The workers must fight back against the government’s attacks

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
September 3, 2018

French president Macron and his government, who are usually so arrogant, seem in a somewhat feverish mood now at the end of the summer break. Coping with the Benalla affair, stagnant growth and record unpopularity was quite enough. And then Ecology Minister Nicolas Hulot[i] resigned, forcing Macron to initiate a cabinet reshuffle on very short notice. At the time of going to press, we don’t know who will form the new government. But what difference could a new government make anyway?

Hulot was the government’s ecological window dressing. His resignation is a confession: in the capitalist system, company interests and private profit take precedence over the environment and public health. Whoever replaces him will be equally powerless and equally complicit with this dark logic.

There is another reason for agitation: Macron has been undecided about taxing income at source. The state has, for some time now, wanted to get its hands on income tax immediately, like other countries do, and not wait until the following year for it.

This means that, from January 1 of next year when the reform is enacted, workers will see their net pay or monthly retirement pension go down 50, 100 or 200 euros. Macron’s not worried about that! But he is embarrassed because workers will be able to see, every month, how low their net-after-tax pay really is. Trying to pull the wool over our eyes is a difficult task! Macron could back off on this reform all the more easily because the bosses don’t want their workers to see how miserable their salary is and then ask for an increase.

Being taxed at source is not in the workers’ interest: their bosses would know even more about their financial situation whereas workers know nothing about their bosses’ income. Whether taxed at source or not, workers would continue to pay income tax but wealth tax has been eliminated.

The government doesn’t care about being popular, it wants to continue to serve the rich. Inflation is on the rise again but the government has just announced that housing aid and retirement pensions will no longer be index-linked. Prices have risen 2.3% in one year but aid and pensions will only go up 0.3%. Retirees have already been hit by the increase in CSG[ii] and are now going to lose several hundred euros more on their purchasing power.

The government has announced the slashing of tens of thousands of public-sector jobs. This comes after the loss of 260,000 government-subsidized positions over the last two years and further cuts are planned. The number of cuts will be equal to the increase in the number of the unemployed and will also bring about further deterioration of public services.

The French bosses’ union (Medef) wants to cut both unemployment benefit and the length of time that it’s paid. A few days ago, Labor Minister Muriel Pénicaud explained that it’s a “no holds barred” government, which is just a roundabout way of saying that they’re happy to make those cuts. And Prime Minister Edouard Philippe had a go at sick leave–to his way of thinking, there’s too much of it!

On top of all this, the government is preparing a retirement reform that would push up the number of years of contribution and reduce pensions.

Workers and retirees are on an austerity diet while money is being poured down the throats of French companies. In 2017, French companies paid out 44 billion euros in dividends, a European record and 24% more than in 2016! There weren’t many wage increases of that size. Hardly surprising: that money was stolen from the riches we produce and given directly to the capital owners.

On October 9, many trade unions (the CGT, FO and Solidaires), as well as retiree organizations and the main student unions, have called for strikes and demonstrations against the government’s policy. Even if one day won’t be enough to force the government and bosses to back down, we must of course take part in that mobilization.

Workers must refuse wage and pension reductions and the deterioration of their living conditions. The government and the bosses are attacking us. In September, it is customary to make resolutions. Our resolution must be to prepare to fight back.

                   Nicolas Hulot is a journalist, TV presenter and producer, writer and businessman. He is also a fervent environmentalist and in May 2017, he became France’s minister for the environment. On August 28, 2018, he resigned his position saying: “I have a little influence and no power. It’s an accumulation of disappointments”.


[ii]                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 has been 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%). Macron further increased the rate on retirement pensions on January 1, 2018.