Update and Analysis on the Political Situation in France

Yellow Vests? Let's discuss it ...

In this Dossier:

(1) Do Macron and [Prime Minister] Philippe Really Think They Can Get Away With It?

2) What Is the “Yellow Vests” Movement?

3) Trade Unions Come to the Fore … on Working-Class Grounds

4) Youth Rise Up … and Face Unheard of Repression

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(1) Do Macron and [Prime Minister] Philippe Really Think They Can Get Away With It?

(Editorial by Daniel Gluckstein — Tribune des Travailleurs N°167 — December 5, 2018)

The announcement on 4 December of a six-month suspension of planned carbon-tax increases and other fuel tax measures, as well as of planned gas and electricity increases, will obviously appear to be a setback for a government which, two days earlier, said it would not change anything. True enough. …

However, as has been clearly noted, this is a suspension, and not a withdrawal, of these measures. It is a suspension which, moreover, corresponds to the request for a “moratorium” raised by all the opposition parties.

And above all, in a situation of open crisis of the regime, it is certain that workers and young people will say to themselves: It doesn’t all add up, not really.

For months now, rejection has been growing throughout the country — rejection of the government, its policies and the institutions themselves. Rejection that embraces all segments of the population, starting with the most oppressed and exploited: the working class, which includes active and retired workers, the unemployed, children of the working class, mothers of families.

What is being rejected is 30 years of “counter-reforms” that the institutions of the Fifth Republic have enabled, in defiance of the majority will, thanks to the ordinances, to Article 49-3 [of the Constitution of the Fifth Republic], and to the full powers given to the President, the keystone of the institutions.

What is being rejected is a class-war policy implemented by governments of all political stripes. It’s a class-war policy that deprives the working class of its rights, amputates its purchasing power, undermines its access to healthcare and pensions, denies the younger generation access to a qualification, and denies millions the means to live with dignity, with a decent purchasing power that allows them to secure housing, clothing and leisure.

It’s ruthless class-war politics: For decades, it has allowed capitalists to accumulate mountains of profit, unparalleled in history, on the basis of the continuous degradation of the value of the labour force.

To the legitimate and vital demands of this overwhelming majority, which has said “Enough is Enough!,” the minimum respect for democracy would require that, at the very least, the following demands should be met:

– the withdrawal of measures that are set to go into effect beginning 1 January 2019: the withholding tax, the new reductions and exemptions from employers’ social security contributions, and the planned payment of the 40 billion euros of the CICE [Credit for Competitivity and Employment];

– the withdrawal of all the Macron government’s ongoing “counter-reforms” and plans against workers and young people: pension counter-reforms, Blanquer reforms against the baccalaureate and the high schools (against which high school students are rising up today) and all other such measures;

– the general increase in wages, pensions and social minima, with a return to price indexation and the recovery of lost purchasing power;

– the reopening of classes, hospitals, maternity wards, post offices and other public services that have been closed for decades;

– and therefore the necessary break with the austerity policies imposed by the European treaties and successive governments for more than 25 years.

Instead, the government not only pretends not to hear this immense demand for a break with these past policie, but it persists and signs the new regressive measures. [Prime Minister] Édouard Philippe went on to announce the government’s planned “concertation,” claiming that its goal is to meet the aspirations of those who want “taxes to fall and work to pay.”

The Medef [the main employers’ association] has greeted these measures with glee: less taxes, less benefit payments. This is, in fact, what the employers have been demanding all along; it’s what the government intends to approve through this process of “consultation.”

But here’s the rub: The crisis of the Fifth Republic’s regime is wide open, and the government’s announcements of 4 December will not be enough to close it. The revolt has been brewing for more than 30 years. The more Macron-Philippe persist in refusing to give in on any issue of substance, the more they push the working class toward the following conclusion: If, to obtain satisfaction of our basic demands, it is necessary to drive out the Macron government and the Fifth Republic, then so be it. …

This raises the whole problem of working class independence, the very principle of which has been undermined in recent weeks by those who have called on workers’ organisations to submit to the discipline– “outside of and above social classes” — of the so-called yellow-vest movement.

