The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Arlette Laguiller

Jul 31, 1995

An emergency plan for the unemployed and the working class

Some people express surprise or derision that I always address my speeches to "workers". Perhaps they would prefer that I address my speeches to "the French people" or "citizens", as do many electoral candidates and politicians. But this deliberately masks the fact that there are two types of citizens in this society, some of whom are much more "citizens" than the others.

That is why I express myself in these terms, to remind people that there are essentially two main classes in this society. Despite the apparent diversity of social conditions, there are two very different social classes who have diametrically opposed interests and who have nothing in common with each other.

On the one side there are blue-collar workers, office workers and intellectual workers, teachers and public sector workers and many other categories too numerous to mention, together with former workers who are now retired and workers who have been forced into unemployment. There are also small shopkeepers who, like most wage-earners, live only from their own labor without exploiting anyone else.

On the other side, opposing them, there are those who live mainly from the labor of others, and whose money has no more nationality than it has smell.

Of course, many of these people would say that they work too, and in some cases this is true. But they obtain the bulk of their profits or high salaries from the work of others, of many others, on which they build fortunes which pile up from one generation to the next.

Behind the closed doors of the boardroom, they can shut down a company as easily as slamming the door of a refrigerator, thus throwing hundreds or thousands of workers out on the street and ruining whole towns or regions.

Their economic power gives them the means to control and direct society. Their wealth enables them to influence or bribe politicians.

Above all, however, their economic system, based solely on profit-seeking, individualism and selfishness, leads them to limit production to what is profitable, even if this means reducing the majority to poverty, disorganizing society and plunging it into crisis. It would not occur to them to produce without profit, simply for the good of the community, perhaps with a decent salary if their role justifies it.

They are enemies of the poorer classes. I have nothing to say to them. That is why I do not address myself to them.

Politicians who hide the division of society into classes serve only the ruling classes, and their deception is deliberate.

And yet the division of society into classes has never been clearer than it is today.

Today, everyone can see that the divide between those amassing profits and those who live from their labor alone has deepened and is growing wider every day.

As for those wage-earners who think they can escape the fate of their class or that they are not workers, because they are office employees, technicians or intellectual workers, they are deceiving themselves. I would like to convince them of this.

That is why I address all of you as "workers".

Workers,

Those who have governed this country over the past twenty years of crisis have deliberately and consciously deepened the division between the small layer of rich people and the majority of the population.

One result of this is that while profits and unearned income have leaped ten years ahead, wages are lagging ten years behind!

Above all, however, unemployment has increased dramatically because the bosses did not have to try to maintain production to maintain their profits. All they had to do was cut costs.

The crisis, in fact, is not a crisis for everyone.

We need a change of policy

A change of policy means first and foremost giving the population the chance to monitor the financial operations of big companies.

This means making public the accounts of all big state-owned or private companies, so that everyone can have access to them, and not only judges when they carry out investigations.

It means making public, i.e. accessible to each individual, the income, assets and property of all politicians, and also of all the directors of the major corporations, their allies, their immediate family and their puppets.

The commercial secrecy covering big companies and banks must be abolished, and their employees and the rest of the population must be invited to take part in auditing them.

The press must be free to publish all findings without fear of prosecution. A major boss like the head of Peugeot simply has to refer to his personnel department to find out the income of any of his tens of thousands of workers. But when a satirical newspaper like Le Canard Enchaîné dares to publish his tax return, the same person considers this an encroachment on his private life. For such people, apparently, workers are not entitled to a private life. All this has to change: the fabulous profits of the capitalists need to be brought into the open.

What is the way to be "competitive": reduce labor costs even further or reduce profits?

In the automobile industry, for example, the share of labor costs in the price of a car is now a quarter of what it was twelve years ago.

So no one can claim that it is labor costs which are preventing companies from being competitive!

Have workers benefitted from this increase in productivity? No! Have working hours been reduced? No! Has the work become less tiring or dangerous? No! Quite the opposite!

But has the price of cars gone down in the meantime? No again!

So the bosses have reduced labor costs, but not their prices. Far from it!

The same is true in all industrial sectors.

