Until 2019, the British firm Luxfer Holdings PLC owned and ran an oxygen cylinder factory in Gerzat in northern France.
In May 2019, production ceased. In January 2020, construction teams arrived at the site, only to find it occupied by former workers demanding its nationalisation. That occupation lasted until 19 March.
This plant can produce 950 oxygen cylinders a day, which would be very useful to many sorely-afflicted sufferers of Covid-19. The owners of the plant refuse to reopen it for production.
French President Emmanuel Macron might have declared in a speech that “this pandemic reveals that there are goods and services that must be placed outside the laws of the market” – but he isn’t proposing to nationalise this vital plant, either.
This is not the only piece of class struggle in France today under the pandemic. Employers are failing to provide staff with PPE, especially front-line medical staff. Some employers are spuriously declaring themselves “essential” in order to keep working – such as the Solvay company, which manufactures vanilla extract, and is keeping its workers coming in on the pretext that vanilla flavouring is an “essential” cough medicine!
In this context, the main trade union federations have signed a joint declaration with the bosses’ union, in the same spirit as the class-collaborationist declarations made by the UK’s RMT and CWU leaderships. But a joint pledge of “good behaviour” is no guarantee against exploitation... especially as the government has just passed an emergency law that permits it to alter workers’ terms and conditions by decree!
This law was voted for and applauded by another group of “left” class-collaborationists: La France Insoumise (much beloved of certain British Stalinist and reformist losers). Mélenchon attempted to save his political dignity after waving through Macron’s authoritarian emergency laws by giving a radio interview in which he called for foreign truck drivers to be forcibly sent home in order to protect French workers... It’s good to know that while this terrible virus doesn’t respect borders, leaders of the European reformist “left” certainly do!
But from the Luxfer workers to trade unionists who oppose the CGT’s declarations of cross-class unity to couriers in Lyon striking against delivery platforms’ disregard for their safety, French workers are fighting for safety, democracy and dignity.