To stop the decline in living standards, wages and pensions must be increased and indexed on prices

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
November 5, 2018

A recent radio news report covered reactions to a Facebook page calling for mobilization against the rise in fuel prices. An agribusiness worker was interviewed. "I'm doing this for my wallet", she explained. And in the same report, a postwoman stated: "Driving to work is becoming a luxury. We have to rise up against this!". Anger at the rise in fuel prices is being expressed everywhere, among road transport professionals, trucking and construction bosses but also among workers who have no choice but to use their own vehicle. And there’s every reason to be angry.

It’s already hard to make ends meet but, when you add twenty or thirty euros more to the cost of car fuel, if you can still afford a car, it becomes impossible! Domestic fuel oil, gas, rent, fruit and vegetables: the price of everything is increasing…but wages aren’t increasing. And neither are retirement pensions, in fact they’ve fallen due to the increase of CSG[i]. And the daily allowances for the unemployed aren’t increasing either, and yet they’re told that they must be ready to travel tens of kilometers to find work!

Prime Minister Édouard Philippe has made it clear that the government is not going to back down, despite the discontent. "It’s hard, but there’s no choice". The additional billions collected will supposedly go to pollution control. Drastic budget cuts are being made in public services, savings are being made in all the public sectors that are necessary to the population but the government wants us to believe that these further billions they’re taking out of the pockets of the working class are going to be used for the public good! Now they’re adding lies to extortion!

The only pockets that are not being emptied in this period of crisis are those of the big bosses, who are receiving subsidies and tax breaks. The capitalists reign over the economy and reap billions and the government caters to them. The bourgeoisie drives wages down to ensure its profits despite the crisis in its economy. And it continues to create unemployment. The threat of unemployment hangs over thousands of workers at Ford, Ascoval (a steel working company) and Happy Chic (a group of fashionwear companies). The General Electric Trust, which bought Alstom's energy division in 2015 with a commitment to create 1,000 jobs, and which distributed more than eight billion dollars in dividends to its shareholders in 2017, is now using losses as a pretext for a round of severe job cuts.

Workers have no reason to accept low wages, unemployment, poverty-line pensions. There is no reason to have their standard of living drastically reduced. But the only way they can oppose this decline is by defending their own interests, by not hiding behind other social categories that are also protesting against the rise in fuel prices. The bosses of both construction and road transport companies have already said that they’ll be forced to raise their prices, or even reduce wages or lay off workers if the government doesn’t give in to them. They’re defending their interests. But whether they extract concessions from the government or change prices or wages, it will be to the detriment of the workers.

But workers have no way to compensate for price increases. For employees, pensioners and the unemployed, the only way to oppose the continuing decline in their standard of living is to demand an increase in wages, pensions and allowances. And for this increase to remain valid, working-class revenues must automatically follow price increases and inflation.

To avoid becoming even more poor, we have to make the bosses pay. Large conglomerates have made billions from exploitation and they have used them to stuff the pockets of their shareholders. We must force them to use those billions to increase wages and make jobs secure. It means fighting the rich class, but fighting them on our own ground. By blocking companies through strikes, we have infinitely more powerful ways to paralyze the economy and make our voices heard.

[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 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