On January 20, after 46 days of continuous strikes, French transport workers went back to their jobs. Their strikes were the longest in recent French history, and the unions were divided on whether or not to continue them. Further strikes and protests are already being planned, in a struggle that is clearly far from over.
To gain a sense of the dynamics of such a struggle, People’s Voice reprints the following commentary and analysis from the French publication, Intervention Communiste.
The Christmas and New Year’s truce did not happen.
In full struggle against the pension reform of the Emmanuel Macron government and their corporate roadmap, the movement has not weakened: transport at SNCF national railway and RATP public transit in Paris is still disrupted, and workers at EDF (Electricité de France) and the chemical industry continue their protest actions.
The government tried to split the united front by tossing some vague promises to the reformist unions, but the grassroots of the UNSA (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes) rail union and RATP did not follow their national leaderships’ call for a truce.
Nevertheless, “anything goes” these days, including sabotage and media manipulation aimed at sowing division and discrediting those who fight against this deeply reactionary, unfair reform which will affect all workers, current and future.
Remember the chorus in the capitalist media about “6000 children deprived of Christmas,” following the SNCF’s decision to suspend its “Junior & Cie” accompaniment service for minors. However, the seats for Junior & Cie are sold by a private call center and are therefore not part of the tickets sold directly by the SNCF. [Junior & Cie (“Junior and Company”) is a service providing supervised travel for children aged 4-14 whose parents cannot accompany them on the train during holidays and weekends. SNCF suspended it from December 20-24, citing strike-related security concerns.]
“This service is outsourced and therefore not provided by railway workers,” said the CGT (Confédération générale du travail). The union said this indicates a “deliberate act of sabotage which is not the result of strikers, and which manipulates children and their families in an attempt to discredit those who strive for social progress.”
We are seeing just how far the government of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is prepared to go, to pass this bill which has been overwhelmingly rejected by workers. This determination was confirmed in the end-of-year greeting from President Macron, where his self-righteousness surpassed his authoritarianism. It must be noted that for capitalists, the stakes are high: the reduction in pensions and the rollback in retirement age, which the points-based retirement system will produce, clearly have the double objective of reducing the part of the social wage that constitutes a pension, and of increasing capitalization through pension funds that aim to capture workers’ savings.
Revelations by investigative journal Médiapart into BlackRock have shown the close links between this asset manager and the government: Larry Fink, its co-founder and president, and Jean-François Cirelli, president of its French subsidiary, are received very regularly at the Élysée Palace. They have repeatedly expressed their admiration for the anti-social policies of the Macron / Philippe duo, which has earned Cirelli the Legion of Honor. This act insults all those who oppose the reform project – the majority of French people. These facts show that the essential aim of the pension reform is to open an important market for the various asset management corporations.
Emmanuel Macron has made no secret of this, saying that he wants “the savings of the French to heavily irrigate our small and medium enterprises” (Le Figaro, July 25, 2018) in order to “develop a French-style of pension funds to finance innovation [start-ups] very quickly, very strongly” (L’Opinion, July 24, 2019).
France, the world’s 6th economic power, obviously has the means to finance the current pay-as-you-go (PAYG) pension system.
But the exemptions allowed by governments past and present – the CIR (Research Tax Credit), the CICE (Competitive and Employment Tax Credit), abolition of the ISF (Solidarity Tax on Wealth), introduction of flat taxes – and organized tax fraud by the big monopolies and employers are responsible for the apparent deficit in the social protection system. This is used to justify the asphyxiation of the public hospitals, the drastic measures against the unemployed and the pension reform project.
We also cannot forget how the military budget benefits from the largest funding increase in in the finance bill (PLF) for 2020. France does not have the means to finance public services, pensions or Social Security; but it has the means to finance military operations in Nigeria, Mali and Syria. War only ever benefits corporate monopolies, and not working people.
Today, we fight for the defense of the PAYG pension, Social Security, public services, against precariousness and unemployment. All these fights are part of one and the same struggle: that of the working masses against capitalism and the capitalist ruling class.
This article originally appeared on January 8 in Intervention Communiste. It has been translated from French by PV staff.
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