Dec 10, 2018
What follows are two editorials of the revolutionary working class organization Lutte Ouvière in France. In these excerpts from workplace newsletters, they address a nationwide movement called the “Yellow Vest” protests.
The “yellow vests” worn by protesters are hazard vests required for all drivers in France. They have become the symbol of the economic distress of the protesters. A new fuel tax planned for January sparked the protest. Gasoline in France costs roughly $7.00 a gallon and with the new tax, prices at the pump would go up!
In France, workers get only one paycheck a month. The rising cost of living has eaten into wages and retirement benefits. Half way through the month, many lack money for food and skip meals. The gas tax increase was the last straw in a worsening situation.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in more than 2000 rallies across France. The November 17 protests were a success despite the tragic death of a demonstrator in Savoie (a region in the Alps) and the injuries caused to some at different roadblocks. In some places the protests continued the next day and the following days as well.
For many demonstrators, these protests were their first experience of collective action. The rallies were organized at grassroots level and not by unions or political parties, as is usually the case. The politicians who pointed out the absence of clearly “identified organizers” were actually lamenting the fact that they had no one to negotiate with to put an end to the movement! For the workers, the problem is different: it’s about getting involved in the struggle and organizing it according to their interests.
The public and private-sector employees, unemployed workers and pensioners who participated in the roadblocks expressed their discontent by saying that they’ve had enough of having to tighten their belts just to have money for gas to get to work or to find work!
The working class must push for its own objectives and rally behind its own demands. The [President] “Macron, resign!” slogan is widely accepted. There is good reason to want to get rid of this government which caters to the rich.
But if workers want to fight for their right to a decent existence, they must target those in command – the capitalists who are leading the war on workers and whom President Macron cares for so deeply.
It is so that the shareholders of large companies can continue to make billions in profit that workers are forced to survive on low wages when they have a job or on unemployment benefits when bosses decide to close down companies in order to make even more profit.
Those participating in the “Yellow Vest” movement aren’t only employees; other social categories are taking part too. Bosses of transport and construction companies, farmers and artisans are putting forward anti-tax demands which correspond to their interests. These “anti-tax” demands limit the scope of the protests to opposition against the government which also allows right-wing and far right parties to attempt to play a role.
As long as the profits gained by the capitalists aren’t called into question, right-wing politicians like Marine Le Pen will be willing to swear they care for nothing but “the people” and its needs.
Public funds and money from taxes are going directly into the capitalists’ pockets. The 40 richest companies on the French stock market collect billions in subsidies and tax credits. If the government ends up easing the burden on small business owners by lowering fuel prices, it will look for other ways to take from the workers and give to the capitalists.
Prime Minister Philippe said that his government would not back down and he feels for those suffering. Workers aren’t asking for his understanding or charity to make ends meet. All they want is to make a decent living from their work. Workers are the ones who keep society running or who did so before getting laid off or retiring.
To prevent our standard of living from plummeting, we must demand that wages, benefits and pensions be increased at the same rate as prices. That means engaging in a major struggle against big business and the government that is at its service.
Employees know each other and meet every day at their workplaces where they are grouped together. Workers have the means to organize this fight. They have a fundamental weapon at their disposal because they are at the heart of production, of the distribution of goods and services and of the entire economy. Strike action allows workers to hit capitalists where it counts, right at the source of their profits!
Today, tomorrow and in the days that follow, we must continue to discuss our interests among workers and prepare to take the money that’s missing at the end of the month from where it can be found – in the capitalists’ treasure chests!
The government was outraged by “scenes of urban guerilla warfare” during the demonstrations on December 1. After years of taking hard hits to their living conditions, the working classes have had enough. Who can blame them? As one single mother living on the minimum wage put it: “It’s pretty violent when there’s nothing left in your fridge to feed your family before it’s even the end of the month.”
Opposition leaders, from the extreme right to the left, have all expressed their views. The rubbish they say about “an institutional solution” won’t change a thing for workers struggling to make ends meet. But the opposition parties hope to make the most out of rejecting President Macron’s policies and arrogance.
The “wealth tax” was a very small levy on the income of the capitalists, but it has been almost completely eliminated by Macron’s government. Yet this very same government says that increasing the minimum wage is impossible! Macron’s policies are all aimed at defending the interests of the capitalists.
Everyone in the demonstrations has taken up the cry of “Macron, OUT!” It is easy to understand why. But even if Macron goes, whoever replaces him will still carry out the same policies. The style may change but the roadmap won’t. It will be devised by the same capitalists who always dictate what governments do. If lightning bolts are only directed at Macron and his government, they’ll simply be hitting the lightning rod that is there to protect the capitalists.
When their system is in crisis, the capitalists maintain and increase their profits by enforcing wage freezes and increased exploitation. They apply speed-ups for those who still have jobs and leave nothing but unemployment for the rest. For all workers, refusing a drop in purchasing power means bringing the fight into the workplace and fighting for better wages.
Many of the “yellow vests” are calling for transparency in the state’s accounts. They know that the taxes they pay are not invested in essential public services. They want to know where the money goes. It’s in our own interests for the workers to monitor what the government does with the money. But workers should also monitor company accounts. The capitalists claim that they can’t increase wages or that they can’t hire anyone? If company accounts are made completely transparent and audited by the workers, the workers will then know where the billions made from their exploitation go.
By challenging the capitalist domination over our living conditions, workers will be opposing policies that affect all the lower classes. When capitalists freeze wages, close down companies, lay off workers, they affect neighborhoods, towns, sometimes even a whole region, including independent workers, small businesses, etc., whose fate is linked to that of the workers.
It is through collective struggle that we can enforce linking increases in wages, pensions and social benefits to cost-of-living increases so that price increases do not neutralize any gains that we make.
The day after this newsletter was published, on December 4, the French government announced they will delay the start of the fuel tax by six months. Demonstrations continue. This promise did not stop the movement, as the government might have hoped. One protester summed up his resolve with the statement, “these are just words. We want to see action, quickly.”
In addition, at dozens of high schools across France, students are protesting in the streets. They point to planned changes to their education system, which they say will worsen inequality. One student said that planned changes will “kill the vocational schools.”