In the name of ‘a fairer society' Sarkozy and his billionaire buddies have the nerve to ask us to accept the suppression or alteration of ‘special pension regimes' and to make everyone work 40 years for their pension.
What the railway workers, the RATP employees, the gas and electrical workers are demanding was expressed clearly in their general assemblies: they don't want ‘privileges', they want 37 and half years for everyone!
If this attack on the ‘special pension regime' is allowed to go through, the workers know very well that tomorrow the state will ask us to pay 41 then 42 years of contributions in order to get a full pension - maybe even more, as in Italy (which will soon go over to a regime of retirement at 65) and even 67 as it is already in Germany or Denmark.
In the universities, this government has during the summer quietly adopted (with the complicity of the UNEF (French Student Union) and the Socialist Party) a law which will open the door to a two-speed university system: on the one hand a few ‘centres of excellence' reserved for the best-off students, and on the other hand a mass of sink universities which will prepare most of the young, those who come from poorer backgrounds, for their future role as unemployed or precarious workers.
In the public sector, the government is preparing to suppress 300,000 jobs between now and 2012, at a time when right now teachers are faced with overcrowded classrooms and increasing numbers of state employees are being forced to do more and more tasks and work longer and longer hours.
In the private sector, the job-cuts and lay-offs are falling like rain at a time when the Sarkozy government is concocting a reform of the Labour Code where the key-word is ‘flexi-security', which will make it even easier for the employers to throw us out onto the street.
On January 1 2008, we will have to pay new medical contributions which will be accompanied by increased prescription charges, raised hospital charges (brought in by the former minister Ralite, a member of the French Communist Party), a 90 euro charge on medical operations, etc.
Sarkozy asks us to ‘work more to earn more'. In fact what we're being asked is to work more and earn less. The dizzying fall in spending power is now being accompanied by an exorbitant increase in all basic foodstuffs: dairy, bread, potatoes, fruit and vegetables, fish, meat...
At the same time, rents are soaring: more and more proletarians today live in insecure or unhealthy housing conditions.
More and more proletarians, even those with a job, are sinking into poverty, are unable to afford decent food, housing and medical care. And they tell us: ‘it's not over'. The future they have in store for us, the attacks they are promising us are even worse. And this is because the French bourgeoisie is now trying to catch up with its rivals in other countries. With the aggravation of the crisis of capitalism, with the exacerbation of competition on the world market, you have to ‘be competitive'. That means stepping up the attack on the living and working conditions of the working class.
The only way to oppose all these attacks is to develop the struggle
The anger and discontent that is being expressed today in the streets and in the workplaces can only spread because everywhere workers are faced with the need to respond to the same attacks.
Since 2003 the working class (which, according to the bourgeoisie, is an ‘outdated idea') has been displaying its will to resist, against the attacks on pensions in 2003 in France and Austria, against the reform of the health system, against lay-offs in the shipyards in Galicia Spain in 2006 or in the automobile sector in Andalusia last spring. Today their class brothers on the German railways are fighting for wage rises. In all these struggles, from Chile to Peru, from the textile workers of Egypt to the construction workers of Dubai, we are seeing the emergence of a deep feeling of class solidarity, which is pushing towards the extension of the struggle against a common exploitation. This same class solidarity raised its head in the students' movement against the CPE in the spring of 2006 and it is at the heart of the movement today. This is what the bourgeoisie fears more than anything else.
The trade unions divide and sabotage the workers' response
Going first of all for the special pension regimes in particular sectors like public transport (SNCF, RATP) and energy (EDF, GDF) can only bring derisory savings for the state. This is a purely strategic choice by the French bourgeoisie, aimed at dividing the working class.
The left and the unions are at root entirely in agreement with the government. They have always put forward the need for ‘reforms', in particular in the area of pensions. What's more it was the former Socialist Prime Minister Ricard who, at the beginning of the 1980s, produced the ‘White Paper' on pensions, which served as a canvas for all the attacks carried out by succeeding governments, left and right. The criticisms being made today by the left and the unions are only aimed at the form: they were not decided ‘democratically', there has not been enough ‘consultation'. What with the left being temporarily out of the game, the essential role of controlling the working class has fallen to the unions. The latter have divided up the work with the government, and among themselves, at all levels, with the aim of dividing and sabotaging the workers' response. The bourgeoisie must above all isolate the workers from the public transport sector, cut them off from the working class as a whole.
