The Spark

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

France:
Despite the government retreats, the fight against anti-worker laws must continue

Apr 24, 2006

The following is a translation of an article from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the paper of the French revolutionary workers organization.

The law against young workers – the CPE – has been withdrawn by French President Chirac and Prime Minister Villepin. Villepin claimed that despite his good intentions, he “just wasn’t understood.”

In fact, their intention to further legalize job insecurity was well-understood. That’s why thousands of university and high school students, as well as young workers, participated in demonstrations. The CPE was not only an attack on them, it also did nothing to reduce the enormous unemployment in France. The struggle forced the retreat of these politicians, who represent only the interests of the tiny minority who are the bosses. For the moment, the CPE will disappear. But the CNE remains.

The CNE (Contract for New Hires) is just as much an attack on workers as the CPE; it legalizes similar job insecurity. One article in this law allows bosses to start hiring apprentices at age 14, and allowing night shift work starting at age 15. These measures take workers backward by decades, in order to let the bosses pay almost nothing to have the very young sweep their factory floors.

Some of the young people continued to call for demonstrations, even after the CPE was withdrawn. They wanted a demonstration against the CNE – and they were right! They deserve the support of all the workers.

Meanwhile, what are the union federations doing? Their leaders are happily entering into a “dialogue” with the government, pretending to find some solution to youth unemployment. This dialogue will come to nothing.

Youth unemployment is part of general unemployment. The bosses are free to lay off workers, and not only those who are subcontractors or apprentices or temporary hires. The bosses can also lay off “permanent” workers, using the excuse of “restructuring” or relocating or just to increase the value of their stock.

To decrease youth unemployment, as well as not-so-young unemployment, we must prevent the bosses from laying off anyone. We must make them use part of their unheard-of profits to maintain and create jobs, to divide up the work among all workers.

But nobody talks of such a solution, not the left-wing opposition any more than the right-wing political majority. None of the politicians want to interfere with the bosses’ profits. Instead the left-wing politicians propose new tax breaks for the bosses, or they offer special financial breaks to the bosses to pay for hiring more workers.

The retreat of the government over the CPE is not only a success, it is a success that points the way forward. It was the street demonstrations that made the politicians retreat. The mobilization of the students was supported by an overwhelming majority of working people, some of whom also joined in the demonstrations during the national days of action.

Still, the bosses were not hit where it counts the most: in their pockets. Those who claim the crisis is over are mistaking their desire for the reality. The social crisis comes from the class war against the working class carried out relentlessly by the bosses, supported by every French government.

That war can only be stopped when workers enter the struggle in massive numbers, both demonstrating and striking. Workers have a social force which is capable of forcing the bosses and their governments to pull back.