France’s upcoming reforms will hurt all workers

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
November 4, 2019

The government’s reform of unemployment benefits is about to plunge hundreds of thousands more workers into insecurity and poverty. The official count of poor people stands at 9 million, with 2.2 million of them being workers in jobs. Looks like the government wants more!

According to UNEDIC (the delegated public service that manages France’s unemployment compensation), making compensation harder to obtain and changing the way it’s calculated will affect 1.3 million people.

On April 1, compensation is going to plummet for many, starting with non-permanent workers. Such workers are forced to take one short-term contract after another, they’re offered only temporary or seasonal work. They earn meagre wages and receive unemployment benefits, neither of which are enough to make ends meet.

Labor minister, Pénicaud, says that these new rules are “an encouragement to return to work”. In other words, if we push people into a corner and starve them, they’ll find a job! This is both cynical and revolting.

In this society, for those who govern, the rich are always in the right and the workers are always in the wrong. Now they’re accusing the unemployed of choosing to be out of work and of living off society. But when workers do have a job, they pay for the right to have unemployment benefits when they don’t have one! Besides, half the unemployed receive no benefits at all.

Using temps, short-term contracts, subcontractors and part-timers is the cornerstone of all major companies. Big business has been breaking or circumnavigating the law for decades and it’s unlikely to stop since it works to their advantage.

Non-permanent contracts mean that big business can pick and choose from a wide pool of workers who can be exploited and bent to their will. These workers are made to do the jobs that are the toughest and for which there is no seniority, no incentive bonuses, no medical care.

Nobody but big business and government is responsible for the job insecurity and mass unemployment that are devastating this country. Over the last five years, the Peugeot group has cut 30,000 jobs and the Post Office more than 20,000. Banks, insurance companies, major retailers, the chemical industry, to name but a few, cut thousands of jobs every year. Ford, General Electric and Michelin have just slashed 2,000 jobs. SNCF (national rail) doesn’t have enough counter staff, drivers, maintenance workers, inspectors… but it cuts 2,000 jobs every year! While those who create the most unemployment are free to do as they please, the government is waging war on the unemployed. This war affects all workers because they may one day be unemployed.

For the government, reform means getting rid of workers’ rights. It has dismantled France’s labor code[i] and its unemployment compensation system. Next on its agenda? Retirement pensions. It’s going to make people work for longer and for smaller pensions.

Today’s society is completely crazy. All the essentials – jobs, wages, retirement pensions, health, education, transport, housing – are treated like expenses, costs to be kept within a budget, to be cut, to be eliminated. The profits and capital gains that fill the pockets of a handful of filthy rich parasites has to grow continually. They don’t care that the money comes from exploitation and is only used to satisfy the whims of the rich and feed speculation and the growing risk of a new stock-market crash!

The workers are the only ones who, by defending their basic interests, can change the way society is going. Over the last few weeks, rail workers have been fighting for very positive reasons: they refuse to allow their living conditions, their wages and their safety to be sacrificed on the altar of productivity.

The bourgeoisie’s political and media representatives have been venting their hatred for the striking rail workers. A clear sign that they are afraid of workers who fight. The ruling class knows that it is at the mercy of the workers if they decide to act collectively for their own interests. So let’s do just that!

The unions are calling everyone to mobilize on December 5. This gives workers the opportunity to say “enough is enough” and claim their right to a dignified existence.

Mobilization and collective struggles are the only way to get respect when you’re exploited. They are also the only way to challenge the domination of the ruling class that is condemning the whole of society.

[i] Labor legislation is laid out in the “labor code” (code du travail) which regroups all the laws governing work in France.