Indefenite General Strike in Home Childcare Service: Fair and Legitimate Demands

The recent events surrounding home childcare services give rise to excellent reflections on the current links, as well as those to be developed, between the proletariat and other economic agents who are acting outside wage-labor (e.g., owners of registered sole proprietorships, self-employed workers, workers in atypical economic situations or “semi-proletarians”). We therefore need to broaden our understanding of the people’s camp to include social class fractions as well as all elements with an interest in the struggle for socialism. The analysis of the situation of family day-care providers, a very specific case of women workers who have a fate comparable to that of proletarians, is part of this fundamental reflection.

A Historic Vote Among Home Childcare Providers

After 6 weeks of organizing and union pressure tactics, home childcare services providers held a historic vote in favour of an indefinite general strike. The strike by members of the Fédération des intervenantes en petite enfance du Québec (FIPEQ-CSQ) was scheduled to begin on April 4, 2020. It was estimated that it could have affected 60,000 families in the province. However, a few days ago, the union announced that the strike will be postponed due to the current health situation. Child care centres and schools across the province have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This preventive closure decreed by the government affects the entire private and public child care network in Quebec: childcare centres, subsidized and non-subsidized centres, family day care services and community day care centres. In addition to this list, there are kindergarten 4 years old and daycare services in schools.

Family child care workers are not the only unionized workers who see their job pressure tactics put on hold. It is also the case, to name but one, of public sector workers grouped under the banner of the Common Front. The fact remains that 13,000 family child care providers would have gone on strike next month. This was an historic vote, the first in this area, in favour of an unlimited general strike. It is worthy of our interest despite the current truce.

Established in 1997 in Quebec, the childcare centres (CPE) are currently the backbone of the province’s public child care network. They can accommodate up to 80 children each. Until 2006, CPEs provided both facility-based and home childcare. The separation into two separate entities was initiated by the Liberal government, which did not want to invest any more in the expensive child care facilities. By being separated from the CPE network and being developed even further, home childcare made it possible to make up the shortfall in early childhood care while saving the Quebec bourgeois state. In fact, the family childcare network is much less expensive than the maintenance of the CPE network. To name one aspect, it costs nothing in terms of real estate. This means that strengthening the form of home daycare centres and implementing new legislation was a cheap avenue.

Home childcare services are now under the authority of a local coordinating office that supervises and grants the required permits. A “home childcare provider” licence allows a single person to care for up to 6 children under the age of 9, including their own. Out of this number, only two children may be less than 18 months old. If two caregivers work together in the same place, the maximum number of children increases to 9, 4 of whom may be under 18 months old. The service provided by these day-care centres includes a meal, a snack and a maximum of 10 hours of care, which in practice is often exceeded. The spaces offered in these settings are subsidized and cost parents a fixed price established by law at $8.25 per day. The government pays these daycare centres a subsidy based on the number of children in care. This subsidy is the primary source of income for the operators. In addition to childcare, the government requires that the operators must complete an educational program, design their daycare facilities and take 45 hours of training beforehand.

As of April 22, 2015, child care expenses paid by parents became modulated according to family net income. There is thus a basic contribution of $7.75 per day for child care. An additional contribution of $0.70 is to be paid for families with a net income of more than $50,920. The additional contribution is then progressively modulated for families at the top of the $76,380 level up to the limit of $13.45. The additional contribution is reduced by half for the second child. It is not payable for the 3rd and subsequent children. However, this additional contribution is not paid to daycare centres. It is calculated and deducted by the government from individuals at the time of the income tax return or through deductions at source.

The economic dead end surrounding family daycare centres

In its official statements, FIPEQ-CSQ states that in the negotiations with the State, the normative aspect is almost settled. This aspect of the negotiation concerned, among other things, the complaints mechanism and the power of the coordinating office, the establishment of a joint committee, full recognition of the status of self-employed worker, the possibility of specialization, and the adoption of the title of educational services manager to designate the profession. According to the union, it is rather the monetary aspect that poses a problem, and rightly so.

Although the situation of family child care providers differs from that of typical salaried workers, this does not mean that they are entrepreneurs. They are in a very different box from those of the traditional self-employed.

First of all, although they do not occupy a proletarian position in the relations of production, the majority of these childcare providers come from the proletariat. Second, although the family leaders control part of their schedule by being at home, they still have to apply the educational programs and strict instructions of the state. In fact, with the legislation, there has been a formalization of the legal and juridical framework of a service that used to be spontaneously offered by stay-at-home mothers who looked after the children in their neighbourhood. Last but not least, there is no possibility of expansion of economic activity for these home day-care providers. It is impossible for them to accumulate more clients, to work more and to increase their service offer by conquering a larger market share. The service is limited to the few children they are allowed to care for and is sold to the single “buyer”, the state, at a price set by the state itself. This cost is paid for by the state through subsidies to caregivers who are unable to save and hoard. Moreover, the vast majority of women who take on this task at home find it difficult to make ends meet. It is even worse for those who live alone and therefore do not have access to a second family income or alimony. For family child care providers, it is impossible to envisage turning the money they have accumulated by selling a service independently into capital. Such a transformation would require incorporating to continue an activity in the same field, but gradually hiring employees. This is the path that traditional self-employed workers can take. In addition, a large proportion of family child care providers, even almost all those living on the island of Montréal, do not own their own home. The home is the only major means of work among the other necessary tools (babysitting and educational materials) and among the consumable goods (diapers, food, etc.) that are included in the service provided. In short, although family child care providers are not typical salaried workers, they nevertheless remain confined in a difficult economic situation with no possibility of development.

Moreover, although providers do not receive an hourly wage, it is possible to calculate an equivalent one. The FIPEQ-CSQ evaluates the equivalent of an hourly wage at $12.48/hr. This equivalent is calculated by dividing income minus expenses over the number of hours worked. In other words, operating costs, social protection and the absence of subsidized service protection (APSS) are subtracted from government subsidies and parents’ daily contributions. Today, the FIPEQ-CSQ is demanding that this derisory equivalent be increased to $16.75/hr. The increase would essentially come from an increase in the subsidies as well as certain fiscal measures surrounding recognized expenses. The union is also fighting for the government to recognize all 55 hours worked rather than the 40 hours it currently recognizes and which serve as the basic unit for calculating subsidies. The hourly amount of $12.48 is below the minimum wage. It should be noted that there are no labour standards applicable in this sector of activity since babysitters are not legally recognized as salaried workers.

Just and legitimate demands that must be supported by our class

The struggle of family child care providers raises the issue of a united front and alliances with other sectors of society, whether non-proletarian or petty-bourgeois. This reflection must also be broadened to include certain sectors of small capital. This is of strategic importance in building a strong movement for socialist revolution. The case of family day-care centres, although it is very particular and obviously does not reveal the full extent of the reflection, has the advantage of being concrete. Let us remember that the vast majority of those responsible for family day care centres are originally proletarians. They only find themselves in a semi-proletarian situation during the time of this “autonomous” economic activity which, ironically, keeps them in poverty.

Of course, ultimately, family day care centres would not be the form of child care and early childhood education favoured under socialism. Existing in parallel with the process of the socialization of work, home child care centres correspond much more to a transitional and complementary form in history than to a definitive form to be defended. However, this form does exist in today’s reality, and it is from this reality and the injustices it entails that we must start.

It is clear that family child care providers are not struggling to get rich. They are struggling to have fair living conditions and remuneration that do not bring them to the brink. Their demands must therefore be supported without hesitation. This support only strengthens the people’s side!