Despite the efforts of collaborationism and its lap-dogs on the far left: The first signs of proletarian anger herald the return of the class struggle!
(«Proletarian»;Nr. 5; November 2009)
On July 6 the unions gathered discretely to draw a balance sheet of what has taken place since their last call to demonstrate (June 13) and of what they had obtained from the government coming out of the meeting of ‘social actors’ with the President on the first of July, they should also have decided on actions to commence after the holidays or at least agreed on a date to discuss them. But coming out of that meeting, nothing was decided and no assessment has been made public.
UNION ACTION TO DEMOBILIZE PROLETARIANS
However, we can draw up the balance sheet in place of the unions: the 6 months of union mobilization have been 6 months presented to the owners and the State for them to carry out their dirty deeds, to manage the initial impact of the crisis without the fear of workers reaction: in short, 6 months of demobilization of the proletariat! The big union organizations have used the tactic of the ‘national days of action’ centered around demonstrations and strikes in some areas at intervals sufficiently spaced to gain time and to allow the inclination to struggle to deplete itself little by little; the cycle ending with the classic demonstration/funeral procession on June 13th. This well- established tactic relies on the agreement of all the trade unions, from the most collaborationist to the most agitational so as to leave minimal opportunities for any potential movement to move beyond the rigid framework of the pseudo-mobilization.
The Government provides its discrete support to this unity according to what was written in the pro-government daily ‘Le Figaro’, after rumors had circulated about a breach of this unity: «At the Élysée, a division [of the trade union front -Editor’s note] does not sit well. United, unions limit and channel excesses. Separated, the door is open to all bids. A nightmare scenario definitely wished to be avoided by Nicolas Sarkozy, who will meet with [union leaders] early July to make a point on the social provisions taken since the crisis began (...) before announcing at the beginning of the holidays measures likely to prevent this September from becoming really explosive. «(1)
Another important factor that explains the continued strength up until now of this anti-worker unity is the implicit support it has received from the pseudo-revolutionary parties. As already noted, these organizations who enjoy a fairly significant audience among some workers and some unions (like the SUD), have carefully avoided any criticism or, at least any serious manifestation of opposition to the trade union front against struggle, pressing, on the contrary, for maintaining the unity of these apparatuses of class collaboration which they present as a precondition for the defence of workers. We explained in another article how, faced with a manifestation of proletarian struggle (undocumented workers occupying a trade-union meeting place) these organizations have placed themselves on the side of the union apparatus against the workers.
It’s not an attitude taken on a whim or through a poor choice of leaders: it expresses the true political nature of these organizations and ‘far-left’ parties who for years have occupied part of the places once reserved for reformism on the bourgeois political chess-board, creating multiple ties with bourgeois institutions and the forces and parties committed to social conservation, including receiving State financial assistance without which their activities would be compromised. The so-called ‘anti-capitalist’ far-left (it no longer calls itself revolutionary!) has for a long time been integrated into the anti-proletarian operative policy where it plays the specific role of recuperating the most combative elements tending to rupture the social peace.
The new reality of recent years is that the terminal and irreversible weakening of what was the pillar of the counter-revolution, Stalinist-type reformism, forced the far-left to lower the mask, starting to reveal itself to the eyes of the proletarian vanguard as abandoning its ‘extremist’ postures and ‘revolutionary phraseology, in order to fill the void left by the gradual disappearance of the old French Communist Party. If at first this strengthens the power of the anti-proletarian front, this evolution signifies that the fake revolutionary and fake communist currents could find it more difficult to serve as a barrier to the reappearance of class organizations and the class party, the need of which will be increasingly felt as the capitalist crisis worsens the conflict between classes.
The veritable explosion of unemployment is the most acute form of the capitalist attack against the working class that the crisis has provoked. It affects primarily temporary workers, those on a CDD (Contrat à Durée Déterminée: a fixed short-term contract), and young workers.
While official statistics, covering the first 5 months of the year, reported a 340,000 increase in the number of unemployed, the Minister of the Economy, Christine Lagarde (the same one who had assured everyone that France would be spared by the economic crisis) has welcomed the latest published figure as ‘good news’ because in May there were ‘only’ 36,400 more unemployed in France than the previous month! This being said when last September, when it was announced that the increased number of unemployed in one month (August) was on the order of 40,000, everyone, including the government, said it was a catastrophic figure... But it is true that, earlier in the year, 100,000 new unemployed were recorded every month, an unprecedented increase.
