FIQ (Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec)

“Austerity has failed”

Austerity has failed”, (L’austérité a échoué), is the famous title of a letter published on September 30 in La Presse, written by Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize winner in economic. I imagine that if one deserves such a prize, one must have some idea of what one is talking about, don’t you agree? Even more so, if he was alone, we could say he’s a lost soul. Yet, his words resemble those of another Nobel Prize winner in economics, Paul Krugman, who strives every day in the New York Times to put us on guard against the dangers of austerity. Furthermore, even the economists who previously recommended austerity as cures are being self-critical.

So, what is austerity? Is it now the taboo word that the premier wants to avoid at all costs? It is wonderfully explained here. Roughly, it means that when a government makes the choice of austerity, it claims that it is necessary to:

  • reduce the State’s expenses, including public services, in order to free up some financial leeway;
  • use this financial leeway to reduce the income taxes of business and the more wealthy;
  • further improve the situation of business and the more wealthy by reducing their production costs, notably by subsidizing them and by making life hard for labour organizations.

In return, it is claimed that businesses, by making more profit, will increase salaries and improve productivity. This economic vitality would increase the State’s revenues, which would make it possible to refinance public services. Yet, it is exactly this mechanism that doesn’t function. Businesses send their profits into tax havens or build up giant nest eggs.

But beyond these big words and this macro analysis which may seem far from what we are living with at work as healthcare professionals, beyond this semblance austerity is dramatically evident in our daily lives. For example, when the administration of a CSSS has a mandate because of austerity to recover millions of dollars in the field, this translates into the abolition of full-time positions of the healthcare professionals, through cuts equal to dozens, even hundreds of hours of work for nurses, licensed practical nurses, respiratory therapists… and they dare to say that there won’t be any repercussion on the services? Beds are cut and they pretend that access to services won’t be compromised?

I’m not talking about an isolated case here. Several CSSSs have and will have to make painful choices and identify where the axe will fall, sometimes against their will. Because the decision is political, because austerity is political. Yet, when some of our distractors accuse us of being political rather than confining ourselves to negotiating and defending the collective agreement, that is precisely because they are trying to prevent us from questioning the pertinence of an austerity recipe which constantly limits the scope of what we can rightly negotiate and defend for the workers.

It is time to leave behind the false premises that the Couillard government wants to confine us to and to realize that with a little good will and meticulousness, other choices exist.

You’re looking for revenue? We have it for 10 milliards de solutions (10 billion solutions). You’re looking for solutions for better use of public money? The healthcare professionals have some to propose and it is this part of the solution that I will address in my next blog.

Think outside the box.