One billion euros for Notre-Dame de Paris and austerity for “les misérables”

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
April 22, 2019

The embers of Notre-Dame were still smoldering when the biggest fortunes in France declared how much they were willing to pay to rebuild Paris’s burned cathedral. The entrepreneurial and art-collecting Pinault family and Total oil company announced that they would each give 100 million euros! Bernard Arnaud (France’s richest man and owner of LVMH, the world leader in luxury) topped that by offering 200 million, as did the family that owns L’Oréal! Altogether, multinationals and their shareholders have announced one billion euros… two thirds of which may well come back thanks to a tax exemption scheme!

These people have so much cash lying around that they can give away one billion euros without making a dent in their fortune, while workers can’t make ends meet on their wages. This billion euros could be used to build three hospitals or housing for 10,000 people. It’s the equivalent of 25,000 jobs paying a take-home monthly wage of 1,800 euros for one year and paying all the social contributions on that wage. When the government increased CSG[i], or stopped linking retirement pensions to inflation, it said that it had no choice, that there was no money. When it cut housing aid and hundreds of thousands of subsidized jobs, it was supposedly due to lack of funds. Today, emergency services in Parisian hospitals are on strike because of staff shortages but have been told that the coffers are empty. Even the firefighters who were quite rightly celebrated last week must mobilize regularly to stop their resources from being cut. And what about state-run retirement homes and housing? Six months after the collapse of a building in Marseille in the south of France, there are still several hundred people living in cheap hotels because there is no safe housing available.

And it’s the same old story in so many businesses. The hundreds of workers being laid off in France at the Blanquefort Ford plant, at Arjowiggins paper mills or at Ascoval steel works are told by management that there’s no money to keep them on the payroll.

The Notre-Dame fire tells a very different story. There’s a lot of money available when billionaires want to make an impression and as this money comes from everyone’s work it should belong to everyone.

Of course it’s sad when a historical monument, fruit of the labor of previous generations, goes up in flames. And we can be thankful that Notre-Dame was saved. But, from Macron to Le Pen, politicians are using the circumstance to call for national unity, in the name of a Christian religion that is, according to them, at the root of everlasting France. To step up his incendiary rhetoric, one right-wing deputy, Eric Ciotti, said that the fire “has reminded us that our civilization is under threat and that we must defend it so that France remains France”.

The government also tried to utilize the fire to rally its troops. Ministers kept repeating that there should be a “truce”. This was intended for the yellow vests. It was a one-way truce. As early as Sunday, LREM[ii] Member of Parliament Aurore Bergé explained that people would have to work more and that the government was looking into eliminating a public holiday. Other Macronites and the bosses’ union (the Medef) spoke of pushing retirement age to later than 62. These people are all fighting a class war and the “truce” they talk about is as meaningless as their attacks are endless.

The European elections will be held on May 26. Workers have nothing to gain from the European Union (EU): since it was formed, it has been shaped by the capitalists for their markets and their financ, not for the people. The EU has imposed nothing in the way of social protection, not even a common minimum wage. It’s done the opposite: job insecurity is now widespread.

No matter what the sovereignists say, the national states  workers any better. Sarkozy, Hollande or Macron, EU or no EU, states work for the capitalists and don’t protect the workers against anything.

So we shouldn’t be fooled by the fake debate over a vote for or against Europe. Since these are the first elections in France since Macron came to power, they are the first opportunity for workers to take a stand for their class interests. And that is why Lutte ouvrière is presenting a list, led by Nathalie Arthaud and Jean-Pierre Mercier.

The list is made up of wage-earners, factory workers and employees to takeagainst capital owners: the workers whose jobs have been cut against those who cut those jobs; the unemployed in a society that refuses to give them workhe workers in insecure jobs who want steady employmentd a decent wagehe retired workers who want to live comfortably after a life of work. Against the ultra-rich families who can give away millions and against big business, make Lutte ouvrière’s list the voice of the workers.

The title of this week’s editorial is a reference to the recent fire in Notre-Dame cathedral for which over one billion euros have been given by very wealthy families and firms and a play on the title of two books by 19th century writer Victor “Notre Dame de Paris” and “Les Misérables”, the latter meaning people in extreme poverty.

[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

[ii] LREM (La République En Marche): “the Republic on the move!” is a centrist, liberal and social-liberal political party. It was founded on April 6, 2016 by Emmanuel Macron.