Dec 3, 2007
Workers in the U.S. will find that the attacks against workers in France sound very familiar – like attempted wage cuts or cuts in pensions. What isn’t so familiar is the response: French public sector workers struck. We reprint an editorial from the November 22 issue of Lutte Ouvriere, journal of the French revolutionary group of the same name.
Negotiations began between the leadership of the railroad and subway unions and the government – although the government had already declared it won’t give up anything essential. In any case, the strike continues in many sectors. The train drivers and agents are refusing to work more years for a pension worth less and less. They are right. Making workers continue for 40 years to get a full pension while reducing how much they get is a grave attack on workers’ lives. Nothing justifies it! Whether this attack comes in the private sector or in the public sector, it is a step backward. The only fair measure is a return to 37 years for a pension at the full amount.
On November 20, workers in the public sector – the post office and France Telecom and teachers – went on strike to demand an increase in their wages and to protest job cuts.
The price of necessities and rent keep going up. An increase in wages is a must for all wage workers. And it is completely scandalous that in a time of great unemployment, there are job cuts in public services, destroying indispensable services.
Hospital workers face a never-ending increase in their work load. They are already doing mandatory overtime that is almost never paid. The lack of positions at the post office translates into fewer deliveries, closed offices, reduced hours for the public, and interminable waits.
The only reason for these attacks is to save money on the backs of wage workers, retirees, and the unemployed. In this way the government can hand over more money, 15 billion euros, to their real electoral base – bosses, large and small.
The strike on November 20 was large, and the demonstration was massive.
The heads of the unions chose to divide the workers by arranging different dates for the strikes – November 14 for public sector workers and November 20 for train and bus workers from the RATP and utility workers from the gas and electric services. Isn’t it obvious that, in order to defend ourselves in the face of government attacks in the service of the bosses, we have to unify our forces?
The determination of the train drivers and agents already outwitted this maneuver. Their actions forced a coming together of all the strikers.
The government wanted to lessen the impact of the strike by negotiating enterprise by enterprise. The leaders of the main unions accepted this move although the government had made no concessions. But the strikers had no intention of giving up their fight just for half a loaf of bread. And the scornful demand by a government official that the strikers go back to work before any negotiations could begin simply reinforced the strikers’ determination. It also forced the leaders of the unions to continue the strike for longer than they wanted.
The government wants to divide the workers sector by sector, opposing one group to the next, in order to better squash all of them. It’s not in the workers’ interests to let them do it. Whether public or private, no worker can accept to work ever longer only to have a lower standard of living, starving to death in retirement while the rich grow ever richer.
The strike of November 20 needs a follow-up. We must make the government and the bosses step back, and stop their regressive policies. It’s vital if we don’t want to be pushed into poverty.