Renault’s announcement of a plan to stop manufacturing the Kangoo – its light commercial vehicle model – at its plant in Maubeuge came as a blow. Two thousand factory workers risk losing their jobs and here’s how some of them reacted: “If they want to shut down the factory they’ll have to get through us first”. Another one said: “I’ve spent 21 years of my life working at MCA1. At 48, where will I find a job now? There’s no work left in the region; they’ve shut everything down”.
On Friday, the whole factory went on strike. On Saturday, 8,000 people gathered to demonstrate. For a city like Maubeuge that’s impressive and it’s also very encouraging for the workers at the factory. It proves that they aren’t alone: many shopkeepers, craftsmen and other workers from around the region feel concerned and with good reason!
All workers are under attack, whether they are blue-collar or white-collar workers, whether they are wage-earners or self-employed. The sectors that aren’t affected by the economic crisis are exceptions. Most companies and small businesses have had to drastically slow down production or stop running altogether.
In April, Pôle emploi – the local government-operated unemployment agency – registered 850,000 additional job seekers. The government says the numbers “aren’t due to layoffs but to the fact that fixed-term workers and temporary workers haven’t found new jobs”. But what difference does it make? For these men and women, the result is the same: they’ve lost their wages and they’ve had to make do with their meagre unemployment benefits, if they have any at all.
And there’s worse to come! The second wave will be even more devastating because Renault is not the only company laying workers off. Factory closures, job cuts and even bankruptcies are expected to affect many sectors like aviation, tourism, catering and the furniture and fashion industries.
But what’s happening at Renault should alert workers. Renault is a major symbol of French industry. The state owns 15% of its capital which means that the government has necessarily approved management’s plan to cut jobs even though the company has already made billions and the state has agreed to loan Renault 5 billion more!
With Renault, the government is sending big business a message saying that they can go ahead and do as they please. Big bosses want to “downsize”, “restructure” or “close down factories” to recover from the crisis? The government’s answer is: “Sure, go right ahead”.
Whether workers are aware of it or not, the bourgeoisie and the government have launched a war against the working class. We will all be affected because the ruling class will demand sacrifices from every one of us. They will blackmail us with the threat of cutting our jobs, use the crisis as a pretext to lower wages and to put even more pressure on those who stay on the payroll.
Big business is reaping in billions through stimulus packages. And we are told workers should accept losing their jobs, increased hardship and harsher working conditions?
The only riches workers have in this society are their jobs and their wages. We can’t accept to lose them. We must defend ourselves. Our objective must be straightforward and effective: we have to fight to share out the work among all with no loss of pay.
If production is down and workers have been temporarily laid off then we need to slow down and reduce work hours with no cuts to wages! There may be less work to do but big business-owners have loads of money. The profits they’ve made over the past years and their fortunes haven’t vanished! We must use that money to guarantee a job and decent salary for every worker.
Sharing out the work among all with no loss in pay is plain common sense and all workers including permanent, fixed-term, temporary and subcontracted workers can identify with such an aim and rally behind it. Together, united in combat, the working class has the strength to impose its demands.
Sharing work among all with no loss in pay in Renault factories could be a powerful way of bringing workers from different plants together whether they officially risk losing their jobs or not. In any case, the bosses’ official declaration and those of the government aren’t worth a thing. They lie through their teeth and they’ve proven it time and again over the past few years. Their only strategy is to divide and conquer by pitting workers from different plants against each other.
In order to avoid falling into that trap, we must stand together and fight so that everyone has a job and a salary. Workers have started to mobilize at the steel mill Fonderie de Bretagne in Caudan and at the Renault plant in Maubeuge. Let’s hope their fighting spirit inspires all the workers at Renault and spreads to the whole working class.
1 MCA (Maubeuge Construction Automobile) is the name of the Renault plant in Maubeuge (in northern France).