On Tuesday May 28, two days after the European elections, the U.S. industrial giant General Electric (GE) announced 1,044 job cuts in France. On the same day, WN (the former Whirlpool site in Amiens), with 200 employees on the payroll, was put into receivership.
These two announcements coincided with the bankruptcy of British Steel which recently took over Ascoval steelworks in the north of France. Part of the British Steel group--including British Steel/Ascoval--is owned by the Meyohas Brothers, vulture investors ranked 258 on the list of France’s richest people. They were presented by the government as the saviours of Ascoval’s 270 workers. But today, nobody can guarantee that workers will get a paycheck in the coming months.
Hardly have the ballot boxes been put away than big business is hitting hard again.
In 2015, when GE acquired Alstom's energy division, it made a commitment to create 1,000 jobs. Not only have no additional jobs been created, but today GE France is cutting 792 jobs at the Belfort site’s gas turbine sector and 252 at several sites in the support functions.
CEO Hugh Bailey declared that the Belfort plant, which employs 4,300 workers, “will not close”. But this promise is not worth more than the promise to create 1,000 jobs. The CEO will just do what is in the best interests of shareholders.
Bailey justified the cuts by saying that “the world gas market is structurally in sharp decline" and "we are no longer competitive enough". GE is one of the largest industrial groups in the world. Keeping these 1,044 jobs would not put the company out of business. But the decisions are made by shareholders who are waging a trade war that threatens workers’ lives.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire says he wants to be a “go-between” in this battle and pretends he cares for the workers. But the only thing he’s preparing to do is to blow hot air. His role is to make people swallow the bitter pill. France’s successive governments, his own and those that came before, all went along with the dismissals, waving bogus promises to put workers to sleep.
As an employer, the state is pursuing the same policy of job cuts. On the day GE made its announcement, the government passed a law targeting civil servants--those who work for the central administration, local authorities and hospitals. The aim is to increase job insecurity, impose forced mobility and simplify the termination of employment contracts.
On top of that, as good servants of capital, Macron and his Prime Minister have announced that, starting this summer, they will attack unemployment insurance benefits and workers' pensions.
The capitalist economy is in crisis and this makes big business even greedier. The social war that is being waged today knows no limits. And the government’s role is to facilitate the bosses’ attacks. In this war, workers can expect neither understanding nor pity.
However, they are not unarmed. Millions of workers could deliver heavy blows if they were conscious of belonging to the same social class. A class that has the ability to counter the attacks of the big bosses today and to question their power tomorrow.
It is this class consciousness that is missing. The election results showed this. The age-old opposition between Parliament’s right and left wings has given way to the competition between Le Pen and Macron. But this is a trap that offers workers a false “choice” between politicians who are all on the side of the bourgeoisie.
This election was just another lottery, organized to prevent workers from thinking in terms of their interests as exploited people. Now the game is over, leaving them disoriented and divided.
The offensive launched by the employers and the government is aimed at all working people. To deal with it, explosions of anger and combativeness like those of the yellow vests won’t be enough. Workers must find a way to regain their class consciousness by getting organized and launching the struggle for their common interests.