So why not make companies more competitive by reducing the proportion of profit?

It would be perfectly possible to reduce the sale price of all manufactured goods and ask the shareholders, the profiteers, to take their turn in making ten years of sacrifices in the name of solidarity!

But the policy conducted up to now has been an anti-worker policy. It has encouraged both cuts in workers' income and cuts in jobs, accompanied by reduced social welfare, the worsening of living conditions in poorer districts and workers' suburbs and the deterioration of public services useful to the community.

The policy that is needed is the exact opposite of what has been done up to now.

An emergency plan for the unemployed and the working class

The first emergency is unemployment. The endless handouts to the bosses must be stopped. Uncompromising measures must be taken.

The most immediate measure is to stop all handouts and subsidies to the bosses.

These billions poured down the drain must be used directly by the state, primarily to create jobs in public services used by everyone.

The state can and must immediately hire staff for hospitals. The shortages are so great that patients' lives are in danger.

More jobs must be created in the postal service, as the striking postal workers are demanding. There must be new jobs in public transport in the cities and on the railways. Teachers and technical staff need to be hired and trained for education.

Up to now cuts have been made in public services to allow handouts to the bosses. The trend must be reversed.

Money must be taken back from the bosses and invested in public services. There are two reasons for this.

First, public services are useful to the population. Second, state money must be prevented from being used only to produce private profit.

There are enormous real needs to be met! All those currently out of work are not superfluous; there are not too many of them, nor do they lack the right skills.

For years the building of homes for the poorer population has been stagnating or decreasing.

The answer is for the state to take direct control of housing projects, without handing them over to big construction companies like Bouygues, and without handing out bribes to politicians on the way.

For years now, so-called secondary railway lines have been closed, although these lines are never "secondary" for those who use them. They need to be re-opened, and if necessary new lines need to be built.

There is certainly plenty of work to be done in the transport sector!

Steel workers in companies currently cutting back their workforce could work on the manufacture of buses, underground trains or trams.

As for education, new schools need to be built while some old ones need to be rebuilt.

Where will the money come from?

Don't let anyone say the money isn't there! The state could generate hundreds of billions in additional income simply by taking back all the benefits granted in recent years, both to big capitalist companies and to the rich as individuals.

Why have corporate taxes been reduced from 50% to only 33% of profits? This tax must be returned at least to its former level. The state could thus create the useful jobs which the bosses are not creating.

Top tax rates on high incomes must be restored. Why have the richest people been handed this gift? Does this allow jobs to be created? No, it is simply a gift from politicians who serve the rich. And Lionel Jospin does not talk of going back on this injustice any more than does Chirac or Balladur.

Instead of reducing social security expenditures, including essential benefits, as has been the case for several years, deficits must be made up by restoring employers' contributions at least to their former level.

The CSG tax must be abolished on low incomes and pensions. It must be extended to all other forms of income not yet subjected to it, like big incomes from capital with — unlike at present — progressively much higher rates for high incomes.

All cuts in taxes from which the rich have so scandalously benefitted must be abolished.

In order to finance subsidies for the health service, the state must tax those who have made fortunes over the past ten years.

Already today there is a two-tier medical system. But if the current policy is continued, a growing section of the population will have access only to very poor health care or to none at all.

A genuine wealth tax is needed.

These are the measures that are needed. They could immediately generate several hundred billion francs.

They are not revolutionary measures. They are simply a way of abolishing the extra gifts made to the bosses, without them giving anything in return, since the beginning of the crisis.

Layoffs must be made illegal, under penalty of immediate expropriation without compensation or purchase, starting with those companies which make profits but still cut jobs.

The state itself has experience in requisitioning companies in wartime. And the fight against unemployment and poverty is a priority which demands at least as authoritarian a policy.

The emergency measures must of course include a general wage increase of 1500 francs for all workers. This is not even the full amount wages have fallen behind profits over the past ten years. This would also boost consumption, whereas subsidies to the bosses only serve to fuel speculation.

All these measures are simply survival measures; an urgent plan to prevent the hundreds of thousands of workers already unemployed from sinking into poverty, exclusion and finally marginalization and degeneration.