FR All social classes

Graffiti on wall in the region of Lot-et-Garonne reads: “All social classes are here. Join us. Gaul for the Gaulois”

Class independence: Workers have nothing to gain from the confusion of demands raised by an amalgam of social classes.

Class independence: Workers have nothing to gain by standing behind the tricolour flag or banners such as “We Are All Gauls.” National unity, whatever its clothing and pretexts, is always contrary to workers’ interests.

Class independence: Workers have nothing to gain from others speaking on their behalf, from self-proclaimed spokespersons who, in the name of the “people” and the rejection of political parties and trade unions, take refuge in a façade of anonymity that is not at all spontaneous.

Class independence: Workers have nothing to gain from anti-political, anti-worker, anti-union “clear-the-road” demands and forms of struggle, which, by undermining the forms of working class representation, only aim to atomize them and subordinate the workers to the ruling political system.

Class independence: Workers have nothing to gain by turning a blind eye to racist and anti-immigrant abuses and aggressions that aim to divide them.

The workers have nothing to gain from the rise of what is called populism — be it of the “left” or the right — which is nothing more than the negation of the class struggle, any more than they have something to gain from the convergence of populisms, the results of which can be seen in Italy.

But they have everything to gain by remaining on working class grounds. The unity of workers and their organisations, with their faces uncovered as they promote their demands, is the only way to impose an outcome in line with their interests and democracy.

A real change in course calls for the emergence of “classical” forms of class struggle in relation to the crisis of the regime. The whole situation places the workers’ strike on the agenda around clear, specific demands, sweeping away the confusion of sloganeering. Already, particular strikes are spreading across the country — strikes which, in connection with the regime’s general crisis, are fuelling the movement towards a workers’ general strike.

This is the way to impose a real break with the anti-worker political continuity of the last 3- years. This is the way to break with the European Union and the Fifth Republic, the first step toward a government of the working class and democracy.

It is in this direction that a real “way out of the crisis” can be found, in line with political democracy and workers’ interests.

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2) What Is the “Yellow Vests” Movement?

A. Excerpts from a statement by the TCI

FR No Immigrants, No Taxes

Less Immigrants! Less Taxes!

The social and political nature of a movement is given by its composition, its organisation and its objectives.

The social composition of the “Yellow Vests” movement is extremely diverse. It contains a wide layer of the petty bourgeoisie who have been crushed by the decay of capitalism and the government’s policies (craftspeople, shop-owners, etc.) as well as many small-business owners supported by important sectors of big employers, in every form. It contains corporate CEOs and city councils (mainly from municipalities of the right and far-right) that have mobilised as such, and it also contains workers (some outraged, others desperate), unemployed people and social layers that have been marginalised by the decay of society, many of whom are disappointed and disillusioned by the policies of the “left-wing” parties in power or in opposition. It also contains political activists of the “far-left” who have come to participate in the “citizen uprising”.

A striking political fact is that in these rallies the only flag that is approved is the national tricolour [blue white and red] flag, perhaps accompanied by various regional flags (e.g. of Brittany, Corsica, Occitanie, Alsace). The only approved song is the national anthem: The Marseillaise. Political party flags and banners and trade union flags and banners are banned, and in fact have not appeared anywhere in this movement; the only attempt we know of was by a delegation from the Perpignan CGT, who tried to join a march with their flags and were turned away.

Is this a model of “popular self-organisation”? Such an assertion is contradicted by the facts. Of course, in the explosive context of the anger that is running through every layer of the working-class and petty bourgeoisie, populist and demagogic slogans misdirect the indignation of tens of thousands of workers or declassed petty bourgeois who spontaneously have every reason to stand up against the government. Nevertheless, most of the organising of the movement owes very little to spontaneity, instead resting largely on the activist infrastructure of right-wing and far-right parties that are seizing the opportunity to make their political undertakings prosper, and whose activists increasingly appear at the heart of the organisational planning of the “Yellow Vests”.

