Hurrah for the struggle of oil refinery workers!

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
October 10, 2022

Carrefour, Monoprix, Arkema, PSA Stellantis, aeronautics and automobile subcontractors: many workers are refusing the freezing of their wages at a time when prices are soaring. Now, as everyone can see, the mobilization is also affecting oil refineries.

Are these movements like swallows announcing the coming of spring? Let’s hope so, because collective struggles are the only way to preserve our living conditions in the face of soaring prices.

In the oil refineries, the real battle has only just begun. With more and more gas stations running dry, the impact of the strike is growing. Finding gasoline has become a real hassle in several regions. Transport companies that haven’t been able to restock have even been forced to leave buses or trucks in the parking lot. This strike has become a national and political issue.

At first, the government pretended to remain neutral in the conflict between the workers and the bosses of TotalEnergies and ExxonMobil. In order to not cut itself off from the millions of workers affected by the rise in the cost of living, it even half-heartedly acknowledged the legitimacy of pay rises.

But last weekend, Macron and Borne clearly sided with the oil companies against the workers and launched a smear campaign, kindly relayed by Laurent Berger, the national secretary of the CFDT1. In unison, they spoke out against a “preventive” and “useless” strike, launched by workers who, they said, did not have all that much to complain about!

TotalEnergies shareholders have just received 2.6 billion euros in dividends, an anticipation on this year’s exceptional results, while TotalEnergies employees have only received a 3.5% pay rise, which equates to a loss in purchasing power. And they are expected to wait and see if the lords up above will eventually decide to share part of the cake with them?

The big oil corporations are not only robbing motorists, but also their employees. TotalEnergies made 18.8 billion in profits in the first half of 2022 and ExxonMobil made the same sum of money in just one quarter. So when oil refinery workers contest their 5.5% wage increase, because it remains below the official inflation rate, they are absolutely right.

In the refineries, wages and bonuses are often higher than elsewhere. But that’s no reason for these workers to let useless and parasitic shareholders pick their pockets!

By pitting one category of workers against another, the government and the employers are trying to divide the workers in order to make the world of labor as a whole step backwards. As usual, some trade-union leaders are ready to play that game. Well, let’s not stumble into that pitfall!

Getting organized to fight together and going on strike are the only ways to gain respect. The government, the employers and the trade union leaders would like people to believe in what they call “social dialogue”. But what do these talks bring to workers? Minute increases of 2 or 3% and consolation bonuses. It is precisely through that kind of trickery that wages have been lagging behind prices for years, and that our purchasing power has collapsed. And bonuses are not taken into account in the calculation of our retirement pensions.

The capitalists are relentless. In the face of the crisis and its uncertainties, they are anticipating and reaping all possible profits while they can. They are determined not only to refuse any concessions but also, with the help of the government, to make workers pay for their crisis. If we let them have their way, they will bring our conditions down to what they were generations back. It’s obvious in the plans they have to attack unemployment rights, postpone retirement age, and in the sacrifices they are imposing in the name of the energy crisis.

Yes, fighting back is difficult. That's why we need to get prepared. Often, walkouts and strikes are initiated by the unions. Sometimes they are initiated by a small group of workers who manage to incite their colleagues to join in. What matters is for the struggle to be led democratically by the workers engaged in the fight.

It’s up to those who are mobilized to determine their demands and their modes of action. This is how protests can widen and deepen. Organizing, protesting, striking: these are the only ways to resist the clampdown and reverse the balance of power. Long live workers' struggles and organization!

Nathalie Arthaud

1With officially around one million members, the CFDT claims to be the biggest trade union in France, just ahead of the CGT. While the CGT was historically linked to the Communist Party, the CFDT used to have ties with the Socialist Party. It claims to be “reformist”, meaning it generally accompanies rather than opposes attacks from the bosses and the governments.