“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Feb 1, 2021
Translated from the editorial of the workplace newsletters distributed by Lutte Ouvrière, the French revolutionary workers group, for the week of January 25, 2021.
We are all affected by the evolution of the pandemic, the anxiety and the constraints that it has generated. Far from putting the class struggle on hold, it has made it harsher: everywhere. Big business has used Covid, restrictions and the stressful atmosphere to tighten discipline and increase exploitation.
Bosses have imposed overtime, often on week-ends and on night shifts; stolen vacation days; increased workloads; blocked or even lowered wages; pressurized and even penalized workers for no apparent reason... The production delays due to factory closures during the first lockdown, as well as the dismissal of temporary workers, have in many cases been compensated for by frenzied production rates and rhythms.
With fewer employees on the payroll, many multinationals have produced and earned as much in 2020 as they did in 2019. Without moving a finger, shareholders are getting richer—while the workers toil away, accept new sacrifices or even get the boot!
The avalanche of layoff plans continues to grow: there’s the foundry in the Poitou region, Total, Cargill, the furniture brand Alinea, Accor, Danone, Auchan, Bridgestone, the catering company Elior, General Electric, Nokia, Renault, Airbus , Air France, ADP... it’s impossible to name them all when dozens of such plans are announced every week!
Among the many is the Michelin plan: 2,300 jobs cut, in a company that made 1.7 billion in profits in 2019 and has multiplied its dividends by three in the last decade. Its CEO doesn’t even hide behind the pretext of Covid-19: he bluntly claims that Michelin just needs to be more productive in order to beat competitors.
To the same sort of “I’m making money, but I wanna make more” tune, Sanofi is in the process of destroying a thousand jobs, including 400 in research. Yet the health crisis has allowed this pharmaceutical group, which distributed 4 billion euros to its shareholders in 2019, to pocket nearly a billion euros last year in public money!
Who cares if millions of working-class families depend on charities for food, if many owners of small businesses and restaurants worry about how to survive? Michelin, Sanofi, Total and the like demand that their shareholders be treated like royalty by the state. Faced with competition, they want their business to be more than profitable: it needs to come out on top! Sharks will be sharks. And too bad if that means more exploitation, more people losing their jobs and plunging into poverty!
Greater exploitation for some and unemployment for others: that’s what the bourgeoisie is offering the world of labor!
Even though the state is currently handing out billions of euros to the bosses, they have no intention of loosening their grip on the workers. The government, of course, will not force them to do that: it behaves just like the bosses in the public sector, cutting jobs and budgets, notably in Health and Education.
Many workers are defending themselves locally, at the shop-floor level. This is the case of the workers employed at the Total refinery of Grandpuits, in Seine-et-Marne. They’ve been on strike for four weeks because they’re threatened with the loss of 700 jobs. This is also the case of the workers employed by tour operator Tui, who are up against a plan to get rid of 600 jobs. But the capitalists are waging a general offensive against workers’ jobs, working conditions and standard of living. Only a counter-offensive by the entire working class can stop them.
Such a mobilization can’t just be decreed, of course. But it is both necessary and possible. Several unions (the CGT, Solidarity and the FSU) are calling for a day of mobilization and strikes on Thursday, February 4. It’ll be an opportunity to proclaim, collectively, that workers have objectives and perspectives of their own to oppose the bourgeoisie and its government.
Ensuring employment for all, under suitable conditions, is the central problem of the working class: layoffs must be stopped and work distributed among all, with no loss in wages! This dividing up the work implies creating jobs in every branch where workers are being overexploited, be it in the private or public sector. For all of us to have work, we need to work less!
A minority is getting richer and richer while the working class is getting poorer: wages must be increased, not corporate profit margins or shareholder dividends! With the 100 billion euros of the so-called “stimulus package”, it would be possible to create more than 2.7 million jobs: the public money collected by the big employers needs to be controlled by the workers! This money must be used to guarantee jobs and salaries, to recruit the necessary staff in hospitals and retirement homes!
No lockdown or curfew can save us from capitalist greed. It’s up to us workers to retaliate and build up our counteroffensive.