The movement’s single official political objective is the rejection of the increase on fuel taxes. Is this a working class-based slogan? We have said it before and we repeat it now: the tax on fuel does not affect in equal measure the worker who has to borrow a car to travel to work 50 kilometres away from his/her home, and the owner of a transport company who sees the tax increase as an attack on his/her sacred right to make a profit. From the bourgeoisie’s point of view, the advantage of the “yellow vests” movement is that it binds together the worker and the boss, cuts the link between the car-driving worker and the worker who does not drive, and places the whole thing under the single demand of “lower taxes”.

The worker can have the illusion that this demand is a response to the crushing of his/her purchasing power. But in fact, the demand extends increasingly to anti-tax slogans, therefore to anti-public services, anti-unemployed and anti-worker slogans, when it is not directed against “social costs” (in other words, against the deferred salary contributions that belong to the worker). This is being expressed repeatedly enough during the roadblock actions for anyone to understand that it is not simply anecdotal.

The great majority of those who are participating in the “Yellow Vests” movement are far from being reactionaries, but we also know that the ground onto which they have been drawn is a ground which, in the best-case scenario, does not open up any solution whatsoever for the working class, weakens it, disorganises it and disorientates it; and in the worst-case scenario, nourishes the biggest kind of adventures against democracy and the working class. It is through the political struggle that we seek to contribute towards regrouping the workers on the grounds of class — of the working class.

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B. More on the “Yellow Vests” Movement

(Excerpts from Reports in Tribune des Travailleurs / Workers Tribune, reprinted from Issue No. 167 and Special Supplements Nos. 1 and 2)

FR auto-proclamés

Over the past week, “spokespersons” of this movement have emerged.

– Some call themselves regional representatives. In Saône-et-Loire, a leaflet signed “Yellow Vests” explains: “What is the movement of yellow vests? It is a people’s movement, no parties, no trade unions, no social classes, no ages, no religions! (…) We are all concerned and involved, from the homeless on up to the bosses!”

– On 26 November, the creation of a “delegation of official communicators”, composed of eight spokespersons, was announced. “Many are corporate CEOs,” according to the press. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe invited them to Matignon.

– The most contradictory press releases are circulating on social networks.

Thus, on 29 November, a press release sent by “people’s directives” to the “deputies of France” (but not to Macron), and which was supported the next day by Jean-Luc Mélenchon on his blog, announced that the “Yellow Vests” have a program (“La bonne surprise : le programme des gilets jaunes”, 30 November). Marine Le Pen contested it. The program includes demands such as “retirement at age 60” and “job-creation for the unemployed” — but there are also employers’ demands such as “repayment of the debt”, “increased funding for the judiciary, the police, the gendarmerie and the army” and even, yes even, “reject the asylum seekers and return them to their countries of origin”.

– Other “spokespersons” make no secret of having been extreme right-wing candidates in various elections.

In this movement — which undermines political parties, trade unions and representative democracy — it is easy for any group or individual to proclaim themselves as the “reference point” for the movement. Who are they? What do they want? The questions remain unanswered.

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C. Should We Turn a Blind Eye?

FR Mairie de Hayenge

City Council meeting in Béziers (Department of Hérault), which is led by the extreme right-wing

It is indisputable that the vast majority of those who put on a “yellow vest” do not belong to the far right.

But it is also an indisputable fact that we have never seen — at least not for half a century — such an open and brazen expression of the extreme right wing, displaying its racist and anti-worker slogans in many of the Yellow Vests blockades and demonstrations, going as far as carrying out acts of physical abuse against other participants, abuses that do not always provoke the hostility of those around them, and often even receive their approval. The most surprising thing is that most of those who are, in principle, the declared opponents of the system, seem for the moment to prefer to close their eyes to these troubling facts. But facts are facts.