Being a little more realistic or just wanting to be a little more credible than his pricelessly comedic Economy Minister, the Secretary of State for Employment, admitted that unemployment figures will be bad at least until the end of the year. This is especially true as the number of people seeking employment is undoubtedly well above the 2,500,000 unemployed officially registered in the first half; if we take into account the data for all categories of statistics from INSEE (National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies), it yields a figure of 3,600,000. And even this figure is very probably below the truth. Whatever the critics make of these statistics which always minimize the actual numbers of unemployed, official figures reveal a particularly strong increase in unemployment among young people: in the first quarter of 2009 it was 24.2%, a figure not seen since they began to keep this statistic in 1975 (2). Young people have more trouble finding work, and when they do work they are often temporary and therefore the first to be unemployed.
INSEE does not mention it, but the percentage of young unemployed is much higher in the proletarian neighbourhoods where it sometimes reaches 50%. We should not look elsewhere for the source of tensions in these areas which regularly erupt into riots in the aftermath of police brutality or even mere incidents. Worried by this situation, the authorities strengthen police presence and aggressivity (including generalizing new weapons such as the flashball which has produced such damaging effects in the recent period), multiplying and beefing up repressive laws, but which can do nothing but prepare the grounds for further explosions, as the democrats lament...
Announcements of job cuts have continued to increase (...) , but according to the press, experts are expecting the worst to occur at the beginning of fall especially with an explosion of lay-offs in the small and medium enterprises.
These dismissals have led to reactions from workers this spring, especially with the sequestration of some employers and other ‘violent’ actions that were, in some cases, widely publicized. If the bourgeois congratulate themselves – and congratulate the unions (3) – on the fact that the number of bossnappings has been relatively low, these struggles, no doubt partial and limited to single companies, have an iconic character because they reveal the state of mind that is spreading among workers, their readiness to struggle, but also the problems and difficulties of the struggles. Let’s quickly look at three examples.
At the Continental plant in Clairoix (Picardy), in 2007 the 1,100 workers yielded to employers blackmail: through a referendum organized by management, they accepted the agreement signed by the CFTC (a Christian union) to work 40 hours while being paid for only 35, to ‘save their jobs’.
So when they heard of the employer’s decision to close their factory, their anger exploded; they held the bosses hostage, trashed company premises, sub-prefecture (local administrative offices) etc. The struggle of these workers found support among workers of the region and beyond. Ultimately the struggle of the ‘Contis’, directed by an intersyndicale (local coalition of unions) enabled them, if not to prevent the closing of the factory, to at least gain termination payments of 50,000 euros, in addition to legal indemnities. But there is no doubt that it will be very difficult for them to find a job in their region where other plant closures are occurring (and other struggles are ongoing). In addition there are legal proceedings against 7 workers, including the local head of the CGT, considered to be responsible for the attack against the sub-prefecture. The CGT head, who does not conceal his ties to the Trotskyist Lutte Ouvriere party and who was one of the animators of the conflict, complained of the absence of Thibault and Chérèque (leaders of the CGT and CFDT unions) in the workers demonstration in Paris in late June in support of the defendants, saying that they are “rabble”: but is this really surprising, when the main concern of the union leaderships is to avoid real struggle to the greatest extent possible?
At Freescale (Toulouse), April 23, the announcement of the closure of the company within thirty months leading to 1,100 job loses, sparked strikes for several days with pickets in front of the factory (and the participation of workers of other firms in the struggle). At a General Assembly a coordinating committee with no union officials was elected by the workers . The demand for a premium of 150,000 euros is advanced in the General Assembly. Members of the committee (thirty workers are present) attend negotiations of the management with the intersyndicale, they then give the GA of the various shifts accounts of the negotiations. This probably helps to maintain some pressure on management and the unions (and it shows distrust of the latter), but in reality the coordinating committee leaves it up to the Intersyndicale to decide on future actions, being content with an auxiliary role, or rather as an outlet for the workers’ discontent. Moreover, the management agreed to pay 2 hours per week to the workers for attending the GA. (4) ...
But the most interesting example is that of Caterpillar (Grenoble). This is a big business in the city (about 2000 workers at two sites), famous for its high wages and the strong corporate loyalty which prevailed there. In recent years production was in full swing, hundreds of temporary workers had been hired. However, affected by the economic crisis (though its profits are still comfortable), Caterpillar has launched a plan to reduce its global workforce. Periods of temporary lay-offs multiplied, but the announcement of 600 to 700 job losses at the Grenoble sites touched off a powder-keg.
