What the French left are saying

Submitted by AWL on 22 November, 2007 - 12:59

Right to fight back

From Lutte Ouvrière, 16 November. By Arlette Laguiller, translated by Darren Bedford

Using the pretext that these [public sector] workers were the last to enter into the already-existing pension scheme, the government is calling them “privileged”. But those who call these workers — many of whom have pensions of less than 1,000 euros [per month] — “privileged” are the same people who applauded the 15 million euros in tax breaks handed out to some of the wealthiest families in France. They are the same people who consider it acceptable that the President sanctioned a 172% increase of his own wages!

The strikers are right to defend themselves. All workers must struggle in solidarity with each other and should be hoping for a huge strike to follow.

The government is trying to use this strike as a showdown with workers in the existing “special regime” pension scheme. But this showdown does not only pit the government against those 500,000 workers; it pits the government and the bosses against workers as a whole. It is in order to devote more money to big business that the government wants these cutbacks in pensions, health insurance, public services and indeed on everything that is useful — even essential — for the majority of the population.

On the question of pensions, the government is in the front line. But it acts entirely in the interests of the bosses, carrying out a ceaceless war against workers by freezing wages while prices sky-rocket. When prices increases, so do profits. And yet wage increases remain blocked. If the government wins this battle, the entire working class stands to lose out. The retirement age would increase even further and pensions would become even more meagre.

So we say — whatever our job, whatever our sector; this strike concerns us all. If we do not want poverty imposed on us, we must sooner or later enter the struggle. We will have to wage a sufficiently determined and powerful fight that the bosses will fear that the movement may threaten their profits and, worse still, that workers might threaten their very control over factories, banks and commercial business.

The monopolistic control of the economy by large financial and industrial groups is a catastrophe for the majority of the population, and indeed for the whole of society. There is no inherent reason why workers should be condemned to work for longer, see their purchasing power eroded [by rising prices] and — once they finally reach retirement — be subjected to abject poverty. And all so that corporations can make high profits and a few financial groups are found in charge of unimaginable sums of money that even they don't know what to do with.

By calling a strike of “special regime” workers for 14 November, and other public sector workers for the 20th, the trade unions’ bureaucratic leaders have chosen to scatter the labour movement's forces. To win, workers must be united against bosses and the government around common demands. Fortunately, in the past workers have often showed that their own militancy can undermine the excuses of union bureaucrats and force them into action. It is in the interests of all workers that this should happen again.


Right to fight back

It’s in the name of “fairness” that Sarkozy, [Prime Minister] Fillon and their allies are waging the struggle against “special” pension regimes. But no-one can help but notice that having voted through 15 billion euros’ tax cuts for the rich and given himself a 206% pay (or is that pocket money?) rise, having ignored the fraudulent profits of his mate Lagardère who got rid of tens of thousands of jobs at Airbus, President Sarkozy and his government have nothing much to do with “fairness”. And it’ s a bit of a swindle when they tell us “work more to earn more!”

Train drivers, RATP [Paris transport network] workers, electricians and gas-workers don’t need telling that Sarkozy wants them to work more and earn less. All other workers understand that they are also in the firing line of this attack. Not only because after taking on “special deals” the government will mount a fresh fight against all pensions, demanding 41 or 42 years’ worth of pension fund contributions — in fact cutting pensions. But also because this government is preparing new measures to make redundancies easier, push down salaries, cut unemployment benefits and attack free healthcare.

“Fairness” would be a return to 37 and a half years’ worth of pension fund contributions, like before Balladur’ s private sector reforms. Why should it be that the huge economic growth of the last few decades is translated into the need to work for longer and the impoverishment of workers and retired people? How come bosses and shareholders can still get rich anyway?

“Fairness” would mean dividing up wealth differently, first off setting a minimum wage of 300 euros a week for everyone. That would just be to meet increases in the cost of living, which are felt particularly sharply in basic necessities like food, petrol, rent and bills. “Fairness” would mean banning lay-offs, in particular in enterprises which are making profits. It would mean getting rid of casual contracts.

