Workers refuse to die for the industrialists

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
March 30, 2020

The Covid-19 epidemic is still spreading. More and more intensive care units have reached their breaking point; the emergency call line is in overload. Terrible losses are expected in some state-run care homes which have become death wards. Healthcare personnel are begging us to stay in complete lockdown. But all industrialists can think of is to get their plants up and running as soon as possible.

Peugeot, Renault, Airbus and Safran are programming their ramp up. Some present the fact that they are now manufacturing a few respirators as proof of their concern for public health. The truth is that the activity of these major groups will add mostly to the production of non-essential goods ranging from weapons to cosmetics--a production that has been working all along. They’ll force thousands of sub-contractors to start working again. This is not just irresponsible: it’s criminal.

In France, the tipping point of the epidemic was an evangelical meeting in Mulhouse. By re-opening plants, the government and big business will be recreating 10, 20, 30 such tipping points, with the risk of starting another epidemic wave. Why would they do that? To make workers continue to sweat out profits for Dassault or Peugeot. And Macron has the nerve to say that health comes before profit!

Every decision made by the government since the start of the epidemic has been weighed up and calculated according to capitalist interests. Sure, there’s an emergency health plan. But it doesn’t include making the masks, gloves, tests, respirators and medication that healthcare personnel still need so desperately, even after ten weeks of mobilization. And it doesn’t include recruiting more staff or making things safer for existing staff in the state-run homes for the elderly: most of those workers are still not tested regularly. It doesn’t include organizing housing that would allow positive Covid-19 cases to be isolated!

Macron’s “war plan” will inject 345 billion euros into the economy to keep business going and reassure speculators. On the grounds that there’s a health emergency, 60-hour working weeks are authorized; and work-time reduction days1 and weeks of paid vacation workers can be legally stolen from workers who are temporarily laid off or where activity has been reduced. What’s behind Macron’s “We’re at war” talk? Forcing workers to make exceptional sacrifices for the interests of the capitalist minority.

Every war has its troops and cannon fodder. In this war, the ones risking their lives on the front line are the workers: hospital staff and ambulance drivers of course; workers employed in agribusiness, in the chemical/pharmaceutical industry; not to forget carers and cleaners, garbage-collection personnel, supermarket, transport and utilities workers, etc. And the war profiteers – the industrialists and the bankers – are safely behind the lines making as much money as they can from the situation.

While some are doing everything they can to save lives, shareholders are glued to their screens hoping to make a killing on the stock market. They’re busy risking workers’ lives to keep their profits up. We have to resist the pressure and the appeals for sacrifices! We have to fight for the respect of our lives and our interests as workers.

The survival of society in the present crisis depends on the activity of millions of workers, on the very working class that was supposedly becoming extinct! They deserve to work in the safest possible conditions. Postal delivery personnel shouldn’t have to risk their lives and that of their families to distribute mail-order catalogues. Amazon’s warehouse workers shouldn’t be risking their lives to deliver shoes or DVDs. And car-industry workers shouldn’t sacrifice their lives so the company that employs them stays ahead of its competitors.

Macron wants us to be public-spirited, he wants us to stand together and make an effort for the “nation”. But by “nation”, he means shareholders and the bourgeoisie. The government has allowed companies not to pay their rent or their taxes – but it hasn’t done as much for the workers who can no longer pay. The government is making sure that companies don’t lose their cash – but it has enforced a loss of 16% on wages before tax for the millions of workers who are temporarily laid off.

Exploitation and the class struggle continue, disguised as national unity. And the lives of workers have little weight in the balance against profit seeking and the sacred right of private property. Workers should remember the words of Anatole France at the end of World War I: “You think you are dying for your country; you die for the industrialists.” If we don’t want the same thing to happen again, we’ll have to fight to save our skins by opposing the entire bourgeois social order.


1 Work-time reduction days - réduction du temps de travail (RTT): when the 35-hour week was introduced in France in 1998, RTT days were accorded to workers thus offering more flexibility to bosses. Workers can legally work up to 39 hours a week in which case their overtime hours are banked and redistributed as time off. The number of days differs from company to company – as it does in the public sector depending on what authority you work for.