Price increases: ministers make a fuss, capitalists make decisions

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
October 2, 2023

Prices won’t go back to what they were” confirmed finance minister Bruno Le Maire, despite inflation being officially 5% a year.

Car fuel is close to 2 euros per liter. Food prices have gone up 20% in two years. People who scrimped and saved to buy a home have seen their property taxes skyrocket. Every visit to the supermarket or gas station, every bill has become a source of anxiety.

Month after month, more groups of underpaid workers, poorly-compensated unemployed people, youths with no income and retired people with low pensions are being pushed into poverty. The alarm raised by the president of the Restos du cœur1 was clearer than any statistics: millions of people in France would go hungry if it weren’t for charities.

Prime minister Borne and Le Maire claim to be fighting inflation. They’ll threaten RSA2 recipients with a big stick to oblige them to work 15 hours per week for a handout of 600 euros per month but they refuse to impose anything at all on capitalists.

Elisabeth Borne's aborted proposal to allow car fuel to be sold at a loss is an object lesson . No sooner had the measure been announced than major retail bosses rejected it out of hand. Selling at cost for publicity, no problem; selling at a loss, no way!

The government announced a tax on the extremely wealthy motorway companies. It took less than 30 minutes for the bosses of Vinci, Eiffage and other private motorway concessions to reply that they’d pass the cost on to drivers!

Ministers make a fuss but capitalists decide. They’re the ones who, in business secrecy, set prices.

Inflation is not a mysterious phenomenon. It comes from the war between capitalists to grab the biggest share of profits. The most powerful - those in energy and shipping - have put their prices up. Every event, pandemic, war, drought, upsets the balance of power between them and serves as an excuse to increase their prices. At every step of the way, industrialists, distributors and speculators pass on these price hikes by increasing their own margins. At the lowest end of the scale, the working class is bled dry.

Car fuel prices are hitting the roof because refiners have increased their margins tenfold since 2021. And the government is still wondering whether these are “super margins”! On the food front, manufacturers and retailers are accusing each other of putting prices up. They should know – they’ve all done it and are all profiteers!

Before the French revolution, kings created new taxes to improve their lifestyle. Today, capitalists award themselves outstanding profit margins that we pay for on a daily basis. These modern-day kings are both parasites and irresponsible. Their greed is disrupting the whole system and even jeopardizing their own business.

Prices are soaring and wages are frozen. This reduces consumption. Central banks have imposed increased interest rates that make it more expensive to borrow and impossible to buy a home or a car. Small companies are going bankrupt because they can’t renew their loans. The real estate market has plunged into crisis and recession is looming.

But the oil and luxury magnates don’t care. Production may collapse, millions of workers may need food banks or find themselves homeless, the rich will continue to travel the globe in their private jets, buy bottles of wine that cost 3,000 euros and spend billions buying out their competitors.

The height of cynicism: French capitalists are very happy to have increased their competitivity because wages have gone up less in France than those of their Chinese, American and German competitors. There’s no better way to demonstrate that capitalist profits are made by robbing the workers!

In the United States, car workers are on strike for wage increases. Over there, like here, the only way to avoid poverty and destitution is to force wage increases that will make up for the 400 or 500 euros that have been lost in recent years. All wages, pensions and compensation must be indexed to real-time price increases.

None of these measures will be obtained through tripartite labor negotiations including businesses, trade unions and the government. In order to impose them, the only useful class in society, the class that produces everything, the working class, must threaten the capitalists’ profit-making machine.

Nathalie Arthaud


1 The Restos du Cœur is a French charity, the main activity of which is to distribute food packages and hot meals to those in need.

2 RSA (Revenu de Solidarité Active): an allowance paid to people who have no income at all, whether or not they are able to work. The amount is currently around 600 euros per month for a single person. Although non-taxable, there are a number of conditions attached.