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From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Tue Aug 29 10:04:25 2000
Date: Mon, 28 Aug 2000 18:35:20 -0400
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Torvald Patterson <torvald@QUEERNET.ORG>
Subject: Protesting workers disrupt PQ meeting

Protesting workers disrupt PQ meeting; Premier unswayed by actions of militant municipal union; calls incident 'disgrace'

By Tu Thankh Ha, Toronto Globe and Mail, 28 August 2000

Montreal -- Known for their militancy and muscular tactics, Montreal's blue-collar workers spearheaded a violent protest yesterday that disrupted a meeting of Premier Lucien Bouchard's Parti Québeçois.

Municipal workers tried to storm into a meeting room in Trois-Rivières, where 200 PQ delegates were debating policy. Protesters scuffled with police officers and security guards. One man was arrested.

Mr. Bouchard, who is usually guarded at public appearances by up to six provincial police officers, called the incident a "disgrace."

At one point during yesterday's turmoil, Mr. Bouchard's bodyguards could be seen encircling him, their hands tucked under their jackets, ready to reach for a weapon. The demonstrators were led by the head of Montreal's blue-collar union, Jean Lapierre, and included blue-collar employees from Verdun, Montreal suburb, along with other municipal workers.

The protesters are opposed to the PQ's plans to merge a number of municipal governments, which could mean fewer jobs for them. They're also worried about an amendment to the Quebec Labour Code, which they say makes it easier to subcontract public jobs.

The right shoulder of his shirt ripped, Mr. Lapierre compared Mr. Bouchard to Maurice Duplessis, the anti-union authoritarian premier of Quebec in the 1940s and 1950s.

"They want to de-unionize the municipal sector," he told the demonstrators. "You'd think we live in the Duplessis era."

"What happened is small compared to what the government is doing, to what is going on in Quebec, in terms of a right-wing slide," Mr. Lapierre told reporters.

"It will change nothing," Mr. Bouchard said in a news conference. "The government's intents are known and it's not because of a few noisy thugs that anything will change."

The police had not been notified in advance of the demonstration by about 250 municipal workers, which began about 11 a.m. After waving placards outside, next to the hotel used by the PQ contingent, some protesters stormed inside, to the second floor, where the plenary hall was located.

About 20 demonstrators tried to rush into the meeting room, while hotel and police security officials attempted to stop them.

As pushing and shoving broke out, one demonstrator, his eyes bulging and his teeth clenched, tried to hold on to the doors. "Come give us a hand, come give us a hand," someone shouted.

After pushing back the union members, the security detail slid the legs of a metal chair through the door handles to jam it shut.

Last year, Mr. Lapierre and another union executive received six-month jail sentences for leading a riot at Montreal's city hall in 1993. At the time, the union was protesting a 1-per-cent wage rollback.

Wearing hockey helmets and waving staves, the workers in that incident used a battering ram to fling city hall's doors open, then caused $32,000 damage inside.

Also last year, four Montreal blue-collar workers were convicted after abducting a foreman who had tried to discipline them, rolling him in a tarpaulin, then beating him and ordering him to kneel down and apologize to them.

Yesterday's incident drew attention away from the meeting's agenda, which included such items as accusing the federal government of leaving provinces short of health-care funds.