Community organization employees protest Legault’s negligence in social spending
Thousands took to the streets around Parc Émilie-Gamelin to demand equitable funding for their organizations
"Promises broken, community obstructed," shouted the crowd of thousands who marched in frustration against budget cuts to community organizations across the province.
Approximately 2,500 community organization workers around Montreal began a week of strikes and protests, demanding proper provincial funding. Organized by the Front régional d’action communautaire autonome de Montréal on Feb. 22, the workers expressed their dismay with Premier François Legault’s lack of financial investment.
Protesters gathered near Émilie-Gamelin Park around 2:15 p.m. as leaders from FRACA and other groups took to the microphone, denouncing the CAQ’s inaction. After 15 minutes, they began marching down Ste. Catherine St. E, making their way between the Berri-UQAM and Beaudry metro stations. The demonstration ended at 3:30 p.m. in front of Centre Saint-Pierre, where they were given warm beverages and a place to rest.
Diana Lombardi is a coordinator with the Réseau d’action des femmes en santé et services sociaux, a community organization in Montreal helping vulnerable women. As a leading voice in her organization, she took to the microphone at the event to denounce the cuts made by the CAQ government. “Will the government actually listen to us? We are fed up with pinching pennies. We want to actually do our job. We want a substantial increase in funding and we need it now,” she said.
We have to end the perpetual underfunding of the community sector. The money is there, but what is missing is the political will to do anything.” — Diana Lombardi
Lombardi has faced burnout at work, solely to meet her community’s needs. “We are overwhelmed and angry, and we are tired of repeating it. We have to end the perpetual underfunding of the community sector. The money is there, but what is missing is the political will to do anything.”
Demonstrators held signs with their organizations’ names and logos on them, many wearing their work uniforms as well. Exhausted, smiling faces, all masked up, filled the streets as workers marched for better conditions. Cheers and chants of support were heard as the crowd came together in solidarity.
One of the key demands made by organizers was that the Quebec government update and increase its contributions to local nonprofits across the province. FRACA’s speakers estimated that it would cost $460 million to adequately fund these vital programs.
Nonprofits are often the backbones of vulnerable communities, giving citizens access to potentially life-saving services. Protesters have deemed Legault’s inaction towards keeping these support networks alive an austerity measure, due to insufficient government contributions in regards to the pandemic.
Austerity measures are usually defined as financial cuts in social spending during times of economic hardship or budget reprioritization. This means programs meant to benefit working-class people are phased out or reduced in the name of economic recovery.
“It’s been years of austerity politics, budget cuts, tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy, while we are stuck with a weakened, punctured social safety net. Enough is enough.” — Julie Corbeil
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a major strain on these nonprofits. The workers’ fatigue was one of the strongest motivating factors for the protest. Doing their best to keep their communities alive, they say they are in dire need of government support.
Julie Corbeil, a coordinator at the Table régionale des organismes volontaires d’éducation populaire, spoke on why these workers were striking. “It’s about time the government invests in the social safety net. It’s time it ceases letting marginalized and poor people fall to the wayside,” she said. “It’s been years of austerity politics, budget cuts, tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy, while we are stuck with a weakened, punctured social safety net. Enough is enough.”
The social safety net refers to the set of social policies and programs operated by the government. They include socialized medicine, pension plans, welfare, and nonprofit community groups.
“In March, the CAQ government will submit its final budget before the provincial elections,” said Véronique Martineau, coordinator at the Table des groupes de femmes de Montréal. “The government can try to catch up and fix the messes it has caused after years of austerity. We demand major investments in the social safety net, Mr. Legault.”