Quebec Solidarity Fund

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Sam Gindin:

"One model that appears, on the surface, to better address the problem of fragmented working-class ownership is the Quebec Solidarity Fund (QSF) — one of the examples of “real utopias” that Wright praises.

The QSF is distinct in that the state subsidizes workers to invest in a “solidarity fund” and places ownership and investment decisions not in the hands of dispersed workers or sub-groups of workers but in a larger collectivity — in this case, a central union body.

While Wright acknowledges that the QSF doesn’t challenge capitalism, he still seems to believe it can contribute to the larger project of doing so. This is mistaken. Putting labor leaders in charge does not in itself guarantee a better politics. Indeed, the QSF was originally designed to divert populist attention from radical demands like control of private financial institutions — not to democratize the economy.

In reality, worker participation in the QSF consists mostly of sharing in the uniquely high tax breaks granted to those who contribute to the fund (a benefit that has helped mute criticism of corporate tax breaks). The QSF also provides the Quebec Federation of Labour with clientelist opportunities such as high-paying jobs at the top and remuneration for activists who sell the program in workplaces.

Above all, the fund’s concern for high returns and legitimacy in investment circles has prevented it from using its funds to favor unionized firms, refraining from investments in anti-union firms, considering creative conversions, or showing any significant affinity for social investments.

In this regard, Wright’s misleading identification of Quebec as a “social economy” seems to reflect a tactical determination on the Left to find positive examples that spur optimism. To its credit, Quebec has introduced progressive programs like child care.

But the overall story is not all that different from other jurisdictions. Students and unions have been marching in the streets against tuition increases, public-sector cutbacks, wage freezes, and environmental degradation. Yet in Quebec, as elsewhere, no “social economy” has replaced the set of policies we identify as “neoliberalism.” (