In this probably unique case, even before the forming of an intersyndicale, a group of workers formed a ‘strike committee’. Throughout the struggle the committee will be at the forefront of the struggle to mobilize workers and thwart the actions of the intersyndicale to end the conflict. Regularly followed by 200 to 300 workers always present at the General Assembly or the picket line, it was able at certain decisive moments of the struggle to regroup all the workers behind it: at the time of the calls for strike with occupation, when the company directors were held hostage (making it an experience in ‘workers’ power’ according to one of the leaders of the committee). When the trade union delegates who were returning to Grenoble after concluding an agreement with the Minister of Labor in Paris to end the conflict, the ‘strike committee’ mobilized workers to physically prevent them from going to sign the Return to Work Directive; at an improvised workers’ meeting the committee interrupted embarrassed explanations by the CGT official by denouncing the traitors and sell-outs and by issuing a clarion call to continue the struggle.
If the far left press has remained completely silent on the existence and activity of this committee, the bourgeois media themselves, hatefully denounced the ‘minority’ action of a score of “strong arms” who made “a climate of terror” rule: “Having nothing to lose because close to retirement or recently hired, their sole strategy is for increasing ‘the size of the prize’ (the amount of the settlement). “Coming for the most part from programs of social integration, recently released from prison in some cases, they have piloted the conflict in their own way in the permanently escalating haggling” (5)!
In fact it is significant that the members of the committee (which didn’t contain any militants from the so-called far left) were older workers, knowing full well that they will never find work, and having already experienced struggles and the role which trade unions have played.
Without being able to find the effective solidarity of the proletariat of other companies in the metropolitan area because of the tight cordon sanitaire of union and political collaborationism, the courageous struggle of the “Caters” has been unable to win against a resolute management, wholly sustained by the governement. In addition to “voluntary departures” more than 400 new redundancies were announced, while the management has raised the threat of more than one hundred additional layoffs in order to push through a worsening of working conditions for workers.
TOWARDS THE RESUMPTION OF THE CLASS STRUGGLE
These three conflicts, from among many others (we haven’t even spoken about threats to blow up plants that have recently arisen in some conflicts) show the fighting spirit of which the workers are capable, and show the objective need for the collective struggle of all the proletarians, going beyond the framework of a single plant or a single group of industries.
They also testify to the obstacles against moving in this direction, to the difficulties presented for a vanguard of workers to break definitively with the actions and methods of defeatist collaborationism, to try to take control of the struggle and lead the rest of the proletariat; that is to say, to the difficulties in retracing the path of genuine class struggle, in reacquiring the classist methods and means which were in previous times those of the proletariat.
But the signs of proletarian anger are becoming more and more evident. Here and there this anger is beginning to break through the resignation and powerlessness instilled by the bourgeois and their valets; and it will inevitably lead to explosions of struggle more violent and more difficult to control by the parties and unions which are the defenders of ‘social peace’.
The return of the generalized struggle unifying the young proletarians of the banlieues and the workers of the factory; the unemployed workers and those ‘benefiting’ from a job; the undocumented alien workers and those who have their papers in order; the return of the class struggle to defend immediate proletarian interests before moving on to the offensive against capitalism; will cease to be abstract and distant and will begin to become practical guidance when the upsurge in capitalist attacks constrains increasingly numerous groups of proletarians to organize themselves directly, above all factory and corporate barriers, above all localisms, to defend themselves and forcefully retaliate in the incessant social war which rages in the bourgeois society.
(1) See ‘Le Figaro’, 15/6/09
(2) In the mid-70’s, the youth unemployment rate was around 6%. It had steadily increased since then to a peak of 20% in the mid 90s. It had fallen below 14% in 2000, before resuming its climb, which was suddenly accelerated earlier this year, since it was ‘only’ 20% in the last quarter of 2008. See INSEE, chômage en métropole au sens du BIT, série longue.
(3) According to Martin Richer, director of a consulting firm specializing in s
ocial planning (!): ‘Contrary to what one hears, the unions are very responsible. I identified only 22 kidnappings, an epiphenomenon.’ See ‘Libération’, 14/7/09.
(4) According to «Convergence révolutionnaire» 7/03/09 See: www. Convergencesre volutionnaires. Org / spip.php ? article 1940
(5) Cf ‘Les Echos’, 26/5/09. The radio program ‘Là bas si j’y suis’ on France Inter, broadcast a report on Caterpillar. Despite statements by the host to defend the unions and minimize the events, it was possible to hear the violent reactions of the committee members to the union delegates: «Today, we are going to smash you!» and the virulence of their interventions «to arms!», etc…
International Communist Party