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Cooperation that Saves Jobs in Quebec

January 1, 1987 -

While traditional trade unionists willingly perpetuate the old us-versus-them mentality in the workplace, others are looking for ways in which unions and companies can cooperate for the benefit of everyone.

Louis Laberge, fiery president of the Quebec Federation of Labour, has certainly made his contribution to the practice of adversarial labour relations, especially in the turbulent years of the early 1970s. However, Laberge apparently also possesses a practical and statesmanlike side. He must be credited with spearheading a unique experiment to help financially strapped companies obtain necessary investment funds, which are very hard to get from traditional financial sources.

The Solidarity Fund, established in 1984 with a total of $20-million in interest-free loans from the federal and Quebec governments, is now funded by the regular payments of some 20,000 Quebec union members. The average weekly investment is $6 to $8 per person.

Managed by a 13-member board chaired by Mr. Laberge, the fund has helped companies to survive and thus preserve jobs. Mr. Laberge estimates that it has helped create 850 new jobs and saved an additional 1,650 positions.

A total of nearly $12-million has been invested in 16 companies. One of them, a subsidiary of Sidbec-Dosco Inc. in Montreal, had been closed for nearly a year but was enabled to resume production through investment of Solidarity funds. A manufacturer of steel revolving doors was unable to obtain new capital and near the point of closing when the Solidarity Fund came to its assistance. A Baie Comeau sawmill was helped by a new fund investment so that 700 jobs were saved and 200 new ones created.

The fund is expected to top $100-million by next year and has a long list of applicants looking for new investment capital. Investments take the form of loans, share ownership or a mortgage. Commented Mr. Laberge, "I now wish I had had the idea and the guts to start it 10 years ago" (Globe and Mail, December 15, 1986).