France and COVID-19: Three Editorials from Workers Tribune

La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers’ Tribune) Issue no. 233 – 1 April 2020 – Editorial

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 Requisition, break with the bourgeoisie and its institutions!

 By Daniel Gluckstein

Addressing the leaders of the workers’ trade unions on 27 March, Macron doled out a lesson in morality: it’s not OK to call for strike action when the Sacred Union (1) should outweigh everything else. A little earlier, his Prime Minister had solemnly uttered the words: “I won’t let anyone say that there was a delay in taking the decision regarding home confinement.

We are not sure whether it is arrogance or thoughtlessness that outweighs everything else with these people. Every day, more signs are appearing in windows and more banners are being strung on balconies throughout the country, declaring people’s indignation and anger against Macron and his government. Everywhere, there are open letters, messages, motions, questions and songs, condemning their lies and often demanding: “Billions for the hospitals, not the banks.” And ending with: you will be held to account.

Nobody trusts Macron or Philippe any more. They have lied before, they are lying now and they will lie in the future about masks, about testing, about the state of the hospitals and resuscitation units. Every action they take is steeped in lies. But the root causes of this are not psychological, but social.

They are lying and using pseudo-scientific arguments to cover for their strangling of the public hospital system and research that is dictated solely by the demands for profit made by their masters, the pension funds and the big banks. The same pension funds which right now are engaged in an orgy of speculation, gorging themselves by buying up millions of shares at rock-bottom prices in anticipation of a price rebound in the near future.

Yes, Macron and all those public figures lacking in morals and a conscience will be held to account. But should we spare their masters, those who are giving the orders to this government, i.e. the capitalists, their banks and their European Union institutions? Of course not! This is why so many workers and activists still do not understand how on 19 March, the National Assembly unanimously – including the “left” parties voting in favour – passed a law that offers 343 billion euros to the capitalists, in the form of 300 billion in guarantees to the banks and 43 billion to the big corporations. What argument can justify bailing out the banks in this way, and not the hospitals?

The same question is posed on reading the appeal issued on 26 March by 18 trade union and association leaders (2) entitled “Never Again!”, an appeal that asks the European Central Bank (ECB) to make loans directly to States and local and regional authorities, and declares in favour of “a larger European budget than the one that has been announced”. What worker can believe that the ECB, a tool forged by the Maastricht Treaty solely to ensure the stability of the euro, could mutate into a tool for serving the interests of the peoples and the workers?

However, emergency measures that do not involve submission to the banks and the ECB are both possible and necessary. During the main news bulletin on [public national TV channel] France 2 on 30 March, an emergency doctor and union representative from the Seine-Saint-Denis département (north-east of Paris) spoke in the following terms: “The government is moving Covid-19 patients at great expense at a time when we are short of everything. It is making a lot of noise about air-freighting in 4 million masks: that’s what the EHPAD (3) consume in three days! Meanwhile, we are fiddling about trying to recover a few dozen masks for our unit. What is needed is to put companies to work, requisition companies to produce ventilators.

“Requisition” is a legitimate slogan and in line with democracy.

Requisition everything that is lacking for care work, for the war against the coronavirus in which health workers and patients are engaged. Requisition the big corporations and transform their production apparatuses to serve in the production of ventilators, masks, testing kits, healthcare beds and everything that is lacking today in a healthcare system that has been dilapidated by the policies of successive governments.

Requisition the assets of the big banks to serve this gigantic production effort. And introduce a moratorium on all debt and payment of rent and rental charges, together with the obligation to pay full wages to all workers.

Indispensable requisitioning – a basic justice measure that would be taken by a government serving the interests of the population and not of the banks – is needed immediately. It forms part of a more general perspective: drive Macron from power, and put on trial and convict all those who are responsible for the situation. It will also be necessary to put an end to the anti-democratic institutions of the Fifth Republic, its laws and its executive orders which only serve the capitalist class, and to also put an end to the European Union.

Requisition the banks’ assets and the main tools for production today in order to socialise the means of production tomorrow: “Requisition” and “Break with the bourgeoisie and its institutions” are the slogans of the hour.

ENDNOTES

(1) Translator’s note: The union sacrée or Sacred Union was a political truce in France during the First World War, in which a significant part of the socialist movement agreed not to oppose the government or call any strike, in the name of patriotism.

(2) Including, among others: Philippe Martinez, on behalf of the CGT; Benoit Teste, on behalf of the FSU; Eric Beynel, on behalf of Solidaires; Aurélie Trouvé, spokesperson for Attac France; Jean-François Julliard, Executive Director of Greenpeace France; Cécile Duflot, Executive Director of Oxfam France; and representatives of the National Union of Students (UNEF), the [secondary student trade union] UNL, etc.

(3) EHPAD: Public-sector retirement homes for elderly people in need of daily care.

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La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers’ Tribune) Issue no. 232 –                   25 March 2020 – Editorial

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 Let the banks’ profits die, as long as the population lives!

