Only two years after the founding of the Union des forces progressistes, the Québec Left has entered into a new phase of development. On the electoral scene and in the street, the UFP is a present and credible actor. Meanwhile, a new political club, Trade Unionists for a Free Québec (Syndicalistes pour un Québec libre - SPQL) is attempting to use their involvement with the Parti québécois to pull it to the left. Finally, a new political movement, Option citoyenne, led by feminist activist Françoise David and social housing activist François Saillant, is proposing nothing less than the unity of all left forces into a single party by Spring 2005. The coming year will be an important one for the Québec Left.
Two years ago the political left succeeded in bringing together the principal political organizations as well as local collectives and non-partisan individuals into one party, the Union of Progressive Forces (Union des forces progressistes - UFP). This was the fruit of patient work to build relationships and struggle for unity. Since its founding, and thanks to its federated structure, its “common culture”, its firm commitment to achieve unity and, especially, thanks to its self-identification as a “party-in-process”, the UFP has made an important contribution to the construction of a mass progressive party in Québec.
The militant unionism of the 1960s and 70s gave its political support to the Parti québécois which represented hope on the national as well as the social scale. The PQ years in power disappointed many but in the last five or six years, an interest in politics has been revived. We are seeing the rebirth of political education within unions and there is renewed engagement with partisan politics. For some union activists, this means a return to the PQ with a project to bring them back to the Left.
For several reasons the feminist and other social movements have long held themselves separate from partisan politics: the fear of compromising their funding, the fact that politics remains dominated by men and offers conditions unattractive to most women, and a certain distrust of politics that is seen as an overall dirty affair. In the last few years, however, many community and feminist groups have become involved in politics, whether by challenging candidates during elections, campaigning on social themes by presenting independent candidates or by supporting the UFP. Option citoyenne movement draws on this new openness on the Left to partisan politics, choosing to follow an autonomous process of organization and reflection before entering into negotiation with the UFP and other partisan political groups. This process, which is likely to attract people who have yet to be mobilized by the UFP or the Green Party, is promising insofar as it contributes to a process of exchange and unity on the Left in a way that respects the diversity of standpoints.
The mobilization and unification of the Left is a long process, as is developing a political alternative and the construction of a solid and credible political vehicle. Because the Left is composed of a variety of groups, a “party-in-process” is necessary to retain a great diversity of groups and approaches within a flexible structure as well as to reconcile the requirements of a “party of the streets” with those of a “party of the ballot box”. Since its founding, the UFP has enriched the capacity of the Left to get things moving. It is due to the existence of the UFP that the PQ is trying to renew its Left and that the SPQL is trying to convince union activists to get involved. It is because the UFP is there as a baseline that new lines are being drawn with Option citoyenne.
Last March, Option citoyenne publicly rejected the SPQL project to reform the PQ and opted instead for the broadening of cooperation on the Left. The debate is now raging and pits, face to face, the SPQL on one side and the UFP and Option citoyenne on the other as opposite strategies. While avoiding going after the wrong target by, for example, attacking our comrades in this collective, we must more than ever continue to construct and represent an alternative - an alternative which may bring us even closer to what we’re after. It is the responsibility of the UFP, Option citoyenne, the Green Party of Québec and who knows what future collectives, to build an alternative capable of shattering the PQ mirage and making a clear break from neoliberalism.
Translation: Jill Hanley
This article appeared in the July/August 2004 issue of Canadian Dimension .