Parliament will be discussing the healthcare budget this week and the government has announced that it plans to reduce the social security deficit by three billion euros. How? By making the workers pay for the cuts, by taking the money out of their pockets and by reducing compensation for those who have had an accident, who are sick or who have retired.
So far, the government has increased social security tax (CSG[i] for both wage-earners and pensioners. It has increased the hospital fee paid by all patients, from 18 to 20 euros per day and reduced health insurance expenditure. More and more drugs are no longer reimbursed and budget cuts are made in hospitals despite crowded emergency rooms and understaffed hospital wards. The government persists in removing even more hospital beds which, in the words of French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn, “serve no useful purpose”. But patients in many hospitals are literally pushed out the door before they have fully recovered precisely because there aren’t enough beds to accommodate everyone!
On top of that, the Health Minister intends to check that sick people are not violating regulations just as the Labor Minister intends to do with the unemployed. Pressure from social security inspectors added to the fear of being laid off will push even more workers to go back to work even if they’re still sick or haven’t yet recovered from an accident.
And what will the savings on health care be used for? To reduce the already very small amount of taxes the capitalists pay on their tremendous fortunes! Last Friday, Parliament abolished wealth tax and voted to decrease capital gains tax—in other words, Parliament has offered a gift worth 4.5 billion euros to the wealthy. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire couldn’t have made it more clear when he stated that today the top thousand richest families in France pay 400 million euros in wealth tax and openly declared, “we’re going to give them back those 400 million euros”. For these multi-millionaires and billionaires, 400 million euros isn’t much at all but it is highly symbolic of whose side the government is on.
President Macron’s anti-working-class labor legislation reform has been adopted and his government is continuing to implement more anti-working-class measures, one after the other. They are bound to pursue their attacks against the workers, unless we put a stop to it.
Since early September, workers have been called to voice their protest through rallies, strikes and demonstrations on several occasions. On top of these general “mobilization days”, certain categories of workers, such as public sector workers, truck drivers and dock workers have also demonstrated against the government’s policy. The government was even forced to make concessions to the truck drivers and the dockers—the labor legislation reform won’t apply to them and their work contracts will continue to be based on their branch agreements.
None of this has stopped the big bosses, the government and the media from snickering at the fact that there hasn’t been a vast rally of determined workers capable of really scaring them. They may laugh now, but sooner or later, one of their provocations—however small or insignificant—will be the spark that sets off a social explosion.
Their sighs of relief after each day of action organized by the trade unions shows just how much they fear a collective reaction from the working class. This class-based fear is the cause behind the repressive and oppressive practices they have put in place in many workplaces to intimidate workers. Employers want to crush workers who hold their heads high because they know that by making working conditions worse they could provoke a rebellious social movement.
The bosses and the government want to have an obedient, subdued workforce at their feet. They know that, collectively, the working class represents an immense social force capable of overthrowing every last one of their projects. So far, we haven’t expressed our collective strength, and our adversaries know it. It’s not a question of being optimistic or pessimistic as to when exactly the time will come for a general reaction from the working class. Such a reaction always happens unexpectedly and catches everybody off guard, even those who are the first to fight back.
Any sort of collective protest, whether it be a work stoppage in a single company, or a day of strikes and demonstrations, is part of the general struggle between the working class and the bourgeoisie. When the time comes that we unite our forces, we will push our enemies back further than we imagine possible today.
[i] CSG (Contribution sociale généralisée) : a supplementary social security contribution created in 1991 by Rocard's Socialist government. It “extended” the tax base to include retirement and disability pensions, unemployment and early retirement benefits, etc. and provided for lesser contributions by the bosses. Its rate was increased over the years and is now bigger than income tax. It finances over 20% of all social security expenses and is paid mostly by workers themselves (over 90%).