Freescale, Toulouse: How the unions sabotaged the workers’ struggle

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We are publishing an article from Revolution Internationale, the ICC's paper in France, about a strike against threatened redundancies that took place earlier this year. Even though it was only a strike in one local factory in Toulouse it has a wider significance, particularly because it shows how workers' efforts to organise themselves come up against the union obstacle in a very concrete and daily manner.

On 22 April the management of Freescale (ex-Motorola) in Toulouse announced the end of production at Toulouse, which meant more than 800 redundancies, to which can be added 250 from the telephone department and many sub-contractors in the region. In all, it involves more than 2000 jobs going. This occurs at the same time as the closure of the factory at Crolles close to Grenoble, at East Kilbride in Scotland as well as at Sendai in Japan. This ‘restructuring' must be finished by 2011.

This is one of the numerous attacks on the conditions of the working class that bankrupt capitalism has in store for us. For the families hit by the job cuts, here as everywhere else, there's the anguish of a perspective of poverty because everyone knows that if they do find a job the odds are that it will be underpaid and a question of simple survival. It's not surprising that the workers saw this as a great blow. Launching an appeal for solidarity with other workers of the region wasn't even raised by the unions, which is not surprising but necessary to underline. The workers themselves, pushed forward by a militant minority, went on to develop efforts to organise their struggle.

Their first reaction was not to have any illusions in the speeches of the management. At the beginning of May, the director met the night shift (the factory has six shifts) for him to introduce them to the team which was going to implement the running down of the factory. He was taken aside by the workers who asked him if he was taking the piss and branded him as a liar. Almost all the 120 workers present got up and walked out of the room. Faced with growing anger, the management and the unions encouraged the holding of separate assemblies for each shift. The most combative among the workers proposed a common General Assembly (GA) so that decisions were taken collectively. This proposition received a welcome from the workers and the unions were obliged to follow it. Faced with the well-known union divisions, the workers asked the unions to put aside the quarrels and unite in an ‘inter-syndical' (an inter-union organisation) thinking that this way they would be better protected. The unions, FO, UNSA, CFE-CGC, CGT, CFDT and CFTC then announced, as a great success, that they had agreed to create an inter-syndical. This inter-syndical proposed that each shift elect 4 delegates so as to help, as observers, in the negotiations with the management. It became clear to many workers that this was a ruse by the unions with the aim of making it look like the workers were participating, while actually transforming them into simple observers. That allowed the unions to keep total control over events. Faced with this trick, a minority of workers intervened in the GA to defend its sovereignty, to say that the assembly must decide and not the inter-syndical, and this received the approval of the workers.

The management then proposed a series of negotiations to take place each Tuesday. Evidently, the negotiations made no progress. Management and unions dragged them out in order to demoralise the workers. Arguments between the unions were opportunistically revived in order to begin to divide the workers up. The majority of the workers became exasperated. In mid-May, the GA of the night shift decided not to let the unions carry on the discussions and decided that it was up to the workers themselves to put their claims to the management. This was discussed at the common GA which followed on the Monday. Then the unions decided that they would no longer recognise the sovereignty of the GA and called its members to a parallel GA with the aim of making "constructive propositions for the management", which in effect allowed the management to find the propositions of the FO union (Force Ouvriere) very constructive! As for the CGT and the CFDT, they declared that they would continue to recognise the sovereignty of the GA (but, as we saw, they did this to get things back into their grip). Now at last, at this GA, it was the workers delegated by each of the shifts who undertook the discussion. They talked here of challenging the management over the length of the negotiations and threatened to organise a meeting in front of the factory in order to spread the word.

At the next common General Assembly, a communiqué-leaflet was discussed by the workers to be distributed locally as well as on the 13 June demonstration, an opportunity to try to reach other workers. The idea of a leaflet was accepted but in fact the unions tried not to bring it to the attention of the media in order to substitute their own communiqué. Under pressure from the workers they changed their minds.

Faced with the impasse of the negotiations that were dragging out, the anger of the workers pushed them into unofficial walk-outs, during which they gave out their leaflet to motorists passing in front of the factory. Numerous workers showed their solidarity with this action. But the consciousness of the necessity to actively look for solidarity with other workers was only embryonic and the unions rapidly smothered it. In fact, for the 13 June demonstration, the unions had prepared their tactics and put them to work. They distributed whistles to the workers who, instead of going to talk with the workers of Molex for example, were drowned out by the noise, making any discussion impossible. The workers did not succeed in overcoming the union barriers.

On 18 June, anger still dominated. A strike broke out and lasted for 72 hours. Once finished, the unions tried to start it up again with the evident aim of exhausting the most combative workers, when it was the eve of the holidays. A minority recalled that the last GA had said that the eve of the holidays wasn't the time to strike in total isolation. Some trade unionists then accused them of being against the struggle, one of the workers even being physically attacked. But faced with the vote of the GA which had pronounced itself against the strike at this time, the unions were obliged to apologise. A declaration was made by the GA, saying that between workers you can try to convince others but things can't be settled by fists.

What will happen after the holidays? The CGT and CFDT have taken a grip of the situation. There isn't yet a sufficiently clear consciousness of what the unions represent and the fact that they are cogs of the state within the working class. But a process of reflection has begun.

During the 3-day strike an old worker from this factory came to offer his solidarity and recalled the strike of 1973 by saying: "we had no confidence in the unions and we organised among ourselves". And that struck a chord among the workers.

Yes, it is necessary to keep control of the General Assembly and realise what constitutes our strength: workers' solidarity. The distribution of the leaflet to drivers and the warm welcome received shows the potential of this solidarity and that it is necessary to develop it[1]. It's not just a struggle of Freescale, of Molex or of Conti, but a struggle of the working class. And that alone makes the bosses and the state fearful, and the unions along with them.  

G 5/7/9



[1] Not as the unions proposed, showing up at the Tour de France!

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