The racist mayor of Béziers, Robert Ménard, sits on the municipal council in a yellow vest with the elected representatives of his majority, all with yellow vests. The town hall of Hayange was covered with yellow vests deposited by the municipality headed by the [right-wing] National Front. Similarly, before wearing the yellow vest, several “spokespersons” wore the vests of the National Front. One of the prominent “Yellow Vests” activists, Christophe Chalençon, stated that, “if you are looking for someone else to govern, there are competent people at the level of the army, police, gendarmes, CRSs [riot police]”. On social networks, he calls Islam “a religion of degenerates”. He added, “A strong man is needed at the head of the government”, someone like “General de Villiers”. Among the ?Yellow Vests” there are also the leaders of “La manifestation pour tous”, or Yvan Benedetti of the French Nationalist Party, and other small neo-Nazi groups.

Many abuses have occurred in recent days: in Brionne, in the Eure region, the entrance gates to a corporation, Rayan-S., were blocked by “Yellow Vests” on the grounds the company had hired foreigners. The gendarmerie refused to register the complaint. In Grande-Synthe (North), an activist from the Migrants’ Hostel recounts the experiences of the association’s volunteers: “They [the “Yellow Vests”] made it clear that if there was food for refugees in the van, ‘we were dead’.”

In this movement, fascist groups are being formed and structured. Again, should we keep these facts to ourselves? Should we look the other way?

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D. Reply to a Reader of Tribune des Travailleurs in Ille-et-Vilaine

FR Angry Gaulois

Anti-Immigrant and racist statement: “The Gaulois (descendants of the ancient Gauls) are angry!”

A reader from Ille-et-Vilaine writes: “I morally support this movement for several reasons: First, it shows how an event should be organised — that is, without organisation! [CGT General Secretary] Martinez can take lessons.”

Again, is the “Yellow Vests” movement a model of “popular self-organisation”, as many people say? As this issue of our newspaper goes to press, eight national “spokespersons” have proclaimed themselves on Monday 26 to be the movement’s leaders. Other spokespersons are contesting these proclaimed leaders. Who can have us believe that all this is spontaneous? There are political forces, there are social forces involved: Among the eight designated spokespersons, one is close to a Nazi group, another is a former candidate of the FN. Another, a CFDT union delegate, was dismissed by the other seven for “lack of neutrality”.

Of course, there are the legitimate aspirations of millions of workers who are tired of government policies. You have the unemployed. You have mothers. All this is true. But what is needed is effective organisation, not through opaque organisation and deceit, but through the transparent organisation of elected, mandated and revocable delegates, on the basis of a mandate, who make public their membership in a particular party or trade union, if this applies. All must be out in the open.

Only in this way can workers control their own movement, define their own demands, which, as far as purchasing power is concerned, concern first and foremost the general increase in wages, price freezes, the confiscation of speculative profits, the repeal of the Value Added Tax (VAT), the repeal of the CSG [Generalised Social Contribution], the return of Social Security [National Single Payer healthcare system] money that was given as a gift to employers.

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FR Unions

3) Trade Unions Come to the Fore … on Working-Class Grounds

(Tribune des Travailleurs Supplement No. 2)

Presentation by Tribune des Travailleurs

In our previous issue, we reported on a discussion that took place within a regional trade union body that centered around the question, what attitude should the unions have towards the “Yellow Vests” movement? This debate is ongoing in all organisations.

The unity of workers and organisations, with their faces uncovered and openly raising their demands, is the only way to secure an outcome that is consistent with workers’ interests and democracy.

A real change in course calls for the emergence of “classical” forms of class struggle in relation to the mounting crisis of the regime. The whole situation puts the workers’ strike on the agenda around specific demands, sweeping away the widespread confusion of slogans. Already, particular strikes are spreading and fuelling the movement towards a general workers’ strike.

We publish below two statements focused clearly on trade union demands on the grounds of the working class.

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A. Statement by the CGT-Force Ouvrière in Maine-et-Loire (3 December 2018)

We can only make the government give in to our demands by shutting down the entire country through a strike.

