The Spark

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

French Workers Continue the Fight!

Feb 17, 2020

This article is from the January 30th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

A fast-track bill in Parliament, a drafted law full of holes, a series of decrees … The French government wants its retirement reform adopted as quickly as possible. And the fact that it’s a botch job, as the State Council has said, doesn’t change a thing. The government’s main preoccupation is to get past all the protests. But that’s not going to work. Hundreds of thousands of workers have been mobilizing since December 5 and they’re not ready to stop!

Even if the majority of SNCF union and the RATP union workers have had to return to work, they’re still having strike days and holding interprofessional demonstrations. Workers are mobilized throughout the country—in ports, docks, schools, refineries, incinerators, and even in courts and at the Paris opera! They’re all determined to keep up the pressure and be there on Wednesday, January 29. Friday, January 24 made it clear yet again that anger and determination are undiminished. Ministers and MPs keep trying to explain their reform but their unbearable hypocrisy, the lies they tell and the truths they leave out, just make people angrier.

“The reform won’t change the legal retirement age,” they say. But all the government’s simulators use 65 as the equilibrium age. So it’s out with the legal retirement age of 62 years, out with the pivotal age of 64 years and in with the equilibrium age of 65 years for all generations born after 1975!

The government is pushing retirement age to 65 years even though life expectancy in good health is around 62 years for men. And it’s a lot lower for manual workers because working on a building site, on an assembly line or in shifts with staggered working hours is not a healthy program.

In the eyes of Labor Minister Pénicaud, working in painful positions, carrying heavy loads, exposure to chemical risks or mechanical vibrations are abstract criteria of “hardship at work.” For workers, these criteria mean tendinitis, damaged spines, cancer and lifelong disabilities. When your health has been sacrificed on the altar of profits and capitalist greed, should you accept not having a retirement pension?

Looking us straight in the eye, every minister swears that this is a just and progressive reform. Well, they’re lying, just like Cahuzac lied when he said that he could look everyone straight in the eye and say that he didn’t have an overseas bank account!

They’re claiming to be the defenders of the lowest paid. Really? Defenders of women, even though they have just trashed the unemployment rights of all women who have to juggle part-time jobs with periods of unemployment? Defenders of farmers, even though in March 2018 they vetoed reevaluating agricultural pensions up to a minimum of 85% of the minimum wage?

There will only be one winner in this reform: the ruling class. Just like all the major reforms made under Sarkozy, Hollande and Macron, this one is designed to divert billions from the pockets of workers to the bank accounts of the capitalists. This is because the bourgeoisie never has enough and, due to the pressure that the crisis is exerting, it’s grabbing all it can from the workers.

The bourgeoisie wants to spend as little as possible on wages, jobs and working conditions. And it’s even demanding that the money spent on retirement pensions, education and health be reduced to the strict minimum so that they can have more.

But something has changed in France: the government can no longer mask its intentions. Its policies that are exclusively in favor of a handful of predators are being challenged more and more. The inequality and injustice that lead to the major capitalists cashing in more per hour than millions earn in a month are fueling the discontent. And there is a growing awareness of the devastation caused by exploitation and the parasitism of the capitalist minority.

All this is increasing the exasperation of the working class. It made itself heard in the yellow-vest movement and in the opposition to the retirement pension reform which caused one of the biggest transport strikes ever. And this is only the beginning.

The same anger is also smoldering in private companies and it will eventually erupt because the workers have no choice but to hit back.