Ascoval, Ford, Peugeot: we mustn’t let capitalist logic get in the way of workers’ interests

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
February 25, 2019

“Everybody should pay taxes, even the very poor”, suggested France’s Minister for “territorial cohesion”, Jacqueline Gourault. The government immediately denied this but she’s yet another one of its representatives who has had their say against the poor. A few days earlier, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe explained that it was necessary for those who receive the RSA allowance[1] to do something in return for what they receive, as if those who receive social aid take advantage of the system. What Gourault said was along the same lines, pointing the finger at workers who don’t pay income tax and so have no “sense of taxes”!

It took some nerve to spout such a blatant lie because even minimum-wage earners, people in insecure jobs, the unemployed and retirees on minimum pensions all pay VAT, the most unfair tax that exists since everyone pays it at the same rate, billionaires and workers alike.

Inspired by their leader, Macron’s troops know how to designate the poorest as being irresponsible people who need to be given lessons on the common good. And they’re all in competition with one another to find new ways of making the working classes pay in the name of social justice. This government, just like its predecessors, can come up with all types of solutions as long as they don’t involve making the capitalists pay, even if they’re the ones who create unemployment and poverty.

In recent days in France, a stream of plant closures has been announced. In south-west France, Ford confirmed the closure of its Blanquefort plant which will dump 800 workers into the street, not to mention workers for its sub-contractors. In the east of France, Peugeot wants to move production to a plant 80 kilometers away, threatening the jobs of 200 workers on full-term contracts and 30 temps. This is catastrophic for the hundreds of families that will be affected by the closure.

The company that bought out Ascoval[2], a steelworks company in the north of France, has announced that it doesn’t have sufficient funds to get the plant working again. “They’re playing with the lives of 280 people!”, exclaimed one of the workers. It was the billions-rich Vallourec trust that sold the steel plant in 2017. At the time, from the then Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire to the region’s President Xavier Bertrand, everyone talked about the injustice of the closure of the plant and even about how irresponsible Vallourec was.

First, we hear the lies from the capitalists justifying plant closures, then we hear the lies from the politicians justifying how powerless they are facing what they claim to be economic realities, competition or decisions made by private groups. There’s never any question about setting limits for private companies! Politicians are quick to threaten the unemployed and those who receive benefits that allow them to do no more than survive but they ask for nothing in return for the hundreds of millions of euros that the state has handed to Vallourec over the years on the pretense of saving jobs and the plant.

In its race for profit, big business doesn’t care about the lives of the working-class families that it condemns or the regions where social life deteriorates because jobs disappear. The workers only have their wages to live on and they have no say in the decisions that affect them all their life long. Buying power, duress and long working hours, the organization of family life, whether to stay in the area or leave because there’s no work: our whole lives depend on the interests of a handful of big shareholders.

This logic doesn’t just crush the working class. The local shopkeepers in Hérimoncourt in eastern central France who closed their shops and demonstrated alongside the Peugeot workers against the closure of the plant know it. They depend on the workers’ buying power and are often dependent on banks and suppliers. And when Macron did his walkabout at the opening of the annual agricultural show in Paris, among the many farmers there, how many can’t make a living from their work, caught between bank loans on one side and big supermarket chains on the other?

Capitalism is in crisis and the big bourgeoisie is intensifying exploitation in order to maintain its profits. The workers’ conditions will continue to regress if they don’t get organized to fight back. The workers are at the heart of production and it is thanks to them that everything in society functions. They have the capacity to exercise control over the major groups whose decisions influence the right to exist of the working classes. Yes, workers do have the means to challenge the domination of big business that is threating the future of the whole of society.

[1] RSA (Revenu de Solidarité Active): an allowance paid to people who have no income at all, whether or not the are able to work. The amount is currently around 550 euros per month for a single person. Although non-taxable, there are a number of conditions attached.

[2] Ascoval is a French steelworking company