All those taking strike action and demonstrating in the streets are right — it’ s the only way of stopping [Sarkozy] pressganging the whole working class into even deeper poverty.

The government would love to force the workers who were on strike in the days leading up to 20 November to give in. It fears that they will join up with public sector workers as well as a certain number in the private sector. It knows that if the movement broadens it will become an irresistible force and it will have to back down. So, all together now! Our future depends on it, as does that of our children - including many of the students fighting against the university reforms in order than education is not placed even more at the service of capital and even more unequal.

Sarkozy and his government hope, with the support of certain union leaders — who have until now done everything possible to keep the struggles separate — to avoid having to face a united movement. The Parti Socialiste politicians themselves want to stop the strikes. They support us no more than right-wingers do, and all of them proclaim that they would make the same “reforms”, even if they say they’ d use different methods to put them in place. But nothing proves that these stooges will be able to put the lid on the movement without cost.

It’ s time for all the unions to follow the example of the rank-and-file train drivers who in their general assemblies last week showed that they would not bend down in front of anyone else’ s decisions. We can’ t count on anything but our struggle, and we must be in charge of it ourselves.


We’re off!

From the 15 November edition of Rouge, paper of the Ligue Communiste RĂ©volutionnaire by Basile Pot.

The transport strike on 18 October was a much-talked-about success. This was a first warning, which showed the power of railway workers to mobilise and, for a significant portion of them, to organise a reconductible strike. But, without unity between the unions, the strike ended after several days, with the idea that we had to get back out on strike again “soon”. Since then, the pressure in favour of striking has grown. Certainly, the chances of repeating the record numbers of strikers of the 18 October (75%) are slim, but this strike will be big.

Sarkozy’ s posturing during a visit to a railway depot to do some of his usual provocation, has again convinced some of the necessity of shutting up and putting up. What’ s more, his statements on the “décote” [cuts in pension if you leave SNCF before retirement age] have shown that he doesn’ t know anything about the “special regimes”...What’s more, looking at the 4-page letter sent out to all railway workers by the CEO of the SNCF, Anne-Marie Idrac, which says that the strike will endanger rail freight, anyone can see that it’ s the SNCF bosses who have been sabotaging the freight system for years, she’ s not one to talk!

As for the preparations for the strike, everyone has been closely following the disputes outside the SNCF: the stewards’ and hostesses’ strike at Air France, the fishermen, the students. The video of a fisherman insulting Sarkozy that has circulated on mobile phones and the internet discredited him, pointing out that he has just increased his own salary by 172%...

One of the arguments put forward by the CGT in defence of their decision to stop the strike in October was that the rail workers were alone, and that we had to strive at all costs to link up with other sectors, in order to not be isolated by the government. But the strike of the 14th [it started on the evening of the 13th] November was only a strike by members of the “special regimes” and it didn’ t have the same capacity to rally together workers from other sectors as had the 18th October strike – because other public sector workers are already going on strike a week later, on 20 November, and it is on 20 November that other strikes, notably of private sector workers will try to join in.

In short, what this means is that in order to ensure that the rail workers can link up with other strikers, the rail workers will have to maintain their strike until the 20 November, deflecting the blows struck by the government and the SNCF bosses until then. These attacks from above will quite possibly involve holding scabs back until the second day of the strike, weakening attempts to continue the stoppage beyond the first day. Until the 20th of November, the mobilised workers will have to hold on tight. We have to co-ordinate all workers in struggle, in the metro, in energy, on the rails, and amongst the students.

As for the unions, the mood is not one of confidence! The corporatist union FGAAC has already started supping with the devil, and isn’t calling for a strike. And the other unions aren’ t necessarily much better. Here and there we are hearing bureaucrats explain that “winning 37.5-year pension schemes is basically impossible”. That kind of talk only serves to justify a speedy capitulation. The government is also looking for a test of strength, but it might also try offering crap “concessions” to the unions in order to dampen the conflict, and it seems that there will be a race between the unions to see who can surrender first.

It is possible to win, but, for that, the self-organisation of workers is a necessity. Only with massive general assemblies making the decisions, driving a strong strike, can we hope to stop bureaucrats negotiating behind workers’ backs.


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