Several hundred thousand school, hospital and social services workers in Canada's Quebec province walked off their jobs Tuesday for the first day of what is billed as a historic strike to demand better pay and working conditions.
In total, some 600,000 civil servants in the French-speaking province plan to strike this week, with some calling for a lengthy general strike after months of fruitless negotiations with the Quebec government.
In one location, a crowd gathered outside a school in Montreal, waving union flags and placards that read: "Inflation is making us poorer, employers are getting richer," and "My batteries are dead," lamenting that teachers are being worked to exhaustion.
"We have the impression that the government makes choices, but does not choose public services," Valerie Fontaine, president of the Federation of Higher Education Support Staff, told AFP.
"The main sticking point is salary," she said. "We have a salary gap in the public service which is growing."
Primary school teacher Eric L'Heureux added: "We want more services for our students, we want more balanced classes... with fewer students per class."
Last month, the unions rejected a 10.3 percent wage hike over five years and a onetime bonus of Can$1,000 for each civil servant.
The Quebec government said it considered the offer to be in line with inflation forecasts, but the unions said it was "insulting" and did not come close to increased costs of living and in fact would end up making workers poorer.
For the next three days, 420,000 civil servants represented by a coalition of major unions will be off the job. This is their second strike action in November.
They will be joined on Thursday by 66,000 teachers from the Autonomous Education Federation. Some 80,000 nurses and other health professionals are also planning to walk off the job on Thursday and Friday.