Apr 10, 2006
The following editorial appeared in the April 7 issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name in France. It came out after the demonstrations and strikes on April 4 throughout France, with estimates ranging between one million and three million demonstrators. The protests are against the CPE (First Hire Contract) which allows employers to fire workers under age 26 without giving any reason during their first two years on the job.
The day of strikes and demonstrations of April 4 was a bigger success than that of March 28. It was the response to President Chirac, who, on March 31, had announced his decision on television. He signed the law for the CPE (First Hire Contract), and at the same time he asked the bosses not to put it into effect. Chirac refused to withdraw the CPE, although it was the demand of millions of demonstrators, supported by more than three-fourths of the public in opinion polls.
Chirac affirmed that he took account of the “disquiet that is expressed” and said he would ask the government to prepare “two modifications to the law over points that were debated.” The probation period would be reduced from two years to one. Even with this change, the CPE would remain an insecure contract, giving bosses the legal right for a year to shove out the door any youth they hired, how and when they wished.
Chirac also affirmed that, contrary to the current formulation, “the right of the young worker to know the reasons” for termination “will be written into the new law.”
Big deal! So what if a young worker knows why he is discharged – he won’t have any legal means to oppose it, even in the weak way it’s possible to challenge layoffs under a contract of permanent hire.
Even modified, the CPE would remain one more step in the legalization of job insecurity. The CPE and the CNE (for workers in workplaces with less than 20 workers, which also allows discharge for no reason) can’t be fixed up. These laws need to be withdrawn!
More and more workers live with insecurity. They are insecure if they were hired under the numerous forms of temporary contracts that left-wing as well as right-wing governments invented, under the pretext that such contracts would create jobs. There is insecurity for everyone who works, whether they are permanent, supplemental or temporary workers, or are in training programs employed by the government itself. There is insecurity for the increasing number of factory workers hired as temporaries with fewer chances of becoming permanent. How many workers have to survive with temporary jobs that last only a few days or even a few hours? But even permanent workers are more and more insecure because they are threatened with the mass layoffs that big companies are carrying out. In some places the bosses reduce the number employed while keeping output the same; in others they move the work somewhere else, or they lay off simply to raise the price of their shares on the stock market!
The CNE and the CPE are unacceptable because the government uses them to legalize insecurity. The CPE may apply only to young workers under 26 and the CNE to workers in small work places, but they indicate what the bosses intend to spread to everyone.
The current legal restraints on layoffs aren’t very strong, but when insecurity is legalized there won’t be any restraint at all. We can’t accept this.
The union federations all recognized that the CPE wasn’t negotiable, that it must be withdrawn, purely and simply. They maintained this stand on April 5. Very well, but then why agree to meet the heads of the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement, the conservative party) in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate? Why agree to negotiate with the representatives of a government with which there is nothing to negotiate? What is more, the unions are meeting them separately, each federation in turn, when it has been precisely the unity of the union front that was a major characteristic of the movement? Why, contrary to what happened the day after the last demonstrations, didn’t they announce what the next step of the struggle would be? Why allow the government to delay withdrawal of the CPE? Despite their apparently radical proposals, the union federations are ready to offer the government a compromise allowing it to save face in exchange for government recognition.
When the union federations do this, they risk demobilizing the workers and students just when their mobilization is the strongest, when the chance of making the government retreat is greater than ever. The demonstrations where workers, high school and university students found themselves side by side contributed to structure the movement. Moving away from this unity will push the student movement to orient itself toward minority actions, with the danger of alienating themselves from the sympathy of a population which they had largely won to their side.
The high school and university movement is going to continue, in any case. The protest of the working class must also continue to be expressed. There is no reason to offer Chirac a pause in a movement that can still win. All those who have been active for weeks against the CPE and the CNE need to make their demand heard: to continue the struggle, without a break, up to the total withdrawal of the CPE and the CNE.