Both the government and the media were quick to bury the yellow vest movement after last Saturday’s demonstrations. True, the turnout was lower but there were nevertheless tens of thousands of people in the streets.
Minister for the Interior Castaner has called for the roundabouts to be freed up[i] while Prime Minister Philippe says that the government “should have listened more” and promises that it will be more attentive from now on. Whatever the future holds for the yellow vest movement, the reasons for the anger won’t disappear just because of a few fine-sounding words.
Philippe is promising debates that will of course drag on for months and even says that he is in favor of a citizens’ initiative referendum which politicians on all sides are endorsing. But whether or not the government allows electors to express their opinion more often, this won’t change its fundamental policies that serve big business and the very rich who monopolize all the wealth.
The yellow vests have demonstrated that mobilization is more effective than any referendum! Their determination has forced Macron to back down a little, even if the measures he proposes are insufficient and will be paid for by the working classes. They will in fact be financed with public money because it’s out of the question to take money from the capitalists.
The government says that it’s in the name of job growth that the “employment bonus”[ii] alone is being increased. According to them, increasing the minimum hourly wage would jeopardize employment! So workers should accept sacrifices and lousy wages for tougher working conditions and even more insecure work contracts, all in the name of the fight against unemployment?
Low wages, job insecurity and unemployment go together; they are direct consequences of the war that big business is waging on workers so that profits can be guaranteed, and of the policies it imposes to achieve this. The list just gets longer: layoffs announced by pharmaceutical trust Sanofi; the closure of a restaurant chain (Flunch) and a retail garment chain (HappyChic) both belonging to the multi-billionaire Mulliez family group; closures in the Oise and Puy-de-Dôme departments (Nestlé and Luxfer Gas, respectively). Thousands of workers and their families are going to be left out in the cold.
Ford declared 7.5 billion dollars in profits for 2017 but this week confirmed the closure of its plant in Blanquefort. Nearly 900 jobs are to be slashed, not to mention jobs with their subcontractors. Macron says that he hasn’t ruled out asking Ford to repay the subsidies it received. This pathetic threat won’t stop them from laying workers off at their will. Like many companies in the past, Ford was able to pocket the subsidies by committing to stay for a certain amount of time and now it’s perfectly legal for them to close down.
Just like his predecessors, Macron bows down to the demands of big business. When Hollande was president, he initially declared Peugeot’s downsizing plan to slash thousands of jobs and close its plant at Aulnay in the Paris region “unacceptable”, only to accept the same plan after a few slight changes were made.
The government says that Ford isn’t playing the game. But it’s the game of capitalism and in this game the shareholders always win! It’s the capitalists themselves who set the rules, requiring the state to shower them with public money without them having to guarantee a single job.
The yellow vest movement has brought one of the many problems facing workers out into the open: in one of the richest countries in the world, wages are insufficient to live decently. The bourgeoisie is responsible for this. But it doesn’t have to stay this way.
Workers are at the heart of the system, in the companies that make profits. They have the means and the strength to fight for their interests: a ban on layoffs, a general increase of wages, retirement pensions and allowances and their being linked to prices. These are vital demands and the workers can only obtain them by fighting, by attacking capital’s hold over the economy.
Fighting for our living conditions means challenging the law of capitalism that is driving society from one catastrophe to another, threatening the very existence of the planet. Awareness of this is the first step in the fight that only the workers can lead to change society and rid it of its logic of profitability.
[i] For the last five weeks, “yellow vests” have been present at least every Saturday on major roundabouts throughout the country. Traffic has been filtered rather than blocked.
[ii] The “employment bonus” (prime d’activité) is a monthly income supplement for workers on a very low wage. It was introduced in January 2016 to replace previous income supplements.