After the November 17 protests: Let’s fight for higher wages, pensions and social benefits

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
November 19, 2018

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in more than 2000 rallies across France making the November 17 protests a success despite the tragic death of a demonstrator in Savoie (a region in the Alps) and the injuries caused to some at different roadblocks. In some places the protests continued the next day and the following days as well.

For many demonstrators, these protests were their first experience of collective action. The rallies were organized at grassroots level and not by trade unions and political parties as is usually the case. The ministers who pointed out the absence of clearly “identified organizers” were actually lamenting the fact that they had no one to negotiate with to put an end to the movement as quickly as possible.  For the workers, the problem is different: it’s about getting involved in the struggle and organizing it according to their interests.

The anger expressed through the protests last weekend is legitimate.  The protests were sparked by rising fuel prices but the hike in the price of gas was simply the last straw in a context of general discontent.

The public and private-sector employees, unemployed workers and pensioners who participated in the blockades expressed their  discontent by saying that they’ve had enough of all the sacrifices and of having to tighten their belts one more notch just to get from one place to another, be it to work or to find work!

The working class must push for its own objectives and rally behind its own demands. The “Macron, resign!” slogan is widely accepted and there is good reason to want to get rid of this government which caters to the rich.

But if workers want to fight for their right to a decent existence, they must target those in command—the capitalists who are leading the war on workers and whom Macron cares for so deeply.

It is so that the shareholders of large companies can continue to make billions in profit that workers are forced to survive on low wages when they have a job or on unemployment benefits when bosses decide to close down companies in order to make even more profit.

Those participating in the “yellow vest” movement aren’t only employees; other social categories are taking part too. Bosses of transport and construction companies, farmers and artisans are putting forward anti-tax demands which correspond to their interests. These “anti-tax” demands limit the scope of the protests to opposition against the government which also allows right-wing and far right parties to attempt to play a role.

As long as the profits gained by the capitalists aren’t called into question, politicians like Marine Le Pen, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan or Laurent Wauquiez will be willing to swear they care for nothing but “the people” and its needs.

Public funds and money from taxes are going directly into the capitalists’ pockets. The 40 richest companies indexed on the French stock market (CAC 40) collect billions in subsidies and tax credits. If the government ends up easing the burden on small business owners by lowering fuel prices or by getting rid of them altogether it will look for other ways to take from the workers and give to the capitalists according to their demands.

On Sunday evening, Prime Minister Philippe said that his government would not back down and promised to “accompany those suffering”. But workers aren’t asking for his understanding or charity to make ends meet. All they want is to make a decent living from their work as they are the ones who keep society running or who did so before getting laid off or retiring.

To prevent our standard of living from plummeting, we must demand that wages, benefits and pensions be increased at the same rate as prices. That means engaging in a major struggle against big business and the government at its service.

Employees know each other, meet every day at their workplaces where they are grouped together, and they have the means to organize this fight. They have a fundamental weapon at their disposal because they are at the heart of production, of the distribution of goods and services and of the entire economy. Strike action allows them to hit capitalists where it counts, right at the source of their profits!

Today, tomorrow and in the days that follow, whether we were involved or not in the protests last weekend, we must continue to discuss our interests among workers and prepare to take the money that’s missing at the end of the month where it can be found—in the capitalists’ treasure chests!