The medal of contempt

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
May 18, 2020

When Macron visited a major Paris hospital last Friday, the workers didn’t shy away from telling him that his renewed thanks and syrupy statements were not what they needed. They didn’t care for Macron’s promises of a medal, a bonus and a memorable Fourteenth of July parade. Their demands revolved around higher wages, more personnel and more beds.

Hospital workers are aware that Macron is not to be trusted! Two months ago, during his visit to a military field hospital in the east of France, he declared that a plan was under way to provide for massive investments and the upgrading of hospitals, plus an exceptional bonus for healthcare workers. Two months later, the plan is still under way… and the bonus hasn’t yet been paid!

In the same two-month time span, the state has injected 300 billion euros into the economy via guaranteed loans to companies. Seven billion have gone to Air France, five billion to Renault and 18 billion have been earmarked for setting up a “Marshall plan” for tourism. There’s no such sum going to healthcare. That says a great deal about a government that claimed healthcare was one of its top priorities.

In the words used by healthcare workers themselves, things are now “back to abnormal”. Back-up personnel has been sent home, temp contracts are over and chronic understaffing has returned. Tension has only just started to ease off and workers need to take time out, given that a second wave of the epidemic may be in the offing. Yet managers are putting pressure on workers by maintaining 12-hour shifts, possibly without any paid vacation or worktime reduction days this summer.

Nothing has changed: issues are raised, promises are made, excuses are offered, but the government’s antics only serve one purpose: trying to hide the abysmal social contempt shared by political leaders who are fully dedicated to the bourgeois world. And our leaders have more than enough social contempt!

Macron’s party MPs have proposed that other workers give up their vacation days to pay for vacation coupons for hospital workers. Calling on workers to make charitable donations for what the state should pay for. Now that’s social contempt!

Meanwhile, the government sticks to its decision not to re-establish wealth tax… and France’s wealthy insurance group Axa is paying out 3.46 billion euros in dividends to its shareholders, while Sanofi is paying out 3.9 billion and Total 1.8 billion!

As for Macron’s health minister, he is working on a project that is no less revolting. He intends to use the healthcare workers’ salary upgrading to call into question the 35-hour week in hospitals. He agrees with the viewpoint of the right wing and the bosses’ union who are convinced that the proper way to earn more money is to work longer hours. As if healthcare workers didn’t work long enough! As if they weren’t already running away from hospitals because of the poor working conditions and the permanent profitability drive of a system that is increasingly submitted to financial objectives!

Macron is blatantly unaffected by the conditions of healthcare workers, just like he is unmoved by the fate of working people in general.

At the height of the economic crisis, Macron made the following declaration: “We must keep in mind that our country holds on today thanks to the labor of women and men who, on the economic level, get little recognition and are paid so poorly. Different people deserve to be treated differently, but solely on account of their social usefulness.” Now that Macron has made it possible for big business to impose working weeks of up to 60 hours, less paid vacation and shorter rest periods, will healthcare workers be subject to the same treatment by hospital administrations?

Macron and his cronies have only one goal: pleasing, reassuring and serving the bourgeoisie. They all share the same social contempt for workers. It’s not the kind of contempt felt by a single person or by members of a political party. It’s a social kind of contempt. It’s the scornful attitude of a social class that knows it couldn’t survive without the toiling millions of women and men who enrich them. It’s the disregard of others that characterizes an exploiting class fighting to maintain its domination.

The government keeps paying tribute to those who are fighting Covid-19 on the front lines: waste disposal workers, doctors, deliverers, agri-food workers and the rest of it. But if ever the “nation’s gratitude” came to be officially expressed, it would most certainly be through the type of ceremonies we are familiar with: people gathering around war memorials, to celebrate the soldiers who died for capital owners in the trenches of the First World War. Today’s “heroes” would perhaps also be invited to participate in the Fourteenth of July parade, but that won't help them make ends meet or improve their working conditions. If that’s what they want, healthcare workers, together with all workers, will have to stand up and fight to challenge the bourgeois order.