Editorials from Workers Tribune (France)

La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers Tribune) Issue no. 252 – 19 August 2020 – Editorial

Incompetent one day, and still incompetent

By Daniel Gluckstein

On Wall Street, the crisis is almost over”. Under this headline, [financial daily newspaper] Les Échos told us that August 2020 marked the point when the New York Stock Exchange cleared the losses triggered by the Covid-19 crisis. A great champion of capitalism, Les Échos nevertheless wondered: “Job-cuts, unemployment, cost-cutting plans, bankruptcies, a rise in provisions [for losses]… The real economy is being overwhelmed with bad news. So why are investors being so optimistic?”The reply given in the same article: “Technology stocks and shares are benefitting hugely from the crisis and the lockdown measures (…). The Fang+ Index, which lists stocks in Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google among others (…) has risen by almost 58 per cent since the start of the year.”As for Apple, its market capitalization has risen to US$2 trillion!

Well yes, the crisis is beneficial to some. In particular, to the multinationals whose modern technologies are being used as weapons for the mass destruction of jobs and for deregulation, notably to force people to work remotely. Meanwhile, unemployment continues to spread, in France as the United States: “Covid-19 is a boon for companies that want to cut jobs”, [daily newspaper] Le Monde noted.

The vacation season will soon be over. The government is redoubling its efforts to respond to the capitalists’ urgent need: “second wave” or not, nothing must get in the way of exploitation.

Hence, in the workplace, the discussions launched with the trade union organisations on remote working, which up to now has been on a voluntary basis but could shortly be imposed on the workers; hence the growing recourse to competitiveness agreements, subjecting employees to blackmail over job-cuts in order to impose a lowering of wages and bonuses; hence the wearing of masks – a necessary measure for protecting the workers – being made compulsory on 1 September, without however taking increasingly harsh working conditions into account.

Hence, in the schools, the easing of the health protocol: nothing must get in the way of children going back to school in order to allow their parents to go back to work.

As for the hospitals, they are preparing for a second wave with the same level of deprivation as before the first wave: no extra beds or units, sometimes even fewer than at the start of the epidemic.

Should we be surprised that eminent professes of medicine are worried that the second wave is about to hit in even worse conditions than the first?

“Incompetent one day, and still incompetent”, could be said about the government. Of course: they have learned nothing and understood nothing. But this is not about the personal failure of a government minister lacking in imagination or a Macron. The failure is social: this government only knows and only acknowledges one kind of service, serving capitalist interests.

This is why it must be driven from power.

The fight to protect all jobs and to ban lay-offs and job-cuts is more legitimate than ever.

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La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers Tribune) Issue no. 253 – 26 August 2020 – Editorial

Emergency plan: the urgent need for a working-class plan

By Daniel Gluckstein

There will be infections at school, children will become infected, probably some teachers also, but that will be managed”. This was said by Professor Jean-François Delfraissy, the Chair of the scientific council appointed by Macron. He also envisages the appearance of “school clusters, maybe class clusters”(public radio network France Info, 24 August). “That will be managed”? How reassuring that is, when we recall the way in which the government has been “managing” the crisis for the last eight months!

Its argument? It is “fundamental that schools reopen, we cannot let this generation of children go without getting back to school. Of course. But why should the need to reopen the schools be counterposed to protecting health? A government that is concerned with both of these imperatives would massively recruit teachers in order to double staff numbers and allow the recommended physical distancing to be maintained, thus reducing the risk of transmission. It could also roll out testing widely, establishing a nationalised industry to produce testing kits and a network of national laboratories for processing within required timeframes after systematically testing children, teachers and all those who are at risk of developing the disease.

The Macron government is doing the opposite: it is not recruiting teachers, it is sacking thousands of people and threatening the jobs of thousands of regional staff, many of whom work in schools. As for testing: “We aren’t going to test teachers every week or every fortnight”, warns Deputy Minister Delfraissy.

And what about our hospitals? Faced with a second wave that is spreading, what lesson should be draw from the first wave? In the Logbook which he has just published, Professor Pialoux, who works in the front line of the pandemic, recalls that on 17 April there were as many Covid-19 patients in France as in Germany, but the death rate in France was four times the death rate in Germany. And he reports “clear and constructive”explanations provided by a German colleague: “The first differential factor is the mass availability of PCR tests (…), including for benign cases. When France was carrying out 35,000 tests per week, Germany was carrying out 350,000.”And then “[Germany’s] hospital system enjoyed one of the highest levels of intensive care beds: 25,000 compared to 5,000 in France before the crisis.”The Macron government continues to ignore this reality, which is known to all. Massively increasing the production of tests, reopening the tens of thousands of hospital beds and services that have been shut down in recent years, hiring on a massive scale and doing so with wage levels and working conditions that will allow the necessary healthcare staff to be hired? The government rejects all that. Worse: it is continuing to shut down hospital beds, hospital services and even whole hospitals, triggering new strikes against its health policy.

Jobs? Macron has postponed by one week the announcement of a “recovery plan” which, like the previous measures, will pay out billions of euros to the bosses to facilitate lay-offs and job-cuts. A prime example of this policy is the scandal of the Mulliez family, which is being financed by the State to put Alinea into bankruptcy and then buy back the company for a pittance while laying off half of the workforce! (1)

Recovery plan, emergency plan, “High Commission for the Plan”: the word “plan” is on everybody’s lips. Yes, an emergency plan is indispensable, but not just any old plan: a working-class plan. From this point of view, we can only be surprised by comments made recently by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. During France Unbowed’s Summer University, he put forward proposals, some of which (on hiring teachers and on requisitioning) were in line with the workers’ interests. But at the same time, he welcomed Macron’s decision to establish a “High Commission for the Plan” headed by François Bayrou: “This is first and foremost a victory for my political family (…); whatever our differences of opinion, the choice of François Bayrou shows that they are serious, and the planning finally means order and long-term control as opposed to the short-term reign of finance capitalism.” (Provincial daily newspaper Le Dauphiné Libéré, 20 August)

Planning as such does not exist. Bayrou (hardcore reactionary that he is) has been hired by Macron (another hardcore reactionary) to plan the capitalist order, to plan lay-offs, job-cuts and the deregulation of labour rights, to plan to pressure the trade union organisations and co-opt them into the dismantling of wage-earners’ rights, and to plan the strangling of hospitals and the non-production of testing kits.

