Group caisses

Brief history

In the early 1940s, labourers, union groups, professionals, office workers and cultural communities began to associate among themselves to set up credit unions, also known as caisses d'économie or group caisses. Their goal was to provide themselves the means to promote financial autonomy among members by pooling their financial assets.

In 1979, this credit union network and its 200,000 members located throughout Quebec joined Desjardins Group. Today, the caisses from the network continue to grow and are proud to bring their wealth of diversity to enrich Desjardins Group as a whole. Learn about the historical milestones of this unique caisse network deeply rooted in different workplaces.

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In 1945, the President of the firefighters union, Albert Rémillard, founded the Caisse d'économie des pompiers. This paved the way for police officers and employees of the major industrials (Reynolds, Hydro, Canadair and CP Rail's Angus Shops for example) to do the same over the next few years. Supported by their unions, workers understood the importance of forming a group to put their collective wealth in the service of all participants.

In 1962, after a trip to the United States to see firsthand how group caisses operated, he became the founding president of Fédération des caisses d'économie du Québec (FCEQ), which included 14 caisses at the time.

The group caisses would not be what they are today if Robert Soupras, a union representative at Canadair, had not put all his passion and determination into their development. He said, "The closer I got to the workers, the more I knew what they were dealing with: no pension plan, exploitation by finance companies with credit rates from 24% to 30%. What could be done about this?"

Robert Soupras did not just ask the question; he sought a solution. In 1952, he presided over the founding of the Aircraft Employees Credit Union.

"When we founded the caisse, we believed in the cooperative formula, and the members trusted us. At first, we took deposits by hand, 2 dollars here, 5 dollars there. Then, we negotiated payroll deduction with the employer. We launched the business with $300 in deposits. We wanted to show our members how to save and not get in debt with the financial sharks."

His father had been an activist all his life within Desjardins Group, so it was quite natural for young lawyer Claude Béland to provide counsel to the new credit union federation in 1962. First Legal Counsel, then Senior Vice-President and Director General of the FCEQ, he ultimately became President of Desjardins Group, serving from January 1987 to March 2000.

In an interview, he reaffirmed his conviction about the need for cooperation, "All forms of cooperativism are based on a sense of belonging! If a project is no longer shared, it will no longer work. This is especially true for the group caisses that were born and raised in the workplace where the sense of community continues to be expressed even today. Of course, the contours have changed and amalgamations are necessary. But as long as a joint project is something that the members want, I do not think this kind of cooperation will ever disappear."

Driven by his sense of justice and solidarity, André Laurin was interested, right from the beginning of his career at the CSN, in Quebec workers' high level of debt. A visionary, he knew before anyone else the extraordinary possibilities that could result from a productive tandem between unionisn and cooperation.

It was this model that inspired André Laurin to create several credit unions in the 1960s, allowing countless Quebec families to have access to savings and credit at reasonable rates. He planted the seeds of what subsequently developed into a number of workers' caisses over the following decades. In 1971, he founded Caisse d'économie des travailleurs réunis de Québec, which later became Caisse d'économie solidaire Desjardins.

His action also led to the creation of the ACEF family cooperative associations, Legal Aid, and many credit unions.

Louis Laberge was President of the FTQ for 28 years. For over 50 years, trade unionism was his life. In 1952, he, along with a few friends, founded the Caisse d'économie des employés de l'avionnerie, whose first name was the Aircraft Employees Credit Union.

Trade unionist Louis Laberge later told his biographer, Louis Fournier, "I always believed that we could control our savings. And I believe in solidarity. As unions, we can collectively manage the reservoirs of capital that become instruments of economic liberation for workers."

He still held that belief 30 years later when he set up the FTQ solidarity fund.