The struggle against layoffs

Submitted by Matthew on 2 November, 2016 - 11:29 Author: Marianne Davin

Hello Solidarity readers! Me again from Paris.

Since I last wrote (September), the Labour Law mobilisation has died down and no more protests or strike actions have occurred. I thought I would write about the dire situation with layoffs in France.

PSA Peugeot Citroën have just announced 2,133 job cuts, in addition to the 17,000 job cuts of the past four years. They are still turning a very nice profit, though: 1.2 billion dollars in the first half of 2016.

SFR (a telecommunications company) have just eliminated 5,000 jobs. This adds to hundreds of job losses at HSBC, Hitachi, Phillips, Tilly Sabco, Servier, la Société générale…and I could go on!

The wave of layoffs is not coming out of the blue. Companies have been talking about it for a while but now that the mobilisation against the Labor Law has died down, they think they can do whatever they want, that no one will protest. But struggles have emerged against the factory closures and layoffs.

One example is at Amiens against the closing of a Goodyear factory. In 2007 the company announced a reorganisation to increase site competitivity, which workers argued would increase exploitation and decrease safety. Goodyear threatened workers they would need to sign off on the reorganisation to feel the benefit of 52 million euros of investment; otherwise Goodyear would close down the Amiens factory.

In the final referendum to validate the agreement between the unions and Goodyear, the CGT, the union with the majority, called for a boycott of the vote. With only 54% of workers voting, the CGT’s opposition was shown.

In 2013, Goodyear announced the closure of the factory at the end of 2014. 1,173 direct jobs and 500 indirect jobs would be lost.

On 7 March 2013, a protest of over a thousand people in Amiens, of Goodyear workers and other workers also fighting layoffs, was violently attacked by police. The Minister of Industrial Relations capitulated to Goodyear bosses, and condemned workers for fighting for their jobs. In January 2014 the factory was occupied by workers; two managers were held for 30 hours without any violence.

Bosses lodged a complaint against the workers who carried out this action, but all chargers were subsequently dropped and an agreement was made to get work started at the factory again. However, after months of negotiations, the deal fell through and at the end of 2014 the factory closed.

The story doesn’t end there. The government could not let the eight workers who “violently sequestered” the two managers go without punishment. They needed to make sure trade unions knew that fighting for their jobs and their factories would not be allowed. In January 2015, these workers were sentenced to 24 months of probation and nine months of prison. This was the first time in the Fifth Republic that a member of a trade union had been put in jail.

The CGT called for two days of solidarity for the eight condemned in Amiens on 19-20 October 2016, during their appeal to their sentence. These two days were a way of showing the eight workers and workers around France threatened with layoff that we were all there to support them, and to remind the government we would not let them throw trade unionists in jail for defending their way of life.

On the 19th, 5-10,000 people marched through the sleepy town of Amiens shouting slogans of solidarity. Throughout the next two — rainy — days trade unionists and militants from political parties came to speak about the struggles they were engaged in all around France. On the 20th it was announced that the prosecutor had decreased their sentence to 24 months’ probation.

The eight workers are still fighting to have their punishment completely dropped. The saga continues on 11 January 2017 when the judge will rule on the workers’ appeal. But what has become of the other Goodyear workers?

Of about 1,150 people laid off, around 800 are still unemployed. 70 people have found full-time jobs. 80 people created businesses. 30 have found contracts of only six months. 30 are in temporary jobs. 140 retired. 12 suicides. Dozens of families and couples have been broken.

In the face of increasing layoffs workers need to be strong and fight against all attempts to close factories, lay people off, or plans to stop replacing workers when they retire. Nationalisation may be a bad answer.

This is exactly what happened with former President Mitterrand’s wave of nationalisations in 1981-1982. Several banks, Dassault, Matra, and large industrial groups were nationalised and gigantic sums of money invested in them. As soon as they were profitable companies were sold for pennies to the same capitalists!

Our task as revolutionaries is to bring together all the scattered workers around the world fighting layoffs, and to put forth the simple demand that not one layoff will be accepted. For revolutionaries there is no good solution within the capitalist system, but bringing together workers to collectively fight companies and the governments is essential. And in the end this collective struggle will build up the power of the working class for the expropriation of the means of production!

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