Workers must get ready to defend themselves collectively

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
October 6, 2021

The majority of French unions – the CGT, FO, FSU and Solidaires – called on workers to mobilize and demonstrate on Tuesday, October 5. Those who participated were right to do so. It was an opportunity to be seized to discuss what needs to be done to change things with our coworkers.

Reasons to demonstrate? There are more than enough. The price of gas increased once again on October 1, by 12.6%, and so did the prices of oil and electricity. This winter, millions of working-class families will see their heating expenses soar drastically. The government has just enforced its unemployment insurance reform, a reform that will have catastrophic consequences for millions of unemployed workers. Jobseekers who used to get around 900 euros per month could lose up to 200 euros.

Many of the attacks against workers are being ignored by the media. On top of all the job cuts, thousands of temporary workers are being sacked every day. In every single company, working conditions are under attack: production rates are increasing, breaks are being shortened, bonuses scrapped, worktime extended… And to force workers to accept all this, discipline is being tightened and workers are getting sanctioned for no reason. Since the end of summer, the atmosphere at work has worsened.

Yes, there are plenty of reasons to protest. Yet for the CFDT, the union in France with the largest membership officially, it’s “don’t worry be happy”. They chose not to rally to the October 5 call! As for the other unions, why did they wait so long to call for a day of strike action? And why did they call for different protests on different dates, appealing to specific sectors of the working class (pensioners, teachers, nurses, etc.)? That can only result in dispersing mobilization before it even takes off. And leading up to October 5, there was no way of knowing whether the unions were planning to call for more strike action or not.

Yet the situation leaves us no choice: we need to get ready to unify our future struggles, to bring all workers together in a common fight around basic, essential demands. The bourgeoisie has taken advantage of the health crisis to become richer and richer by shamelessly aggravating exploitation. In every corporation, workers sense that new attacks are cooking up, in headquarters far away.

Because of the shortages in raw materials and semiconductors, and of the delays they are causing, many companies are alternating between stopping production completely and brutally accelerating production, sometimes from one week to the next. The capitalists are making the workers pay for the chaos of their economy, so that shareholder profits continue to rise.

Renault’s senior managers say they want to impose “overtime” up to 50 times a year. “Overtime” consists in telling workers at short notice that their working day will be lengthened on that very day according to the boss’s needs. This already exists in many companies, but for Renault it’s the first time it will come into effect. Management also wants to scrap seniority bonuses and lower overtime pay. For bosses, the objective now is not just to freeze wages but to cut them. And price hikes also mean a drop in wages.

No matter what, workers will have to organize to prepare for their future fights. Union leaders act like they don’t even believe in themselves or in the workers’ capacity to mobilize. Workers and trade-union activists mustn’t let their spirits get dragged down.

The millions of workers in this country represent a colossal force. Not only do they make up the bulk of society, they are at the heart of all production. If the entire working class were to protest in an explosive and determined way, it could scare the employers and make both the capitalists and the government back down. An outbreak of social unrest will come, inevitably. We need to get ready for it.

To move in that direction, workers need their own program. Its core elements are simple: job cuts must be prevented by sharing out work between all without any loss in pay; the capitalist class and the government must be forced to ensure that wages and pensions go up at the same rate as prices do; the accounts of companies must be under the workers’ control to find out where the money actually is and goes.

United behind these objectives, the working class in struggle can be an incredibly powerful force.

Nathalie Arthaud