“Whereas the Quebec Federation of Labor has proposed the establishment of an investment fund intended primarily to promote the maintenance and creation of jobs, to stimulate the economy and to contribute to the training of workers in of economy. »
It is June 23, 1983. The clock of the National Assembly is stopped to allow the unanimous adoption of the Act to establish the solidarity fund for Quebec workers before the adjournment of its proceedings.
Mr. Lévesque and Robert Dean, MNA for Prévost and sponsor of the law, had been devastated by the terrible economic crisis that Quebec had just gone through. For them and for Louis Laberge, president of the FTQ and always close to his world, it was a beautiful day.
For me and my co-workers at the Cooperative Development Society as well. With a very small team in which I had great confidence, we had concocted an unprecedented project: to unite workers with the economic destiny of their society.
At the beginning of the year, I presented our project in broad strokes to Jean-Guy Frénette, a close collaborator of the president of the FTQ. He knew that Desjardins had refused to be associated with it, but he still asked me to introduce him to the leaders of the central labor body. In reality, the project suited him, but the idea of involving unionized workers in the creation of a new financial institution was radical and he wanted to validate himself before taking the plunge.
In mid-February, armed with our graphics, our projections and an audiovisual presentation, we arrived confident, but nervous, at the meeting of the FTQ authorities which was being held in the Laurentians. It didn’t take Mr. Laberge long to create a broad consensus and overcome some perceived resistance. His response shows his enthusiasm: “Can we patent this idea?” “.
Shortly after, he surveyed me to verify my interest in becoming the first President and CEO of the Fund. Before agreeing to apply for this position, which I held from 1983 to 1997, I expressed my concerns to him. I hesitated, I wanted to make sure that while respecting the social and economic objectives of the Fund, the new institution would be run with great financial discipline and that its management would be autonomous in its management.
In November, the FTQ announced my appointment. With some of my main collaborators, including Denis Dionne, designer of the business plan, Pierre Laflamme and Maurice Prud’homme, we left the Société de développement des cooperatives to settle in Montreal in empty offices. Everything, absolutely everything, had to be done. The management team had to be completed quickly. I was fortunate to bring together an exceptionally talented team of people, including Normand Caron who built our network of local leaders, Louis Fournier, Jean Martin, Louise Sanscartier and Carole Parent.
With determination we set to work. Mr. Laberge has always supported us when certain important players in the Central Syndicate tried to interfere in our daily management. After the self-management experience of Tricofil, a Saint-Jérôme company which closed its doors in 1982, I wanted to avoid that, in order to save companies, we wasted the workers’ savings. I would never have accepted to participate in this adventure without a formal agreement on this principle.
We managed to overcome the skepticism. From the first years, our most ambitious objectives were exceeded. Today, with its network of more than 3,500 partner companies and assets of more than $18 billion, the Solidarity Fund is present in all regions of Quebec. Financial observers and analysts are unanimous: the Fund plays a key role in the vitality of our economy.
All of this will be invoked, but there may be something more fundamental that will be forgotten. When the Fund was created, relations between workers and employers were tinged with prejudice and tensions were high. The mention of training workers in economics had not been invoked in the law without reason.
From its creation, in the field, workers joined the Fund’s team and were trained to meet their former colleagues. Economic education, whether in terms of retirement or understanding the economic reality of their company and their region, is there.
The record is impressive. By entrusting a portion of their savings to the Fund, today there are 750,000 shareholders of the Fund who have become responsible for their financial autonomy and actors in the development of the Quebec economy.
I would like to emphasize that the educational component did not stop with the workers. The Fund’s partner companies have also learned a great deal. They have become more sensitive to their social role and aware of the importance of respecting the rights and interests of workers.
Thanks to the Fund, in Quebec, a fertile ground for concerted action is firmly in place. The interests of each other may diverge, but many prejudices have disappeared or been reduced. The Solidarity Fund has kept all of its promises and this Quebec institution, unique in the world, is firmly established.
Mr. Lévesque, Robert Dean and Louis Laberge would be very proud of the path we have traveled together. If they were here today, they would encourage us to continue and would no doubt set us up for the fiftieth.