Every week more jobs are being cut, more workers are being laid off, more companies are going bankrupt or closing down. And every week thousands more workers, employees, technicians and engineers are finding out that they too may lose their jobs while others are lining up at unemployment agencies. But the latest outcry making headlines isn’t coming from the factory workers at the Bridgestone tire plant in Béthune (North of France) or at Inteva, the automotive subcontractor that is closing a plant in Saint-Dié (East of France). It’s coming from coffee shop and restaurant owners.
Last week, the minister of health, Olivier Véran, announced tougher health regulations and restrictions, ordering bars and restaurants to close by 10 p.m. in many big cities and to completely shut down in Marseilles for 15 days. And, instantaneously, bar and restaurant owners were in an uproar.
In Marseille, the announcement hit like a sledgehammer for many local bistros and restaurants which have already been struggling since lockdown. The blow came with an increased feeling of injustice because although the virus is spreading widely, the real problem - in Marseilles and elsewhere - is the lack of beds in intensive care.
It’s hard enough as it is for hospitals to cope under normal circumstances and as we saw in March and April they won’t be able to handle a new flow of patients without postponing other operations. Over the past six months, the government has done nothing, not even to help relieve the pressure the hospitals are under on a regular basis, so much so that in Marseilles with 40 patients in intensive care the hospitals are completely saturated!
Bar and restaurant owners are, indeed, paying for the government’s negligence. They have every reason to be angry and the fact that they are fighting to defend their livelihood is completely understandable.
Small and medium-sized business owners aren’t all struggling in the same way though. Some own one or more restaurants with a well-established reputation and are well-off. They benefit from a prosperous situation. Some are close to high-ranking people, or are dignitaries themselves, so they know that they can count on the state’s support. Even if they’re doing well, we’ll hear them cry for more because they know they’ll get something out of it.
But for the owners of smaller businesses, in other words the majority of shopkeepers, their very livelihoods, the survival of their companies and their children’s future are at stake. Many workers have chosen to start their own business so they would have work. They work hours on end just to break even and pay off their debt. They sometimes pride themselves on being their own boss but before they can actually pay themselves a salary – if they are even able to – they have to pay their landlord and the bank!
But feelings of fear and worry go well beyond the restaurant sector. The economic crisis and impoverishment of the working class have been affecting a large part of the middle class for years.
The current crisis has hit small business owners hard, but it has hit the working class hard too. Just like the temporary, short-term contract and self-employed workers who have lost their jobs, many shop owners feel that their means of existence is under threat. But the difference is they’re speaking up and, to a certain extent, they’re being heard!
The government has reassured coffee shop and restaurant owners that the state will cover their loss of income. We’ll see if they do, because in this society, the bigger you are the more you get, the smaller you are the more you have to fend for yourself. So, the power struggle is far from over.
But the current social upheaval proves yet again that we have everything to gain by speaking out, protesting and putting up a fight. It’s the only way we can defend our interests as workers. In Marseilles, restaurant and coffee shop owners protested by shouting, “We want to work!”. Well, the factory workers at Bridgestone and Smart, the employees at La Halle retail stores and Auchan grocery stores have just as much reason to do the same.
Whether we feel capable of making multinational corporations back down or of stopping bosses from sacking workers or not, we must express our anger. Laying off workers today, in times of crisis, must be seen as a crime! The least we can do is force big corporations to preserve all jobs!
Work must be distributed so that everyone has a job! Public money must be used to create jobs in hospitals and retirement homes.
Workers must defend their own interests. Expressing them is the first step in preparing for the battle we must fight.