Last week, the Paris stock market celebrated the latest boom on the CAC 40, the stock market index based on the 40 biggest French companies. It broke its previous historical record dating back to 2000. Commentators were ecstatic about this new proof of the economy being in great shape and the government explained that its policies had enabled a speedy recovery.
The capitalist world really does have something to celebrate. In the stock market casino, billions keep multiplying. Bankers are drooling over the record profits announced by major companies, particularly those, like LVMH, in the luxury goods sector, but also in the energy sector. Every gas-tank refill is a hard blow to all those who have to use their car and yet Total made 4.6 billion in profits in the third quarter of 2021, 23 times what it made in the same quarter in 2020. For this oil giant, profits are booming!
Workers are paying a heavy price for the accumulation of profits. The bosses are waging a fierce class war which results in low wages, job insecurity, unemployment and ever-worsening working conditions. Price surges are yet another heavy blow. After soaring energy and fuel prices, it’s now the turn of supermarket prices. Wheat prices have leapt by 30% and bread prices are starting to reflect this. And the professionals in the food business want to increase the price of foodstuffs such as sugar and milk by 5 to 10%
When asked about the possibility of increasing low wages, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire had the nerve to say “when you get minimum wages, you’re earning almost 1,500 euros net per month”. The government considers that the question is settled, that it’s done enough. How arrogant! The minimum wage is 1,260 euros and the minister’s “almost” represents a shortfall of 240 euros. That may seem like nothing to the capitalists but for workers it represents only part – and just a small part – of the increase they need.
Even 1,500 euros isn’t enough to get through the month. With the fuel price hike, even getting to work is now an impossible obstacle course for some workers.
Not a week goes by without us hearing employers and the government whining in unison about the lack of manpower. Most recently, ski-resort professionals were deploring the lack of seasonal workers… despite admitting that the wages and working conditions weren’t “attractive”. That’s an understatement when we all know that seasonal workers can’t even afford accommodation!
In hospitals too, low-wage policies are a dead end – ward beds are closed, emergency departments have to restrict their opening hours due to lack of staff! For many workers, jobs in healthcare are a vocation. How can they bear not being able to look after their patients properly? And, on top of that, how can they be expected to work for a wage that doesn’t allow them to live decently?
Neither employers nor the government will do the working class any favors. If we are to spread the workload among all workers and increase wages, to meet the needs of the population and give the necessary resources to health, education and public transport, we have to fight the capitalist class and the government that serves them. The workers will have to wrest the substantial and necessary increases of wages, retirement pensions and allowances from them. And indexation on the real cost of living will have to be imposed so that the increases are not devoured by inflation. These objectives can only be achieved if the whole of the working class engages in a determined struggle.
An organization of society that is incapable of paying its productive class decently cannot survive. Workers must be aware of this. Not only to defend their immediate material interests but also to offer a future to the whole of society. The current stock exchange euphoria demonstrates, as if there were a need, that the profits are there. But it is also a wake-up call: the hundreds of billions of liquid assets that are available thanks to low-interest central bank rates and the generosity of states towards capitalists, are encouraging speculation and preparing the next stock-market collapse.
Workers, who make the whole of society function, must challenge the management of the economy by the capitalist class, a class that is both irresponsible and harmful.