Did you know that Quebec union leaders ended up in prison 51 years ago?

Did you know Quebec union leaders ended up in jail there? 51 years ago?


These weeks, the government and the unions are trying to impose their negotiating agenda. In an uncertain economic context marked by galloping inflation, we can expect a tough confrontation. But let us be reassured: no union leader risks ending up in prison, as was the case in 1972!

That year, Olivier Ducharme shows in his book, many young Quebecers dreamed of revolution despite the repression of October 1970 and the dissolution of the FLQ. No need to subscribe to the views of this leftist historian to appreciate his rich chronicle of this oh so turbulent year. The picture he painted in 1972 is absolutely striking! 

1972 repression and political dispossession, Olivier Ducharme, Montréal, Écosociété, 2022

Long live socialism!

Our era is certainly haunted by debates acrimonious on delicate subjects, but the social climate has nothing to do with that of the early 1970s, when many dreamed of establishing socialism and strikes multiplied. 

In February, blue-collar workers in Montreal go on strike. Unfortunate coincidence: the snowstorm of the century hits Montrealers. Their city, buried under 40 cm, is completely paralyzed. This was before the law on essential services.

On March 7, the showdown between the government and the union common front began in force with a large assembly held in the former Forum de Montreal.

“Civil servants must go for the maximum, because they will thus force the private company to offer the same advantages”, launches the speaker Michel Chartrand to the thousands of inflated workers. 

Their main demand: a floor of $100 per week for all public sector employees.

The inter-union Common Front rally was held at the Montreal Forum from January to October 1972.

Read Marx in jail

On April 11, an indefinite general strike is called. Injunctions adopted by the government make these walkouts illegal. The centrals have to pay hefty fines and union leaders are liable to imprisonment. Despite these strong measures, Marcel Pepin (CSN), Louis Laberge (FTQ) and Yvon Charbonneau (CEQ) remain entrenched in their positions. 

On May 8, the three men were sentenced to one year in prison, unheard of in the history of Quebec. After having unsuccessfully appealed their case, they will serve their sentence in Orsainville prison. After three months, they get parole. A great opportunity, confides Pepin when he leaves, to read Capital, by Karl Marx…

These intense tensions of the year 1972, Olivier Ducharme clearly shows, do not not confined to the world of work. The atmosphere is one of global protest against the capitalist and liberal regime. 

The imprisonment of the three union leaders arouses the ire of their supporters. On May 9, 1972, a Common Front demonstration was organized in protest.

The artists denounce the censorship of the National Film Board and organize a second night of poetry; feminist activists demand the right to be served in taverns, long reserved for men only; students and professors denounce CEGEPs and “bourgeois universities” which reproduce social inequalities; the Aboriginal peoples are demanding to be consulted by the Quebec state, which has just launched the huge James Bay project.

For all those who are worried about our polarized debates, this book will have the effect of a good chamomile!