 By Daniel Gluckstein

The public’s astonishment and anger are growing each day. Astonishment at the catastrophic scope of the pandemic, anger at the lack of preparation for such a catastrophe.

Questioned on [24-hour cable and satellite news channel] BFM TV on 23 March, a former Director of the National Public Health Agency heavily supported the decisions taken by the government.

But to the question: “Would it not desirable to organise systematic testing?”, he could only reply: “Yes, it would be desirable.” “Well then, why hasn’t this been done?” “We weren’t ready”, he blurted out pathetically. “We weren’t ready”, he repeated. Not ready? That’s for sure: no testing kits available, no forward planning whatsoever… But why?

A doctor specialising in infectious diseases wrote, in daily financial newspaper Les Échos: “I am angry. We are being sent into the front line without weapons. Right now, 7 to 10 hospital caregivers are being infected every day (…). We will try to do everything we can to ensure that this epidemic kills the smallest number of people possible, but afterwards, there will be a holding to account. The mistake was the pay-per-use system, when hospitals were required to be profitable. As a result, there was a rush to reduce the inventory of supplies and to cut reserve staff. In public healthcare terms, this was ridiculous, but nobody listened to us, even as we kept on saying this for 10 years. We are paying for it now.”

But why have a pay-per-use system? The governments of every political stripe that implemented it thus submitted to the law of profit. They imposed a need to reduce public spending and make the health sector profitable, in order to “ease pressure” on businesses’ cashflow and enable them to pay less tax and less in “social costs”, as they put it. It is as a result of this submission that stocks of masks were sold off and reserve supplies of testing kits were not established. And that brings us to today’s catastrophe, the predictable result – nothing accidental about it – of a capitalist system guided by profit, without a thought for protecting humankind.

The worst thing is that on 19 March, in the middle of a pandemic, the National Assembly unanimously decided to carry on down this path! That day, a so-called supplementary budget was passed that allocates 2 billion euros to funding hospitals and 343 billion euros to “business support”. Specifically, this is about rescuing the banks, since, out of that total 343 billion euros, 300 billion is made up of “a state guarantee of loans to businesses made by the banks”.

Yes, you read that right: as far as the government is concerned, the urgent thing is to guarantee to the banks that they will not lose money! This is the same logic as in 2008: first and foremost, bail out the banks. There is nothing surprising about this regarding the Macron government, which is wholly devoted to serving the interests of the capitalist class. But people will be surprised and even outraged to learn that this law was passed unanimously by the National Assembly.

Yes, the Assembly members of the Communist Party (PCF), Socialist Party (PS) and France Unbowed (LFI) all voted with one voice, together with the Macronists, the right and the far-right, to rescue the banks! This is the logic of the Sacred Union (1). Those same Assembly members were then able to denounce – quite rightly – the other law, the health emergency law. However, meanwhile more and more people are dying in hospital, the epidemic is spreading, and masks and testing kits are still lacking. Meanwhile, not one of the indispensable requisitioning measures has been taken. (2)

No, Roussel (PCF), Faure (PS) and Melenchon (LFI), the urgent thing is not to rescue the banks, but to save the human race. Let the banks’ profits die, as long as the population lives! (3)

ENDNOTES

(1) Translator’s note: The union sacrée or Sacred Union was a political truce in France during the First World War, in which a significant part of the socialist movement agreed not to oppose the government or call any strike, in the name of patriotism.

(2) Set out in a statement dated 21 March 2020 by the National Secretaries of the Democratic Independent Workers Party (POID), these include: placing the entire production apparatus under state control and immediately directing it towards producing goods that are indispensable for protecting the population (masks, testing kits, hospital beds, etc.); and the requisitioning of all available premises, turning some of them into emergency hospitals and resuscitation units, the rest into accommodation for homeless persons who are especially at risk due to the impossibility of self-isolation.

(3) Translator’s note: This paraphrases a famous quote by the Roman orator Cicero: “Let our friends die, as long as our enemies die with them”.

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La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers’ Tribune) Issue no. 230 – 11 March 2020 – Editorial

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A threat and the means of combatting it

 By Daniel Gluckstein

In the opinion of most specialists, an epidemic is likely. What would be its consequences? Refusing to mix political analysis with a scientific process, we will not venture any kind of forecast.

On the other hand, we can set out what is needed to wage war on the epidemic. This poses the question of the means, both financial and material. To be specific, there is an urgent need for an exceptional mobilisation in order to restore to our healthcare system the means that have been cut by successive governments, means that are dramatically lacking today.

There is an urgent need to allocate funds to reopen (and build new if necessary) hospitals and units that have been closed down, and to restore the 100,000 hospital beds that have been cut over the last 20 years; also, funds to recruit and train doctors and healthcare professionals; and more funds to deploy an industry that will produce mass supplies of genuine masks and other products for protection and care that are needed in all areas.

Emergency funding and special funds are also needed to ban lay-offs and permanent job-cuts. The stock market collapse is not the result of the coronavirus; it is the result of the major crisis of a capitalist system that is hooked on the drug of billions of “liquidity” injected by the central banks and directly fed into the speculative bubble. While billions in fictitious capital (1) are disappearing in a puff of smoke today, the capitalists are seizing on the announcement of an imminent global recession to eliminate jobs they judge to be insufficiently profitable.

