Against the politicians' hot air, workers must voice their demands

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
16 January 2017

The presidential primary organized by a handful of French leftwing parties does not address the workers' real problems. The seven contenders share similar political views and they are all trying so hard to set themselves apart from the government that, if you listen to them, you might easily forget that five of them were ministers under Hollande. They behave as if the Socialist Party had not been in power since 2012. Former Prime Minister Valls, who defends Hollande's record, even had the nerve to declare that he now wants to abolish Article 49-3 of the Constitution—the very Article that he used to impose the antiworker provisions of the Macron and El Khomri bills.

After their disastrous stint in power, they are now trying very hard to clean up their reputation with the voters on the left. Hamon is proposing "universal revenue", Valls "decent revenue" and Montebourg wants to be "thepayslip candidate".

Leftwing politicians, like rightwingers before them, put on a surreal show to try and hide their responsibility in the dramatic downturn of workers' living conditions. There are six million unemployed today, a million more than in 2012; and nine million poor, also a million more. Ordinary people have been hit hard. The present cold spell has placed an unbearable strain on emergency accommodation services : half the people who dial 115 asking for overnight accommodation are told there is no bed for them!

The unemployed and homeless are not the only ones to have witnessed an aggravation of their condition. Precariousness is on the increase among blue-collar workers and employees. The story of Robert Marchand, the 105-year-old cyclist who worked from age 12 to 89 and lives off a 900-euro pension, epitomizes the condition of millions of other retirees.

The shareholders of the 40 leading companies on the French stock exchange got very different treatment in 2016. They received dividends totaling 56 billion euros—an all-time record. France now has 71 billionaires—another record. The wealthiest of them all, Bernard Arnault, weighs 39 billion euros. He is twice as rich as he was five years ago—and he is not the only one. Sanofi, a pharmaceutical company has profits in billions of euros and is a past master at layoff programs, but is also heavily subsidized by the government and busy raking in more billions thanks to the flu epidemic and the sales of vaccines.

Five candidates (out of seven) running in the presidential primary election come from the Socialist Party. But there's more. Two outsiders, Macron and Mélenchon are former Socialists. Macron was Hollande's Economy Minister until August 2016 and was previously an investment banker at Rothschild's. During his stint as Economy Minister, he pushed for the extension of the working week to include Sundays despite the inevitable damage to workers' living conditions. He also favored the increase in the number of "Uber" drivers who barely earn the minimum wage but work 70 hours a week. Today, Macron has seemingly little to say; he just tries very hard to appear as the up-and-coming political star and, following an age-old recipe for success in the polls, this overly ambitious self-styled leader casts a wide net, right and left. Mélenchon, a diehard follower of Mitterrand and a former minister in Jospin's government, supported Hollande in the second round of the 2012 presidential election. He did it "without dragging his feet" and, more significantly, without helping workers organize the fight against Hollande's foreseeable attacks. He has a slogan, "Unsubmissive France", that allows him to be critical of the European Union or Germany but he seldom attacks the well and truly French capitalists whose decisions are the main cause of unemployment. His declared ambition is to become the champion of the "genuine left" and he likes to pose as the workers' candidate, but his message to them is a hollow "Vote for me”… and I'll do this, that and the other!

In contrast to this empty talk, Lutte Ouvrière's candidate, Nathalie Arthaud, will put forward the vital demands of the working class.

In this time of crisis, putting an end to massive unemployment can only be done by sharing the work between everyone with no loss of earnings. This calls for less profits and a ban on layoffs and job cuts to stop the rise in unemployment. In order to live a decent life, workers need a general wage and pension raise of at least 300 euros per month. No monthly salary should be under 1800 euros net; and wages, pensions and benefits should be linked to real price increases.

Companies lie about their accounts, their plans, their products and their profits, to the detriment of their own workers and of consumers. This is why trade and banking secrets should be abolished. And this is why workers should take it upon themselves to make an audit of the accounts and records of major capital-owners who, with the help of bankers, impose their economic dictatorship on society as a whole, threatening it with disaster.

The votes in favor of Nathalie Arthaud will echo these claims and will help in preparing tomorrows' fights.