Retirement homes, hospitals, universities, enough is enough

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
29 January 2018

On Tuesday, workers in retirement homes for dependent senior citizens will be on strike, protesting against the current situation: they are understaffed and exhausted but they are also angry because care is rushed, residents are neglected and families are made to feel guilty.

France’s policy-makers have always refused to push for a state-run service dedicated to old age. The present government drags its heels before giving out the funds needed by retirement homes to take on the indispensable cleaning staff, caregivers, nurses and doctors. The sector has become a bonanza for greedy capitalist parasites who are encouraged to set up privately-owned health-care facilities for the elderly.

The cost of this policy is of course borne by residents and staff alike. Residents pay 2,500 to 4,000  euros per month with absolutely no guarantee that they will be well looked after. Employees are over-exploited, working extremely hard for minimum wages.

There have been reports describing conditions bordering on ill treatment. And this is not because employees don’t care; if they didn’t care, they wouldn’t do this kind of work in such poor conditions, day in, day out, weekends included!

This situation is shameful, just as it is in other sectors where the lack of personnel, the increasing workload, low wages and the quest to cut costs and make profit through continual restructuring are the general rule.

Yes, care home employees have had enough. And so have hospitals that don’t have enough staff, prisons that are overcrowded, universities that lack facilities to enroll all applying students... But Macron only has eyes for the bourgeoisie and ears for the multinationals and their money-making machines.

He designed his labor law reform for them. He did away with wealth tax for them and lowered capital tax for them too. And it’s for them again that he lowered social contributions and increased the CSG tax[1] for everybody, making retirees bear the brunt of the cost.

The government plans to add 50 million euros to the old age budget for 728,000 people in retirement homes. In comparison, the abolition of wealth tax totaled more than 3 billion euros. Clearly, the government is happy to sacrifice services that are useful to the population and the poor in order to fill the pockets of the bourgeoisie. And they justify this by explaining that it’s the only way to encourage investment. “We have to incite capitalists to invest” and then all will be right in the world. Might as well believe in fairy tales!

Telling us that finance sharks will invest, develop the economy, create jobs and answer the needs of the population is an elaborate hoax.

Macron gave a good illustration of this last week. By a little make-believe arithmetic, he added together the undergoing projects of multinationals like Toyota, Novartis, Google, Facebook and SAP, plus promises made by them, coming up with a ridiculous total investment of 3.5 billion euros and the creation of 2,200 jobs over five years. Somewhat ironically, the next day, Carrefour unveiled its plan to save 2 billion euros, sell hundreds of its shops, decrease the size of its superstores and cut 2,400 jobs.

There may be no truth in the investment promises but there’s no doubt about Carrefour’s intention to disinvest.

Investment is indeed necessary and top on the list is investment in infrastructures and services that are necessary to the population. And the state could do this.

The recent flooding clearly shows the need to build or reinforce dykes and redevelop some pieces of land. There needs to be investment in housing and transport. And in universities as well. Without actually calling it a selective process, the government has set up a form of selection for university entrance. That way, they don’t have to create the facilities that are needed to accommodate the ever-increasing number of students.

Society is rich enough to do this. In France, 32 billionaires hold the same amount of wealth as 24 million people. Major companies are making record-breaking profits: last year, Carrefour made 1 billion euros profit, handed out 510 million euros in dividends and paid its CEO 11.6 million euros. And that money can’t be touched?

Excess at one end of the scale, lack of money, unemployment and poverty at the other. That’s the product of capitalism and the situation that Macron’s policies seek to reinforce. There’s no reason to accept it.

The government keeps talking about an upturn in the economy. The only upturn for the workers will be when there are more jobs and proper wage increases and when public services do what they should do for the population.

[1] 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%).