The capitalists, not the workers, must pay for the social and economic crisis

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
June 15, 2020

Cafés and restaurants will re-open everywhere, travel throughout Europe will be allowed, children will go back to school. This was Macron self-congratulating last Sunday evening. What he announced sounded perhaps like the beginning of a return to normality. But what’s coming will be anything but a return to normality.

The economic crisis is here, and it is unprecedented. In many sectors, activity has collapsed. The government’s priorities are bailing out multinationals in the automotive, air transport, aeronautics and tourist industries; paying retirement pensions; allocating unemployment benefits; providing public transport. All this increases the state’s colossal indebtedness to the world of finance.

The health crisis has pushed into poverty and permanent unemployment a huge proportion of workers who lived off precarious short-term contracts. It has also wiped out a lot of small businesses which never took off, being ill-equipped to succeed in the shark-infested waters of modern capitalism.

Even what seemed stable and guaranteed – like a job at Renault, Airbus, Bombardier, Vivarte, Hutchinson – has become uncertain and a source of anxiety as these companies and many others have started cutting jobs in their thousands. Having a permanent contract and working for a big company no longer offers protection or peace of mind. The wages we thought guaranteed are now being attacked by short-time working, the elimination of bonuses and employment blackmail in the form of "performance agreements”.

Another right that is gradually disappearing is the five weeks of paid vacation. It was a reality only for those who had a stable job but, this year, this right has disappeared for nearly everyone! Big business used lockdown as an argument to justify stealing a couple of days to one or two full weeks of paid vacation from millions of workers.

The bourgeoisie will do anything to preserve stock market prices and profits, and it is not lacking ideas!

For example, Peugeot’s CEO has plans to bring in workers from Poland and Spain to work night shifts at a Peugeot plant in the north of France. Tavares’ big idea is also to do the opposite if necessary—that is, send French workers to Peugeot’s Polish and Spanish plants. He’d like to turn these workers into industrial nomads who work a month here, a month there, even if the plants are on the other side of the country or continent.

In other words, the kind of life big business has in store for us entails total submission to the whims of a handful of very wealthy capital owners. It’s obvious that we won’t go back to the humdrum routine that existed before Covid-19 – though "humdrum routine" is perhaps not the most appropriate way to describe the life of people who struggle, day after day, to make ends meet. We are entering a period of major social and political unrest caused by the bourgeoisie’s ferocious offensive against the working class.

For many, the situation has already reached the limits of what is bearable. This is shown by the demonstrations organized by young people against racism and police violence. It was visible before with the yellow vests’ revolt and the mobilisation against Macron’s pension reform. The anger expressed jn these movements did not come out of nowhere. Under the blows dealt by mass unemployment, inequality and injustice, society began collapsing decades ago. Today, all aspects of social life are disintegrating.

Even the police, a mainstay of this unfair and unequal social order, are protesting. The bourgeoisie expects them to do the dirty work but only offers them a meagre salary and appalling working conditions.

To sum up, the situation we’re in is serious. But working people can change it if they challenge the dictatorship of shareholders and financiers.

On June 16, hospital workers were on the streets to express their anger. In 25 years, the state has closed 100,000 hospital beds. And, after the ordeal suffered by healthcare workers during the covid-19 epidemic, the government has offered them nothing but medals and an invitation to send a delegation to the Bastille Day parade. But it has no money to create new jobs, set up new beds or finance wage increases. This is why we should all mobilize together. It’s not a question of trade or professional unions defending specific interests. It’s a question of protesting against a society where the money that should go to health goes to finance.

Workers have an essential role to play in the present period. It is not only a question of maintaining their living conditions, but also of offering a direction for the current protests.

Unending injustice and racial and social oppression are due to the domination of the bourgeoisie. Only workers, by doing all it takes to defend their interests as exploited people, can change that.