With this in mind, the ruling class has mobilised the whole of the media in order to discredit the strike and push the idea that other workers are being held hostage by an egotistical minority of privileged workers, making maximum use of the fact that the main sector concerned by the ‘special pension regimes' is public transport. It is counting on the unpopularity of a long transport strike, especially on the SNCF (traditionally the most combative sector in the strikes of winter 1986/7 and 1995) in order to set the ‘passengers' against the strikers.
Each union has played its role in the division and isolation of the struggles:
- The FGAAC (the small train drivers union which only represents 3% of SNCF workers but 30% of train drivers), after calling for a ‘renewable strike' on 18 October alongside the SUD and FO unions, on the very evening of the demonstration called for negotiation with the government in order to work out a ‘compromise' and a particular status for the drivers, and called for a return to work in the morning, thus taking on the role of the out-and-out ‘traitor';
- The CFDT (union linked to the Socialist Party) only called on the railway workers to strike and demonstrate that day, in order "not to mix up all the problems and all the demands" to quote its general secretary Chereque; afterwards, this federation, consistent with the same tactic, rushed to call for the suspension of the strike at the SNCF and the return to work in other sectors as soon as the government announced its intention to open up negotiations enterprise by enterprise;
- The CGT, the majority union (linked to the Communist Party) played a decisive role in the manoeuvre to stab the workers in the back. It limited itself to a 24 hour strike on 18 October (while letting the regional unions take ‘initiatives' to prolong the strike). Then, it took the initiative of launching a new call for a railway strike, this time a renewable one from 13 November, rallying other sectors and unions behind this proposal. On 10 November, the general secretary of the CGT, Thibault, asked the government to open a three-part (government, management and unions) negotiation on the special regimes (which was just a bluff because it is the government which directly dictates its policies to the directors of public enterprises); and two days later, on the 12th, the very eve of the strike, it called for a new initiative: proposing tripartite negotiations again, but this time enterprise by enterprise. This was taking the workers for idiots because it was precisely in this framework that the government originally intended to push forward its reforms, slicing up negotiations enterprise by enterprise, case by case. This volte face provoked angry reactions in the general assemblies, obliging the union ‘base' to advocate the continuation of the strike movement;
- FO and SUD (a union piloted by the Trotskyist Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire led by Olivier Besancourt), which had tried to keep the strike going on a minority basis for several days after 18 October, continued to outbid each other in trying to be the most radical, pushing the workers to keep going in a renewable strike up until the inter-union strike in the public sector on 20 November, while at the same time calling for workers to carry out commando actions like blocking the tracks instead of seeking to extend the struggle to other sectors;
- A leader of the UNSA, also a partisan of the renewable strike, declared that the demonstrations ought to be distinct and that the railway workers should not march with the civil servants because "they don't all have the same demands".
During this period, all the unions managed to get a quiet return to work at the EDF and GDF. On Wednesday 21st, soon after the demonstration, the six union federations negotiated the railway workers' future with a platform of specific demands.
To struggle effectively, we can only count on ourselves!
Despite the government's desire to crush the workers' resistance, despite the numerous legal injunctions aimed at forcing a return to work, despite the complicity of the unions and their work of sabotage, not only has the workers' anger and militancy remained but there is also an emerging recognition of the need to unite the different struggles. For example in Rouen in 17 November, students at the faculty of Mont-Saint-Aignan went to find striking railway workers, shared a meal with them and took part in their general assembly as well as in a ‘free passage' operation on the motorway. Little by little we are seeing the germs of the idea of the need for a massive and united struggle of the whole working class against the inevitable increase in government attacks. For this to become a reality, workers must draw the lesson of union sabotage. In order to fight effectively, to extend the struggle, they can only count on their own forces. They have no choice but to take charge of their own struggles and unmask all the traps and divisive manoeuvres of the unions.
More than ever, the future lies with the development of the class struggle. Wm 18.11.07