Among the demands that have arisen in the recent rallies and demonstrations, many overlap with those put forward by our trade union organisation:

  • General increase in wages, pensions and social minima

– Removal of the increase in the CSG [Generalised Social Contribution] – The Smic [minimum wage] to 1,400 euros net – Not a retirement pension lower than the Smic – Freezing of fuel taxes – Generalisation of the transport premium – No to retirement by points!

In this situation, the CGT-FO Maine-et-Loire departmental union calls on all its structures to organise in offices, workshops, workplaces, organisations… workers’ meetings, trade union informational gathering, and/or general assemblies… if possible in joint action, with other unions to put forward these demands.

For the UD [Departmental Union] of FO Maine-et-Loire, it is obvious that the government can only be forced to yield if we shut down the country through a strike.

The CGT-FO Maine-et-Loire UD addresses the trade union organisations of the department to prepare, together, the initiatives necessary to establish this balance of forces”.

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B. Statement by CGT Bouches-du Rhône (20 November)

Against the High Cost of Living! — For the increase of salaries, pensions, social minima. The time has come for unity and action!

The CGT always has been, is, and will be at the side of those who fight, who demand to improve “the” working and living conditions for: – Another distribution of wealth – The increase in wages, pensions, social minima – The reduction in fuel prices and the nationalisation of refining – A fair tax system allowing the financing of high-level public services, ensuring that people’s needs are met – A financing of Social Security commensurate with needs (health, family, retirement, housing, unemployment), based on contributions and not on taxation, making use of capital income on the same basis as labour income.

CGT 13 calls on all its organisations to take all the necessary initiatives to contribute to the development of the social movement by involving all our members as well as employees, pensioners and those without jobs. In doing so, they will contribute to the full success of the initiatives scheduled for November and the days of strikers’ actions and demonstrations on 13 December and 15 December and all the initiatives taken by our professional sectors in the period.

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4) Youth Rise Up … and Face Unheard of Repression

(from Tribune des Travailleurs Supplement No. 2 and Jeunesse Révolution)

FR Youth 2A. Student-Worker Unity

On Thursday, 6 December, once again, tens of thousands of high school students are shutting down their high schools and holding general assemblies to define their demands: “Macron must resign, withdraw the Parcoursup and the Blanquer counter-reforms of the high school and the bac!” These demands are sometimes supplemented by specific local demands (regarding class sizes, cafeterias, etc.).

A regional newspaper observes that, “some, such as here in Tournus, wore yellow vests, even if the high school students recalled that their demands had nothing to do with the movement initiated on 17 November” (Le journal de Saône et Loire, 1 December). At noon on 6 December in Paris, several high schools converged on the Sorbonne, and considered going to the Ministry.

The police repression has been one of unheard-of brutality. “Those in the government, those up high”, want the movement to crumble as quickly as possible, said one student. But, we are informed: in a high school in Val de Marne, the teachers “with our CGT, FO and SUD sections, we voted to demand the release of high school students (placed in police custody – NDR). We called for all the bogus charges to be droppe. The youth are calling to strike and demonstrate on 14 December at 9:30 am in front of the Rectorate for the withdrawal of the counter-reforms of the schools and the bac”; elsewhere, a secretary of UD sends a circular to the unions: “Given the repression suffered by high school students in recent days, following exchanges with the high school unions and the FERC-CGT, we call on the activists available tomorrow at the end of the morning to accompany the high school students during the demonstration. … we share the high school students’ demands against the government’s counter-reforms.”

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FR Student General Assembly

B. Stop the Repression Against Young People!

Thousands of workers and young people were shocked by the video images of the brutal repression against high school students in Mantes (Yvelines). Why? Why?

FR Youth repressionWhy were there more than 700 arrests of young people yesterday alone? Certainly, there are professional disrupters. But what is prevalent, what is central, are not the disrupters, but the demands expressed in the youth’s leaflets, in the general assemblies of several hundred young people held in high schools, universities, and even, as in Lyon, at the Labour Temple with teacher union organisations.

Extremely important are the positions taken by teachers, in general assemblies, with the trade union organisations, which have supported the young people’s demands and decide to go out and demonstrate with the youth.


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