September 12: Workers must protest against the government’s frontal attack

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
4 September 2017

The government has published the executive orders modifying the labor legislation. The changes made are a frontal attack against all workers.

The major part of the offensive consists in dismantling labor contracts. Bosses now have the power to redefine any contract at any time, for any reason. They can do this through “company agreements” which, given the high rate of unemployment, many workers will put up with for fear of losing their job. And now that compensation for unfair dismissals has been capped, bosses know that laying off workers won’t be too costly.

From the early days of capitalism, bosses have laid down the law inside the workplace. However, over the years, the working-class movement was able to impose some limitations to the bosses’ power. The aim of this government’s executive orders is to smash these limitations.

Labor Minister Pénicaud insists that the present reform will benefit smaller companies. The media feature small company owners who view union militants as the spoilsports of the system and are thrilled to learn that they will be able to impose their will on the workforce. But we mustn’t be fooled. Those who are going to benefit the most from the government’s decisions are big corporations.

Some measures are obviously meant to please corporate management. For instance, a highly profitable multinational making billions of euros worldwide will be allowed, under the pretext that one of its subsidiaries is losing money, to shut down a plant without any further justification and without having to pay compensation to the workers. Essentially, the government is waging this offensive against workers on behalf of the capitalist class as a whole, and in cases like this, it’s the bigger capital owners who gain the most.

As workers, we must clearly and proudly manifest our opposition to these executive orders and to all the anti-working-class measures that have been pushed through over the last three months.

Union leaders reacted like incompetent lawyers looking for excuses after losing a case. CFDT leader Laurent Berger declared he was “disappointed” with the executive orders and FO leader Jean-Claude Mailly said he was proud to have “prevented many other measures from going through”, adding that “it could have been a complete disaster”. These people have no right to speak in our name.

As for the CGT, it has issued a call for a strike and demonstration on September 12. We must seize this opportunity and voice our protest. Union leaders are not genuinely trying to organize and mobilize the working class in order to fight back against the government. Otherwise, they would not simply call for a single day of action. They would insist on the need for a global mobilization agenda. However, this day of action can be used by those who stand for the working class’ interests to make themselves heard. This is vital.

Inevitably, September 12 will go down as the first of many confrontations between the government and the working class. According to Pierre Gattaz, leader of the bosses' union, “these labor reforms are going to be the hallmark of Macron’s five-year term”. After announcing the CSG’s increase, the government wasted no time before launching more attacks—against unemployment benefits. We will have to fight the bosses and the government. They are compelling us to do so. This is why we must recover our self-confidence and our strength as the class that makes society function.

President Macron and Prime Minister Philippe’s power is fragile. We can stop them if we are determined enough. Before 1968, de Gaulle’s government was presented as the epitome of a “strong power”. Union leaders used this argument to justify their passiveness. Then there was the upsurge of May 1968 and the wave of sit-down strikes that swept the country. This is the kind of struggle that make workers aware of the huge social impact they have when they fight together for their class interests.

Macron is not a new de Gaulle. Far from it. His authority is already being challenged. He is bound to be unsettled sooner or later. The workers can achieve this if they are reinforced, not by opponents coming from other sections of the population, but by their own mobilization, for their own interests, in the workplace and on the street.