There can be no confusion between planning the defence of workers’ rights and planning for the needs of the capitalist class. There is an urgent need for a working-class plan which alone will impose a united mobilisation against the government and the [employers’ organisation] MEDEF. It is not kowtowing to Macron and Bayrou or making phone-calls to the MEDEF (2) that will advance the defence of labour rights. A working-class reconstruction plan is called for, one that involves fighting toe-to-toe to put a stop to the lay-offs and job-cuts, and to successfully maintain the working class’s rights and guarantees. Yes, a working-class emergency plan around which all working-class forces can and must rally, provided that any ambiguity is avoided regarding a possible Sacred Union (3) with the capitalist class and the government.

As far as the Democratic Independent Workers Party (POID) is concerned, this mobilisation is part of the fight to put an end to the Fifth Republic and the European Union, the fight for a genuine workers’ government for the workers. These questions will be the focus of the POID Congress, which will take place on 25-26 September in Paris.

(1) Translator’s note: The Mulliez family owns the sixth biggest fortune in France, valued at 32 billion euros in 2019. Its holdings include large multinational retail groups such as Auchan (hypermarkets and supermarkets), Boulanger (electrical goods), Flunch (cafeteria-style restaurants), Leroy Merlin (home improvement and gardening), Decathlon (sporting goods), Kiabi (clothing), Norauto (car repairs) and many others. It has owned the Alinea chain of furniture and home décor stores since 2017. In May 2020, Alexis Mulliez declared the company insolvent, citing a fall in sales and profits due to the pandemic, and put it into receivership with the Marseille Commercial Court. Around 2,000 employees expected to be laid off. However, on 6 August, a potential buyer proposed to the Commercial Court to buy the company at a bargain basement price and restructure it, closing down 17 of its 26 stores and laying off half of the workforce. The Commercial Court is due to make its decision on 31 August. The potential buyer is none other than the Mulliez family. Thanks to an executive order dated 20 May 2020 by the Macron government in the name of the “struggle against the crisis”, a boss can file for bankruptcy and then buy back his own company at an advantageous price, with all of the company’s debts cleared, and the cost of lay-offs being partially or totally covered by the wage-guarantee insurance scheme (AGS), part of the Social Security system.

(2) Made by Mélenchon, according to his comments made during his rally.

(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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La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers Tribune) Issue no. 254 – 2 September 2020 – Editorial

When Macron is scared of “reviving the class struggle”

By Daniel Gluckstein

Even before officially announcing its “recovery plan”, scheduled for 3 September, the government has embarked on a huge communications operation. Using information “leaks”, it is preparing public opinion for an imminent social massacre. Because let’s be clear: the “recovery plan” may help some capitalist sectors “recover”, but not all of them, and even then, with the precondition of carrying out restructuring!

Quoting the government, [daily newspaper] Le Monde carried the headline: “As far as the executive is concerned, lay-offs and job-cuts “start now”.”[Financial daily newspaper] Les Échos, also well-informed, announced: “France threatened by a wave of bankruptcies”. “We are going to have hundreds of thousands more unemployed”, a government minister warned. Already, [state unemployment agency] Pôle Emploi is recruiting thousands of staff (on fixed-term contracts) to deal with this influx of unemployed people.

In reality, the government is preparing a terrifying plan. Loans guaranteed by the State will be granted to some businesses, but they will be refused to others in order to speed up their disappearance and the disappearance of whole sectors. Meanwhile, the government is ordering the courts to resume reviewing the accounts of businesses that cannot pay their bills and to proceed with the necessary winding-up orders.

Cut jobs, restructure, maximise profit: the government’s plan is there to be seen, relying completely on the superexploitation of the workers. In the long run, the extension of short-time working means the equivalent of several months’ wages being cut and a growing number of working-class families being unable to meet their regular payments and expenses. On top of which, families have to pay for masks directly.

The government is showing it is scared, a fact which Le Monde translates in the following terms: “This policy (…) presents a risk: reviving the class struggle.”That is a fact: for months now, including during the summer break, the workers have continuously mobilised against the plans for cutting jobs. They will not let the social tsunami being prepared by Macron, Castex and all the others happen without an active response.

Confrontation is inevitable. For the working class, the question is: with what aims in mind, on what slogans? Going along with the government’s plans? Trying to reverse them? Demanding that the allocation of hundreds of billions of euros to the bosses be subject to this or that condition?

It falls to the labour movement to tighten its ranks. Unity can and must be forged on the demand that rallies together all the workers: a ban on lay-offs and job-cuts. From this flows the rejection of the “recovery plan” and the confiscation of the 460 billion euros which the State has so generously paid out to businesses since the National Assembly vote on 19 March.

The government is making no secret of the fact that it wants to play on divisions between those sectors that might be helped and others that might be sacrificed because their activity is supposedly “obsolete”. Division must be rejected. Unity means banning all lay-offs and job-cuts. Unity means requisitioning the 460 billion euros and using it to fund the maintaining of jobs. There is no time to lose.

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