The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

Strike in the Refineries

Oct 24, 2022

In France, refinery workers at several different companies have been out on strike since the end of September. This has impacted the economy and has lifted the hopes of workers across the country, inspiring two days of national strikes and demonstrations.

The government has recently responded with threats and attempts at intimidation.

What follows are two articles are translated from the October 20th issue, #2829 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

The Government in Support of the Billionaires

“Unacceptable”, “illegitimate”, “unbearable for our compatriots”: this is how Minister Bruno Le Maire described the continuation of the strike by refinery employees.

“The time for negotiation has passed. There was a negotiation, there was an agreement, that means that force must remain with the majority vote,” he added. But what negotiation, what agreement, what majority voice should the strikers respect? On October 14, in the cozy offices of TotalEnergies in Paris-La Défense, the representatives of the labor unions, CFDT and the CFE-CGC, only signed a draft agreement providing for a 5 percent salary increase for workers. This is in addition to 2 percent individual increases—so by definition at the discretion of management—and a bonus of one month’s salary.

This is far from what the strikers are demanding, a 10 percent increase in the monthly salary, to compensate for punishing inflation each month. The few bonuses dropped by the bosses, deductible from their profits in the eyes of the taxman, are ephemeral in the budget of a working family. It is totally legitimate to demand a real salary increase. Faced with a capitalist who brags about his 18 billion in profit in six months, who increases the dividends paid to shareholders by 50 percent, who himself increases his salary by 52 percent, it is legitimate for those who produce this wealth to demand a real catch-up in purchasing power. They have the weapon of the strike in their hands, they would be very wrong to drop it before having won.

Le Maire relies on the disgusting agreement signed, against the manifest will of the striking workers, between the boss Pouyanné and certain union leaders who had never called a strike. The pretext is that these signatories would be representative of a majority of the workforce—of whom they did not ask their opinion—and that the agreement would therefore be valid, under who knows what law. It’s a scam. As for the few crumbs that the leaders of TotalEnergies have agreed to cut from their cake, and which the negotiators are taking advantage of, it is the strikers who have torn them loose! They are precisely the proof that the strike is legitimate.

Le Maire’s chin taps, the evocation of a "need for firmness and authority", of a "return to order" give the true measure of the kinds of "negotiations" employers and the government love. The scandalous requisitions that the latter has ordered show how much he is at the service of his capitalist masters.

Requisitions: The State Against the Strikers

After three weeks of strike and the agreements signed between the bosses and non-striking unions, the government ordered the requisition of strikers—that is, they ordered them to return to work—to the Normandy refinery of Port-Jérôme-Gravenchon, the Mardyck depot (Dunkirk) and that of Feyzin (Rhone).

The requisition is a well-known reality of caregivers, the administration never worrying so much about having the necessary staff as on the days when it goes on strike. Requisitions had also already taken place in the oil sector in 2010, during the movement against the Sarkozy-Fillon pension reform. A large part of the workers at the Grandpuits refinery had notably been requisitioned and three demonstrators injured by the intervention of the gendarmes, the national police force.

From Thursday, October 13, the gendarmes went to the homes of the strikers designated by the management of Exxon and Total to order them to go to work, under penalty of six months in prison and a fine of 10,000 euros. Not warned beforehand, a striker described his children upset by the sight of the soldiers who had come to speak to their father.

About twenty strikers have thus been ordered to return to work: a limited number, but it shows the government’s desire to put pressure on the workers, since it can no longer content itself with minimizing the impact of their mobilization. The State, which has obviously never considered requisitioning profits to finance the requested salary increases, hopes to put an end to this situation which underlines the need to impose general increases, at the height of inflation and profits made. It shows which camp it’s in: that of employers against the strikers, and against the entire world of work.

The last word remains with the workers, since the State is not able to put a policeman behind each worker. The renewal of the strike voted by the workers of the refineries after the announcement of the requisitions is the best response to the government.