The government is attacking workers. Let’s prepare to fight back!

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
July 17, 2017

Just about every day this summer, a new anti-worker measure is announced. Last week, the hardship account[1] was taken apart. It was a limited measure that allowed wage-earners with really difficult jobs to take early retirement. The bosses have won: workers who carry heavy loads, are subjected to vibrations or are exposed to chemical risks are no longer entitled to early retirement. In theory, exposure to other risks is still taken into account but compensation will be paid for by Social Security, not by the employer.

No one really believes that there will be a reduction in taxes--except the wealth tax (the rich always manage to get what they want). At the same time, the government wants to reduce public spending on schools and universities. Children in working-class areas will be the first to be affected. Workers and retired people are to be hit by an increase in the “General Social Contribution” (CSG[2]). As for lowering housing tax, it has yet to be seen how local communities will be compensated for the resulting loss of revenue and who will pay. Again, those living in the poorer communities will be penalized.

And the worst is still to come: France's parliament has just approved the government's request to reform the Labor Code through executive orders.

The proliferation of company-level agreements will make it easier to use “blackmail”. A worker threatened with dismissal is more likely to accept longer working hours with no wage increase.

For a long time, employers have wanted to do away with permanent contracts. Allowing mission contracts at branch level means that workers can be hired just for the duration of a project. "Permanent" contracts would become meaningless and job insecurity would be generalized. The bosses' dream is to transform the entire workforce into pieceworkers, exploited at will and then discarded, as they were before 1936.

Employers will have new, easier ways of sacking people. For instance, a highly profitable multinational will nevertheless be allowed, for “economic” reasons, to lay off employees working in a subsidiary that declares a loss. That provision appeared in the first draft of the 2016 El Khomri law but had to be removed under pressure from the workers–which is something worth thinking about! Macron also wants to bring back the cap on compensation paid for unfair dismissal. This attack had to be withdrawn by the socialist government but bosses badly want sackings to be a low-cost procedure.

The government knows how to use tricks to make things more acceptable. When the Macron Law introduced longer Sunday working hours, it was presented as being on a voluntary basis and as earning special premiums. Today, companies like Bricorama, one of France’s major DIY chain stores, are reducing the premiums.

Workers can’t expect anything from parliamentary debate. The government has complete control over the parliamentary majority, chosen and elected to implement Macron’s program. By law, the executive decrees to be introduced on September 20 will take effect immediately.

Union leaders are acting their part in the “social dialogue” play that the government is putting on this summer. But in fact, everything is decided by the government, pushed from behind by company owners. The leaders of two of France’s major unions, the CFDT and FO, are there to serve Macron, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Labor Minister Muriel Pénicaud who comes straight from big business. The other major union, the CGT, is doing the same thing, but has at least called the workers to mobilize on Tuesday, September 12.

We must seize this opportunity to show that we won’t accept being attacked and are preparing to react. We need to be massively on strike and demonstrating on that date. Of course, a single day will not be enough to make the government back down. It has to be the starting point for a counter attack by the working class and is the only possible response to the present declaration of war.

Macron can strut with Trump, act the bully and pretend that he’s in charge. He’s not the first one. But in 1995, Prime Minister Juppé declared that he “wouldn’t budge an inch” and was then forced to back down when workers mobilized in massive strikes and demonstrations. We need to prepare the same thing.

[1] A system, based on 10 criteria used to define difficult/dangerous working conditions and for which workers were awarded extra retirement points and could therefore retire earlier.

[2] Contribution Social Généralisée: introduced in 1991 to help finance social security. It is paid at source on all revenues and replacement revenues (unemployment benefit, retirement pension, etc.)