Stop playing Russian roulette with the health of workers!

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
March 22, 2020

Every day’s morbid count of death and disease makes it obvious how serious this epidemic is and the whole point of respecting lockdown measures to protect ourselves and others.

Lockdown means sacrifices, particularly for working-class families. But it’s really hard to see all the precautions undermined because big bosses and the government want business to carry on as usual.

At the weekend, workers are ordered to stay home and they get funny looks if they dare take a walk around the block with their children. And then, on Monday, it’s back to work, using crowded public transport and going through turnstiles used by hundreds. They work for companies like Airbus, Amazon and La Redoute, in confined workshops with 50, 100, 200 other workers who share the same tools.

The lives of millions of workers, employees and technicians are being risked by the government, not to mention the risk of sabotaging the effects of the general confinement altogether. Why? So that the bourgeoisie can continue to make profits.

Building cruise ships and combat helicopters or producing lipstick isn’t going to help fight the virus! Labor Minister Pénicaud has encouraged public works to start up again. We could understand it if they were building field hospitals, like they did in China, but that’s not the case!

Medical personnel are begging us to stay at home and apply strict confinement. So the government’s decision to keep companies operational, in that context, is a criminal decision. It’s intentional and thought out: it’s a class choice. Right from the start of the epidemic, every decision the government has made has been weighed up and calculated according to capitalist interests. The only value attributed to workers’ lives is how much profit they can sweat out.

It’s time to stop talking about “national unity”! Workers must defend themselves and refuse to be profit fodder while leaders and shareholders hide safely behind the lines. It’s time for us to impose collectively that all companies not essential to fighting the epidemic and keeping society going cease their activity.

It’s time to make sure that all possible resources are available for disease control. We’re paying the price today for the hospital and bed closures and job losses of the last decades. In around 2011, the health minister made the decision to discontinue stocking masks in order to save a paltry 60 million euros per year – it’s easy to see just how criminal these savings are. And it won’t be possible to make up those losses.

We’ve seen the catastrophe coming for more than two months. But while Macron has been busy mobilizing the country to fight a health war, the medical troops still don’t have masks and diagnostic tests! Home helps are assisting people who are at risk without even knowing whether or not they’re carrying the virus. What should they do? Cross their fingers that they’re not spreading the epidemic? Yes, all healthcare workers have bravely responded to the call of duty. But they’re being sent to the front lines in atrocious conditions and have already paid for it with a number of deaths.

As for supermarket cashiers, garbage-collection personnel, electricians, truck drivers, bus drivers, mail delivery personnel and others who have been called on to do essential jobs, the government has been so uncaring that there are more and more protests and right-to-withdraw1 requests. Now the government is suggesting that employers pay them a 1000-euro bonus. Is that what their health and that of their family is worth? That’s really offensive!

Workers in vital jobs are showing their collective conscience. But they never said they were willing to play Russian roulette with their lives! In Parliament, the microphones are cleaned after every speaker… Well, there’s no reason not to treat the foot soldiers who are essential to society in the same way that MPs and senators are treated!

Because of the health emergency, the government wants to make it possible to take the enforced time off out of workers’ paid vacation or work-time reduction days2. But why should the workers pay for being confined?

This health crisis is like a magnifying glass that amplifies the inequalities and the class contempt inherent in this capitalist society. It’s directing a harsh light on the mis-management of those who rule us and the irresponsibility of the organization of our society. We must turn it into an electroshock, one that feeds revolt against the current social order that is designed to help the few get rich off the backs of the many!


1 Right to withdraw - droit de retrait: French labor law allows an employee to withdraw from a work situation that presents a “serious and imminent danger to life or health”. This is an individual right but it can be exercised collectively. Certain conditions must be met and the withdrawal is temporary until such time as the company does what is necessary to remove the danger.

2 Work-time reduction days - réduction du temps de travail (RTT): when the 35-hour week was introduced in France in 1998, RTT days were accorded to workers offering more flexibility to bosses. Workers can legally work up to 39 hours a week in which case their overtime hours are banked and redistributed as time off. The number of days differs from company to company – as it does in the public sector depending on what authority you work for.