Workers, "We are nothing, now let’s be all!" The Internationale

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
May 1, 2018

The May 1 demonstrations organized in France and in many other countries come as a reminder that  May 1 isn't the "labor day" that Pétain wished for and even less so the "patriotic day" desired by the far-right National Front.

The Workers’ International adopted May 1 as a day of protest throughout the world because it wanted to emphasize the common interests of all proletarians. At the time, one demand in particular was the eight-hour day so that “the worker cease being a simple instrument of production and become a man”.

This was in 1889, almost 130 years ago. Macron and his peers endlessly repeat that we must "adapt", drop the old ways and be “modern”, but May 1 isn’t at all outdated, exploitation and capitalism are still with us.

In many countries workers must fight to get barely decent wages and working conditions. The slogans of over a hundred years ago are still valid for textile workers in Bangladesh, over-exploited workers of huge militarized plants in China or underpaid auto workers in North Africa and Asia. Their living and working conditions are very similar to those of American and European proletarians at the end of the 19th century.

In rich countries, the struggles of generations of workers have made it possible to set some limits to exploitation. But those limits are now being called into question one after the other!

In a lot of companies, fixed-term or temporary contracts are the norm. Many workers are told that their contract might not be renewed unless they accept higher risks to their personal safety, fewer days off or shorter vacations. Others are expected to adapt their personal life to working on Saturdays or to working overtime with same-day notification.

We are told that the economy is "recovering" and that the sacrifices we have made will be compensated for... if we make new sacrifices! This is a bunch of lies that no worker can believe. Working people know first-hand that what the government calls "a lower unemployment rate" just means more poverty and less secure jobs, most of which last less than a month.

The bourgeoisie's attacks have yielded billions in profit. Job cuts, frozen wages and worsening work conditions have enriched the wealthy. French banks made a total profit of 23.5 billion euros in 2017 and plan to cut 8,000 jobs in the coming two years. Ricoh France (electronics) recently announced simultaneously a 10 million-euro profit and their decision to get rid of 15% of the workforce.

The working class is taking blow after blow but railroad workers are reaching out to other categories who view their strike with sympathy. Many workers think that railroad workers have every reason to defend themselves and feel, more or less consciously, that Macron's reform is yet another assault against working people in general and that more attacks are bound to follow!

The government keeps repeating that railroad workers have specific interests and that there is no connection between them and the workers of Air France, Carrefour supermarkets or caregivers for example. But the "status" defended by railroad workers doesn't make them any different from other workers. Going on strike for their status means defending their jobs, wages, working conditions and retirement benefits. Railroad workers plainly refuse to become flexible--that is, adaptable to the profit-oriented will and logic of private sector bosses. Their fight against opening up SNCF (the French state-run train corporation) to competition is a fight that matters to all workers, including future generations.

The capitalist system is hit hard by the crisis and the bourgeoisie is intensifying exploitation to maintain profits that the market can no longer guarantee. If we don't react, the exploiters will set us as far back as they can. The working class must fight back and give full meaning to the words of The Internationale: "Producers, let us save ourselves".