We workers can save ourselves

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
May 4, 2020

Will we come out of lockdown on May 11? Will schools re-open? Will we be free to move around? With only a week to go, the government isn’t able to confirm one way or the other. Which makes us wonder what the government is able to do!

Hospitals and the healthcare chain have handled the first wave of the epidemic thanks to the professionalism and dedication of their staff. But where the state was responsible, we’ve seen nothing but mis-management, lies and improvisation.

Last week, the government even managed to publish an end-of-lockdown map with many errors when all they needed was a status report for each administrative division.

A week ago, the government’s war cry was “test, track and isolate”. Health authorities still can’t manage this. The health minister was aiming for 700,000 tests per week from May 11. How many are currently being done? 150,000? 250,000? It’s impossible to say because tests carried out in the field are not centralized or counted!

The way government is handling the mask situation is appalling. To hide the lack of masks, they first lied about how useful they were. And now they’re compulsory on public transport. Compulsory and to be bought! Yet again, the government’s message is: “You’re on your own!”

The government’s management of the crisis is irresponsible towards society and contemptuous of the poor. The same can be said of the bourgeoisie and the leaders of industrial and financial corporations. Their behavior isn’t due to incompetence or lack of technical know how--as demonstrated by the fact that major supermarket chains are now selling surgical masks. They sent in their orders a couple of weeks ago and have announced that they already have 400 million masks. They’re doing much better than the state in the mask war!

When masks were a question of life or death for healthcare personnel and workers who were sent to the front, when hundreds of thousands of women and men started manufacturing home-made masks, the major supermarket chains did nothing. Now that there’s a profit to be made, they’re suddenly busy!

This health crisis shows the failure of the ruling classes. We need to be aware that our life and the future of society depend on us, the working people.

The coronavirus outbreak has plunged us into an unprecedented crisis on health and economic levels. But one thing hasn’t changed: big business thinks and acts for shareholders, for the interests of a thin layer of privileged people who are getting rich off our backs. And all the government’s policies are designed to help them. So first of all we have to stop trusting those who are in the driver’s seat.

In companies where there are comprehensive health protocols, it’s still up to the workers to impose the safety conditions that they deem necessary. They know the reality of their work stations, the work speed, the pressure on output. They also know that even the strict rules issued by administrations won’t be applied unless workers enforce them. We work to earn a living, not to lose our lives. We must impose worker control on our working conditions!

Behind the war against coronavirus, the class war continues: the theft of paid vacation and work-time reduction days[i], the dismissal of temps and sub-contractors. And that’s just the start. The war is going to get fiercer when the economic crisis gets worse.

Major corporations are going to get millions, even billions from the state supposedly to prevent job losses. But they’re going to lay off thousands. Airbus, Air France, Safran and SNCF are quite open about it. But how many other layoffs are in the pipeline?

We must be aware of what lies ahead in order to get ready. Workers can write history, too. During this health crisis, workers have shown initiative, devotion and community spirit. The bourgeoisie and its government have shown exactly the opposite.

We have no reason to accept that a privileged social stratum whose interests are the complete opposite of those of society as a whole should dictate its laws. It’s in the interest of the overwhelming majority of the population that workers should take over running society. Buoyed up by this awareness, we can fight effectively to save our jobs and our wages and even change the world.

[i] 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 thus 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.