France: No divide and rule; Defend the right to strike

Submitted by AWL on 27 September, 2007 - 2:29 Author: Introduction and translation by Joan Trevor

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has hit the ground running, hoping to capitalise on the apparent mood for change that saw him elected in May. He will need momentum to push through the changes that will make France more like Thatcherite Britain; that is, to bulldoze the working-class opposition that thwarted his predecessors.

He has already passed legislation to reduce public transport workers’ right to strike, by establishing a minimum service level in rail and road transport, and announced that he wants to worsen railworkers’ pension regime and drastically cut the number of civil servants.

He has also intensified his government’s attacks on immigrants, making it harder for them to bring family to join them in France. Transport unions have called a day of action on 17 October to protest against the attacks on transport workers.

Below we publish a statement issued by the 16 September meeting of signatories to an appeal to defend the right to strike, “The right to strike is not negotiable”. They stress the need for the whole working class to unite against Sarkozy’s attacks. The appeal is available in French at http://droitdegreve.wordpress.com/le-droit-de-greve-nest-pas-negociable/ and in English [see comment below].

Sarkozy and [Prime Minister] Fillon have announced that their offensive against the rights of all workers by means of destroying the so-called special pension regimes starts this autumn and will not wait until 2008.

If Sarkozy wants to do that, it is in order to attack all workers, lower wages, impose the “new work contract” wanted by the Medef [French equivalent of the CBI] instead of the permanent contracts [Contrat à durée indéterminée (CDI)], facilitate redundancies, and in the area of pensions force us all to work more than 40 years to get a full pension…

The workers affected by the so-called special regimes are not privileged: leaving aside the higher level of their contributions, the level of their pension and their entitlement after 37.5 years are all that remains of the common right of all, destroyed by the pernicious legislation of Balladur in 1993, Juppé in 1995 and Fillon in 2003.

An initial anti-strike law, which they want to extend to all workers, has been adopted this summer by the UMP [Sarkozy’s governing party] parliamentary majority, which establishes a state of exception on public rail and road transport. This law has not yet been tested on the ground: in order to break the pensions and the terms and conditions of the railworkers, it is going to be tested.

The only way that Sarkozy can beat the railworkers is if they are isolated. The whole working class, all wage-earners, all young people, are implicated. In 2006 the unanimous rejection of the special first-job contract [Contrat première embauche (CPE)] by all the trade union federations, and their refusal to “negotiate”, played a decisive role in the victorious mobilisation.

The trade union organisations should not take part in any multiple negotiations or dialogues which transport organisations must henceforward undertake in order to implement the “minimum service”, that is, indicate the categories of workers compelled to announce strikes 48 hours in advance, nor in any pseudo-negotiations on the “social dialogue” envisaged by the law... The unions are not mandated by the bosses and the government to carry out their plans, but by the workers to fight for their demands.

To block Sarkozy’s offensive we must organise a resistance of the whole working class against the government and the whole of its policy, and, on the question of pensions, fight for the return to 37.5 years for everyone.

Therefore we call for:

• people to sign the appeal “The right to strike is not negotiable” [see comment below];

• the repeal of the [anti-strike] law;

• united mobilisation in defence of the right to strike, against Sarkozy; and

• local committees to prepare a united fight.

Comments

Submitted by vickim on Sat, 29/09/2007 - 11:53

The text below is a translation of an appeal against French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to attack French workers’ right to strike.
It is addressed mainly to the trade union federations urging them to fight, and to fight together. The signatories see attacks on French workers’ rights to organise as Sarkozy’s preparation for an all-out assault on workers’ social conditions.
To read the appeal in French and to sign it visit http://droitdegreve.wordpress.com/
Introduction and translation by Joan Trevor, Sept 2007

THE ULTIMATE AIM of Sarkozy with the “minimum service” is to ban the right to strike in big organisations. The following quotes give the game away: “To whoever is against the obligatory strike imposed by a minority, I propose democracy by the obligatory organisation of a secret ballot in the week following the start of any industrial dispute.” (N. Sarkozy, [public meeting in] Agen, 22 June 2006). "These new rules will apply first of all in the enterprises providing a public service, in the universities and government.” (Xavier Bertrand La Tribune, 29 January 2007). "The secret ballot would start in the public sector and could be extended more generally to the private." (Rachida Dati, 1 February).
They speak to us of “democracy”, but the reality of the labour market is the obligation to sell our labour power or to be unemployed, an obligation imposed by a minority: the capitalist minority. The consequence of this in the workplace is that the bosses have all the power. Every genuine strike is a forced strike against this prevailing order: it is never without its price. Picket lines are often the only way that the majority can, when it wants to, conduct a strike. And that is what many young people also, in their schools and colleges, learned in the struggle against the first employment contract [Contrat première embauche (CPE)] in 2006. Without picket lines this victory for democracy which the withdrawal of the CPE represented could not have been achieved. If we let them get away with this, they will not stop there.
In Britain Thatcher imposed the secret ballot, under the control of a government official, before any strike, and outlawed industry-wide and solidarity strikes. In the 19th century the right to strike was won by illegal and violent strikes and it could not have been otherwise. Since then, it is a constitutional right, albeit a right which is also always difficult to exercise, particularly by private sector employees.
The government’s plan is clear:
1. Establish “through dialogue” a minimum service in transport and education, before the end of 2007 in transport at least, to say little of their plan for the private sector workforce aimed at dividing them from public sector workers. According to the statistics of the SNCF [French state railway] itself, 3% of non-running trains are due to strikes. The fewer strikes there are, the later the trains will run, because attacks on public service will multiply.
2. In 2008, if they have got the laws in place, they will be able to try and break any strike of train drivers to defend their pension regime, the last bastion along with workers in electricity and gas of the right to retire after 37.5 years of contributions: they could try to suspend and sack the recalcitrants.
3. Having thus altered the balance of class forces, they will then impose, over the course of 2008, the “personal contract”, facilitating redundancies in the big enterprises and shutting off the right to strike everywhere, in order to impose a complete dictatorship in the workplace.
But they know that in reality they will be widely opposed in this, they know that the workers will decide to fight, and they fear that a showdown over the right to strike could become a head-on collision in which it could be the French working class that is defeated, or it could be Sarkozy.
The right to strike is not negotiable. … In light of this, we call on the trade union federations CGT, FO, CFDT, FSU, UNSA CFTC, CGC and Solidaires to demand the withdrawal of the plan for a minimum service and the threat to the right to strike, and on this basis to develop a united resistance across the whole union movement.

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