The government's attacks deserve a counter-attack!

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
24 July 2017

So far this summer, not a single week has gone by without the government launching new attacks against French workers.                                              

The latest concern housing benefits. The announced 5-euro monthly cut of the APL[1] is presented by officials as minor. How arrogant! A lot of people, poorer students for example, can't do without this financial aid, but they are the ones being attacked by the government. As for the rate of tenant expulsions, it is unprecedented and it’s going to get worse because a massive cut is scheduled for this fall.

Recently, there was a lot of fuss in the media over the row that led to the resignation of the head of the French armed forces. In reality, the defense budget will be increased, as President Macron reminded his critics, while the budgets for gender equality, development assistance and higher education will be cut. Although tens of thousands of high-school graduates cannot register for university because there are not enough spots for them, the only solution the government has considered is to set up entry-level selection, like US universities.

It’s a lie to say that these measures are needed to balance the budget. Last week, the government discreetly announced the abolition of tax on shareholder dividends. This will cause an annual “loss” of 2 billion euros, an amount five times higher than what the cut on housing benefits will bring in! The planned reform of wealth tax will mean a further “loss” of 3 to 4 billion euros. Moreover, the CSG[2] will be increased by 1.7%, which will be particularly hard on retirees. All of this has nothing to do with balancing the budget and everything to do with making ordinary people pay for the government's tax gifts to the well-off.

The recent reform of the “hardship account[3]” was another hard blow from the government. This benefit granted early retirement to wage-earners who qualified for it. But the bosses were reluctant to make any concessions for workers who carry heavy loads, are submitted to vibrations or chemical risks. And the government complied.

The French parliament is still examining the reform of the Labor Code. The details of the future executive orders have not been disclosed but they will obviously be dictated by the bosses' union.

According to the current Labor Code, company-level agreements could not be less favorable to workers than branch-level agreements. But this will change with the reform: the bosses will be able to make the rules.

The reform also aims at making it easier for the bosses to offer building-site or “mission” contracts instead of permanent contracts. In other words, the reform will generalize job insecurity and facilitate lay-offs. The bosses will be able to change contracts at will to increase working hours or impose wage cuts.

It will be harder for workers who lodge a complaint after being fired. Capital-owners want any penalties awarded by the labor courts to be reduced. For them, any compensation is too much compensation. Workers laid off nine years ago from a foundry in the East of France have recently been ordered to pay back half the monetary compensation they received.

This reform clearly aims to take labor rights back a hundred years.

This is unacceptable. CFDT and FO union leaders are shamelessly approving the reform. The CGT leadership is also acting as if negotiation were possible but at least they have issued a call for a day of action on Tuesday, September 12 against the planned social regression.

We must use this opportunity to demonstrate our opposition. Of course, a single day won't force the government to back down. But it could be the beginning of a genuine riposte.

The only thing that can make the government change their mind is a change in the balance of power. Macron is not the first political leader to believe that he is a reincarnation of Jupiter and to play the strong man. But faced with angry workers, strikes and massive demonstrations, he would be just as impotent as Villepin in 2006 and Juppé in 1995, who were forced respectively to withdraw a “youth job” law and a reform of the pension system.

The government is using the summer to attack workers in every possible way. We must use it to gather our strength to organize retaliation when we get back to work!

[1] APL (Aide personnalisée au logement):  introduced in 1977, the APL is a financial aid to help reduce the rent or mortgage amount for accommodation. It is paid directly to the owner or the mortgage company.

[2] CSG (Contribution sociale généralisée) : a supplementary social security contribution created in 1991 by Rocard's Socialist government. It “extended” the tax base to include retirement and disability pensions, unemployment and early retirement benefits, etc. and provided for lesser contributions by the bosses. Its rate was increased over the years and is now bigger than income tax. It finances over 20% of all social security expenses and is paid mostly by workers themselves (over 90%).

[3] A system, based on 10 criteria used to define difficult/dangerous working conditions and for which workers were awarded extra retirement points and could therefore retire earlier.