What do they propose to combat unemployment?

And what do the "major" candidates have to say about the tragedy of unemployment?

Balladur is cynical enough to boast of the minute fall in unemployment which has just been announced: this fall was apparently 10,000 in February, after a figure of 17,000 for January, i.e. 27,000 in two months!

At that rate unemployment will be reduced by only 160,000 a year. It will therefore take six years to find jobs for a million unemployed, and 20 years for the present three and a half million unemployed.

But the unemployed can't wait 20 years, or even two years. They want to live now!

And Jospin has nothing different to offer. He says that his proposal of a 37-hour working week would create 400,000 jobs in two years. That means that after five years there would still be two million unemployed instead of three. And it would take 15 years to eliminate unemployment completely.

So Jospin and Balladur have the same figures and the same program: poverty for millions of unemployed.

Chirac is not even worth talking about. He says he wants to move faster, but is proposing even greater reductions in taxes for the bosses than Balladur and Jospin. And the reduction of unemployment promised by Chirac, even if it were to materialize, would also keep three quarters of today's unemployed waiting for years.

So all these people, armed with their experts' calculations, coldly envisage that today's unemployed should have to wait five, ten or even fifteen years to see an end to their poverty.

What do they take us for? Isn't this reason enough to get angry, to start shouting, to fight back?

We need to change the world.

I have never hidden my revolutionary socialist or revolutionary communist ideas, to which I have been loyal for many years, and which were the ideas of the Socialist Party and the Communist Party when they were founded.

It is the whole economy that is the wrong way round. This economy, where production is determined by profit, is a madman's economy which produces wealth on one side, poverty and exclusion on the other. It is an economy where the blind and ignorant market is in control, and not the intelligence of men and women conscious of the needs of their society and determined to satisfy them. It is an economy which is deepening the divide between a small number of industrial countries and the rest of the world, which is condemned to poverty.

For the moment, though, the important thing is not to say what we want for the future, but to say what we want right now.

In asking you to vote for my candidacy, I am asking you to approve a defensive program around which all workers who refuse to lie down and die can unite.

I am asking you to vote, through my candidacy, for the program which I am proposing, even if you do not share my revolutionary communist ideas. For it is your program, a program for all workers.

But to those who are in favor of this program but who hesitate to vote for me because I am a revolutionary communist, I would say that it is no coincidence that I am the only candidate to propose such policies.

We need an emergency program; urgent because there are nearly 3.5 million unemployed who are inevitably going to sink from unemployment to poverty, from poverty to marginalization. Because people who can no longer pay their rent end up being evicted and joining the homeless.

So we must stop this policy which generates unemployment and social exclusion.

We need:

- immediate take-over of all companies which lay off workers, starting with those showing profits;

- an end to all subsidies to the bosses made under the pretext of encouraging them to create jobs, and direct creation of these jobs by the state using the money saved;

- the obligation for all companies to make all their accounts public;

- the obligation for all major politicians and all top bosses to reveal their assets, property and income;

- a public works policy to give public services the material resources they lack, financed by taxing the rich;

- immediate abolition of all tax benefits and all reductions in social contributions granted to the bosses since the beginning of the crisis;

- the raising of the corporate tax, which has been reduced to 33% of profits, to at least its former level of 50%;

- the restoration and increase of top income tax rates and the abolition of all exemptions allowing the richest people in society to pay proportionately less taxes than workers;

- a general 1500-franc increase in all workers' wages.

Of course, your voting for this program does not mean that it will automatically be implemented. But by declaring your support for this program, you will be saying clearly to the country that it is your own, that it is part of your demands.

I am not, of course, going to be elected. But neither is Robert Hue. Nor, very probably, is Lionel Jospin.

But what I can promise you is that one million more votes for my candidacy will carry more weight on the evening of the first round than two million more votes for Hue or Jospin.

That would be a starting point for workers to regain a political perspective and draw new hope for changing things by uniting in a "third round" of social struggle, in which they would fight back against unemployment, impoverishment and exclusion, to ensure that the right of all people to a decent life is respected and that young people can have confidence in the future.

Arlette Laguiller
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