Summer: A time to get ready to fight back

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
3 July 2017

Both Macron’s address to French MPs and Senators in Versailles and the Prime Minister's speech to Parliament were full of hot air on the future of France, the Nation, the Republic... But behind the smokescreen, one of the fiercest anti-working-class offensives is about to be launched.

The government's planned aggression on the Labor Code speaks louder than the official babble. A bill giving details on the attack was published last week. Its formulations are complicated but one thing is clear: war has been declared on the working class.

Macron has decided to reform the Labor Code through executive decrees—that is, without consulting Parliament. He wants to get things done as quickly and quietly as possible for fear of workers' reaction. This is why the attacks are set to take place during summer break, when workers are on holidays and most workplaces are closed or slowed down. Despite his arrogance, Macron fears a collective backlash, which is exactly what his project is bound to bring about.

The government wants company-level agreements to prevail over the Labor Code. Rules and regulations set by company agreements used to be the exception and Labor Code the norm. This would be reversed.

The government pretends that the new system will ensure improved dialogue between labor and management. Pure hypocrisy! If this law passes through, bosses will threaten workers with unemployment even more than they already do and will compel them to do as they're told.

The government plans to extend “site contracts”, which already exist in the construction industry, to other branches (these contracts allow bosses to lay off workers at the end of an assignment without any severance pay). It also wants the maximum length of short-term contracts and the number of times they can be renewed to be redefined in new branch agreements. It intends to cap the monetary compensation for wrongful lay off. According to the plan, bosses would barely have to justify individual and collective layoffs. Lending out the labor force from one company to another would become commonplace… To sum up, what is left in the Labor Code that still protects basic workers’ rights would be ditched for good.

Despite this open threat, not a single trade union is preparing to fight back. They're all playing "Let's negotiate" with the Minister of Labor. But now that the government's cards are on the table, what is there left to negotiate? The weight of the workers’ chains?

CFDT leader Laurent Berger’s reaction is no surprise: he supports the project, just like he supported the El Khomri law last year. Leader of Force ouvrière Jean-Claude Mailly has made a complete U-turn. Last year he called on workers to fight against the El Khomri law, but this year he has declared: “We are in a process of intense consultation and negotiation” and “We are discussing real issues”. As the saying goes, there are none so deaf as those who don’t want to hear. And the CGT’s position is split: on the one hand, the union is participating in the negotiations and on the other, it has called for a national day of industrial action on Tuesday, September 12.

Let’s make the most of this opportunity! The government has decided to carry on Hollande’s labor reform. We, the working people should also pick up where we left off. The five months we spent fighting against the El Khomri law are still vivid in our minds. Hundreds of thousands of workers got involved, participating in strikes or demonstrations at least once. It’s a good starting point.

The government's attack comes on top of the bosses’ permanent offensive through production speed-ups, longer working hours and individual threats against workers and union activists. These attacks are linked. The workers’ force lies in their capacity to react collectively. We must understand that we are facing one huge attack that should make us react as one.

Today's Labor Code is largely the result of past struggles—like the 1936 general strike which really scared the bosses and the ruling class. Macron would like us to forget this legacy. But past struggles have taught us that getting involved in the preparation of the next explosive struggles of the whole working class is indeed the way forward.