The Spark

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

Pensions:
A Struggle that Concerns All Workers

Jan 6, 2020

Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.

The strike by SNCF and RATP rail workers continues. The strike started to spread to refineries and could spread to teachers.

The most determined strikers set out to convince as many other workers as possible to join the strike, including at private companies. So politicians Macron and Philippe understand they have to do more than just wait for the strikers to get tired.

Working people massively reject the proposed pension cuts, and they support those who fight them. So the government is backing off in tiny, measured steps. It assured soldiers and police that nothing would change for them. The government also said air traffic controllers, firefighters, and prison guards will not be affected. Apparently negotiations are underway for truckers, fishermen, airline pilots, sailors, opera employees, and so on. Even before the strike began, the government made promises to hospital workers and teachers.

All of this is miles away from the fundamental demand of the strike movement: the complete withdrawal of pension reform. These baby steps aim to divide the strike movement, to try to separate groups of workers by making special proposals to them or the unions. The government game is to get the unions to distance themselves from the strikers or even to accept the pension reform in exchange for minor, verbal concessions.

So far the government will not back down on the main reform, a pension system by points. According to the Transport Minister, this would be the ideal framework and would allegedly avoid further pension reforms. The government would set the level of pensions by administrative decisions according to its cash flow needs. Each employee would become an individual case.

Big business demands this reform because it stands to gain in three ways. It would pay less in contributions. The government, by paying retirees less, would be able to subsidize employers more. And a new investment market would open up for pension funds. The only thing that could make the capitalists change their minds now would be the fear of the spread of the movement to a lot of private companies.

The government does not want to give in because it would be a political setback forced by workers on strike. Macron’s career as president could be jeopardized. Of course for the big bosses who put him forward, his personal ambitions do not matter. But these people do not like the state giving in to workers. This could paralyze government cuts for months, prevent further blows to the working classes, and undermine authority. Here again, only the fear of a spread of the movement can make the president, his government, and especially his sponsors back down—if they fear that by not yielding today they will have to yield much more tomorrow.

Macron and Philippe would prefer to be able to take pride in making the unions and the strikers give up. So the showdown continues between all workers with the SNCF and RATP strikers at the forefront, and the government acting in the service of the wealthy. More than ever, we must demand the complete withdrawal of the pension reform. It is up to all workers to give themselves the means to obtain this demand.