The Spark

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

France:
Against the Attack on Workers’ Rights

May 23, 2016

Since the beginning of March, workers have been protesting across France, in days of action, strikes and demonstrations. They were opposing the draft “El Khomri law” – which would abolish most of the Labor Code, a series of protections workers have imposed on the ruling class by fights over more than a century.

In France, working conditions and rights are almost entirely defined by law, established collectively for everyone. In the U.S., that’s true of very little other than the minimum wage and Social Security.

In France, national laws establish working hours (a 35-hour standard week) for everyone, as well as the overtime premium that must be paid. Everyone has the right to a five-week paid vacation, regardless of the employer. The conditions under which people are hired and can be fired are also fixed by law, and appeals against unfair treatment including firing go directly to a tribunal that has much more enforcement powers than does the NLRB, for example. Protections against unfair dismissal, protections on health and safety in the workplace are established in the Labor Code, etc. Most industries are covered by legally binding national agreements setting basic working conditions, violations of which can be addressed to the labor tribunals.

Now, the French bosses want to push workers there back to the reactionary situation under which workers in the U.S. slave. Under the draft law, a permanent contract for a job would become little more than an open-ended temporary contract which could be terminated at any time. Companies could lay off workers without any possible redress by just showing a fall in turnover for two quarters. They would be able to increase the basic working week to up to 60 hours, while reducing the compulsory rest time between two shifts. Overtime would be calculated over a period of three years and only paid at the end of that period, possible at a rate as low as 10%.

Fundamentally, the draft “El Khomri law” would eliminate the framework under which employment rights apply collectively to all workers, whatever their circumstances. Companies would be able to by-pass industry-wide collective agreements by organizing “in-house referendums” – for instance to blackmail workers into agreeing to wage cuts under threat of closure.

Opinion polls show a 70% opposition to this law! And workers have been mobilizing against it for the past two and a half months.

The article that follows is an editorial from the newspaper of the revolutionary French workers organization, Lutte Ouvrière discussing the current situation.

Make the Workers’ Anger Be Heard

The overwhelming majority of working people are hostile to the “El Khomri law.” For more than two months, hundreds of thousands of workers have said this by going on strike and demonstrating. In the National Assembly, the administration hasn’t been able to get a majority to vote for it. So in order to impose it, Hollande and Valls invoked Article 49-3 of the Constitution. This law will be adopted without the vote of the Parliament.

They tell us, “the people have power.” Well, “people” exercised it by electing the President of the Republic and the parliamentary deputies who are supposed to vote on the laws.

But was Hollande elected to wipe out the Labor Code? Was he elected to increase the Value Added Tax (the national sales tax), to generalize blackmail to increase the competitiveness of business? Was he elected to give a gift of 46 billion dollars to the bosses, with the pact of responsibility? No, that was the conservative program of Sarkozy, whom he ran against.

Even if there had been a majority vote in the Parliamentary Assembly for the Labor Law, that wouldn’t have been democratic. Because those who claim to be the representatives of the nation only represent themselves. Once they are elected for five years, they want to preserve their office and their privileges and don’t care at all about what the majority of the population thinks.

We of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle) have never trusted Hollande. We were among the few who refused to call for a vote for him on the second round of the presidential election in 2012, because we wanted to warn the workers that he would betray the little that he promised.

But, like these voters, we are revolted by so much arrogance and cynicism.

Laws aren’t born in the heads of ministers and members of Parliament. They are drawn up by Medef (the organization of big business), in family meetings and by the Board of Directors of Peugeot, Dassault, Bolloré, Arnault and Mulliez.

And all administrations carry them out, whether they be right-wing or left-wing administrations. Because above all, to run the affairs of state means to run affairs of the richest.

Anger with the “El Khomri law” is a good thing. For years, the workers have suffered attack after attack: the lengthening of the age of Social Security retirement, increase of work speed, lowering of purchasing power. The bourgeoisie hasn’t let up waging the class struggle and workers have suffered. It’s necessary to reverse this.

The “El Khomri law” is the last straw, but the anger which is expressed is much more general. It must continue to be expressed....

Beginning on May 18th, despite the equivocations and narrow self-preoccupation of the union leaderships, a part of the railroad workers will go on strike and demonstrate against the worsening of their working conditions.

Truck drivers went on strike beginning May 17th. To this are added the strike days and demonstrations called for by the national unions for May 17th and May 19th.

Valls and Hollande were able to close the parliamentary debate and hope to impose the “El Khomri law.” But they can’t stifle the anger which has accumulated. And it must make itself heard!