European elections: wages before capital and earners before owners

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
April 8, 2019

The French government is preparing the follow-up to its “big national debate”. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has announced that some two million contributions and 630,000 pages of complaints have been computer-analyzed. The resulting conclusion is that public-spending ought to be reduced, especially housing aid. What a load of bull! In a few days’ time, French president Macron will say what he has decided to do. There won’t be anything for the working class. Right from the start, the big debate was just a way to stop the yellow-vest movement.

The government’s real agenda is to launch new attacks on the working class. The test run on retirement reform is a case in point. Macron committed to maintaining the retirement age at 62 years during his presidency. But one minister after another is now saying that financing old-age dependency has become an issue, especially with life expectancy on the increase (it used to be the case, but isn’t any more). As if they didn't know that pushing back the legal retirement age is not a solution because employers get rid of workers well before they reach 62--and because that would mean even lower pensions.

Another measure in the pipeline concerns EDF (the national electricity board), which froze its tariffs when the yellow-vest movement was in full cry but will increase them by 6% this coming summer. This means that a family using electricity for heating will pay about 100 euros more per year.

As for the capitalists, great debate or no great debate, they haven’t stopped their attacks on workers. Arjowiggins paper mills are an example: the company has been placed in liquidation and the workforce will soon be unemployed. Ford, one of the biggest global companies, is going to fire 800 workers from its Blanquefort plant in south-west France. Carrefour supermarkets have also announced that they will cut more than 1,200 jobs. Last year, Carrefour shareholders received 350 million euros in dividends but they want more!

The scene is set for the European Parliament election campaign that is just beginning. It’s a well-rehearsed production in which the key players try to limit the public’s choice to voting for or against the European Union (EU).

On one side, Macronists, the right wing and the French Socialist Party are all singing the praises of the EU. It was set up 60 years ago and has never been built for anyone but capital-owners. Their goods, financial dealings and crises are not subject to any border controls. But the EU hasn’t brought workers’ rights into line. In the east, salaries are less than 500 euros per month. In the south, there is rampant unemployment. And the whole of Europe has become a fortress that refuses to let migrants in. France’s minister for the interior, Castaner, like Italy’s Salvini, now openly criticizes the NGOs that save migrants and accused them of being “smugglers’ accomplices”.

On the sovereignist side, France’s very right-wing politicians, Bardella, Philippot, Dupont-Aignan and Asselineau are all jostling for position. They are demagogues. The EU’s record is hardly glorious but that of each separate nation state is no better!

Lutte ouvrière will of course be present in these elections, even if France 2, one of the French public TV channels, brazenly defied pluralism by not inviting Nathalie Arthaud to their debate last Thursday. Our stand is that, in France as in the rest of Europe, workers must refuse to pay the price of the capitalist offensive. We will explain that workers must rally around demands that express their fundamental interests.

The yellow vests rebelled because they could no longer make ends meet. To ensure our living conditions, wages, pensions and allowances must be increased and indexed to prices.

To combat unemployment, layoffs must be banned, jobs created and work shared out among all without any loss of wages.

Some bosses close down plants, claiming that they are in difficulty. Others, like Carlos Ghosn (CEO of car manufacturer Renault), specialize in diverting money into their own pockets. To combat them all, business secrecy must be abolished. Workers and consumers must be able to audit company accounts.

The working class will have to fight fierce collective battles before the balance of power is inverted and our demands are met. Voting for the Lutte ouvrière list led by Nathalie Arthaud and Jean-Pierre Mercier is an opportunity to say that we are aware of this. We’ll truly be preparing the fights of tomorrow if we make it clear today that the working class is a force to contend with and if we counter industrial and financial big business with our demands.