Unions and progressive groups in Quebec have been big boosters of sovereignty for a decade, and in this referendum campaign they’re getting right behind the Parti Quebecois’s referendum push.

The Federation des travailleurs du Quebec, the province’s largest union with 450,000 members, just announced it’s holding a giant rally at Montreal’s Palais des Congres on Feb. 21 in support of sovereignty. “This is a great, great rendezvous that we have, an opportunity to discuss seriously what kind of Quebec we want,” the union’s president told the Montreal Gazette.

Many union activists and members of grassroots groups in Quebec support sovereignty because they believe it will make it easier to create a more just, democratic and equal society. Ironically, these are often the same people who support Native rights, defended the Mohawks during Oka and opposed Great Whale.

Many are now starting to feel uneasy about getting into bed with the PQ because of the strong current of intolerance in the party. Plus, they fear the PQ has abandoned its once-progressive roots. Once seen as the party of the little guy, it’s now out courting Wall Street bankers.

“The next independence should be progressive. But that isn’t being taken seriously now,” says Francois Saillant, a housing rights activist in Monteal and member of the Coalition for Solidarity with Native Peoples. “Lots of people are feeling a malaise.”

“I don’t think there’s any real reason to want an independent Quebec unless an independent Quebec offers us clear social advances across the board,” agrees Mike Ryan, who campaigned for a “yes” vote in the 1980 referendum and now is involved with a group in Montreal that monitors police harassment of Mohawks. “And certainly unless it addresses the percolating question of Native rights both in Quebec and in Canada,” he adds.

“The major problem facing the PQ—but facing the left also—is Native people,” says Ryan. “The PQ has a position on Natives that to all intents and purposes is absurd. And when a left group calls for a ‘yes’ vote but fails to address that question, there’s a kind of political bankruptcy involved.”

And that opinion could be closer to the mainstream view than the PQ’s position on Natives. In a December survey published in the Gazette, 54 percent of Quebecers said Natives in northern Quebec should have the option of staying in Canada in the event of separation.

“Part of the question that isn’t being addressed is what about the question of the diversity of Quebec society,” says Marianne Roy, former coordinator of Solidarité populaire Quebec, a coalition of community-based groups with over 1 million members.

“How will people of different cultures find their place in the debate? I think that’s a pretty crucial question.”