that the CLC had issued a strong statement of support for the Quebec students on May 1.

Quebec student leaders were featured guests this week at a Vancouver forum sponsored by the BC Federation of Labour and the Canadian Federation of Students. On June 20,over 150 enthusiastic supporters heard Martine Desjardins, president and vice president Yanick Gregoire of La Federation Etudiante Universitaire du Quebec, the largest student organization in the province, report on the massive student mobilizations against tuition increases that have filled Quebec streets now for over 18 weeks.

Despite the summer break in university schedules and despite Draconian new legislation brought in by the province to try to quell the protests, students and their allies have been making real gains, the student leaders maintained, and they vowed to continue their fight.

"We hope we will be called back by the government to negotiate or they will face us in the general election," declared Desjardins.

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy beats for the Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at tos@infinet.net.

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