Again, special funding must be mobilised to guarantee wages, pensions and welfare benefits for all workers forced to not go to work and self-isolate at home. More mobilisation measures: freezing retail prices and taking over responsibility for the supply and distribution of essential products.

All these measures will cost money, they say? The money is there: in 2019 alone, more than 60 billion euros was paid out in dividends to the shareholders of companies quoted on the CAC 40 stock exchange; and according to official figures, over the last 19 years the bosses have benefitted to the tune of more than 560 billion euros in exemptions from social security contributions, 60 billion of which were not offset by the State! So, if needed to fund the emergency measures necessary to protect the population, confiscate all or part of the dividends paid out to shareholders and impose the restoration to the Social Security system of the amounts that were diverted out of it. Is there any room for hesitation?

Yet more emergency measures: immediately abandon the attacks on the Social Security system; beginning with withdrawing the pensions reform, which sets out to dismantle an institution that is crucial to the health of the workers and their families.

Who will take such emergency measures with the necessary energy, will and determination? The Macron government? Who can trust a government which, in terms of the epidemic, says one thing and then its opposite, without anyone finally knowing where we really are; a government which contradicts today what it firmly stated yesterday, and firmly states today something it will contradict tomorrow? Who can trust a government whose first announced measure is an exemption from social security contributions, which once again comes down to making the deferred salary pension system – the collective property of the workers – pay for capitalism’s bankruptcy? (2)

No, only a government that breaks with the diktats of the capitalist system and the European Union, a government driven by the wish to protect the workers and not the capitalist minority and its profits, will seek the means where they already exist. And it will be able to do so because it will be supported by the majority of the population, those who can only live off their labour.

In the longer term, only a government concerned with the needs of the vast majority will take the appropriate measures to provide the funding needed for basic research – free of pressure from multinationals that are greedy for short-term profit – to achieve its mission and create the conditions for dealing with future epidemics, beginning with ongoing research based on the current epidemic.

Today, some people in senior government circles (and, we must also point out, some “opposition” political leaders) are trying to drum up support for a Sacred Union (3): faced with the epidemic, people should pull together “as Frenchmen and Frenchwomen” and forget about what sets the workers and the bosses at odds with each other. The reality is quite the opposite: during the epidemic, the class struggle goes on. During the epidemic, the government serving the interests of the capitalist class is delivering even harder blows in every area and is taking measures that are in line only with the capitalists’ interests. And it is even taking advantage of the circumstances to try to “wrap up” the adoption of the pensions reform, or to experiment on a large scale with “distance learning”, a tool for its policy of breaking up the institution of the national education system and the national professional status of teachers.

This government, which – in the midst of the coronavirus crisis – baton-charged and tear-gassed female protestors on 7 March and persists in issuing anti-working-class decrees, is incapable of protecting working people.

Faced with a probable epidemic, establishing a healthcare plan that is in line with the needs of millions upon millions of people requires us to drive out this government, which is only concerned about protecting the profits of the capitalists and the warmongers (France has just been promoted to the world’s third biggest exporter of weapons).

In a joint statement, the trade union organisations are asking the government to suspend the legislative process for adopting the pensions reform, because of the crisis. To which the government is not even bothering to respond. This confirms that, whether relating to pensions or the coronavirus, the situation calls for a united general strike that will drive this government from power. And the sooner the better!

The workers and their organisations cannot allow themselves to be seduced by the siren song of the Sacred Union being sung by those (including on “the left”) who are calling for people to trust the government to take the appropriate measures. In this area as in every other area, the workers can only trust their own capacity to take action and forge their unity in and through the class struggle. For example, by setting up independent commissions of healthcare workers, researchers, doctors and representatives of the trade union organisations in order to establish the truth about the progression of the disease, to put an end to the government’s rigged presentations, and to release into the public domain the information that will enable the workers to understand and to take action in the interests of the majority.

The solution is working-class unity, a united bloc of the workers and their organisations in order to face up to this situation. It is in support of this perspective that the Democratic Independent Workers Party (POID) is being built and La Tribune des Travailleurs is opening up its columns for debate.

ENDONOTES

(1) Translator’s note: Karl Marx’s formulation of “fictitious capital” refers to value (in the form of credit, shares, debt, speculation and various forms of paper money) above and beyond what can be realised in the form of commodities produced to be bought and sold in the “real” economy.

(2) We were surprised to read in [Communist party newspaper] L’Humanité (10 March) a call to “facilitate the cashflow” of businesses “by delaying the payment of taxes, VAT or social security contributions” and a request for a “massive stimulus plan co-ordinated at the European level, to quote [Economy and Finance Minister] Bruno Le Maire”.

(3) Translator’s note: The union sacrée or Sacred Union was a political truce in France during the First World War, in which a significant part of the socialist movement agreed not to oppose the government or call any strike, in the name of patriotism.

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