France, 2023: “Trust” Only the Struggles for Higher Wages and Against Pension Reform

November 10, 2022 demonstration in Paris. Image source: Photothèque Rouge /Martin Noda / Hans Lucas

January 2, 2023, Editorial of the Workplace Newsletters of the Etincelle fraction of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA). Translated from French.

“Trust and unity”, French President Macron proclaimed on TV, while wishing us a happy new year! 2022 was the year of soaring prices (even before the war in Ukraine); and, just a week ago, a new unemployment insurance reform was passed that lowers the length of compensation by 40 percent, if the official unemployment rate does not exceed 6 percent. This while Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, is working on a law against immigrant workers.

Unemployed people, immigrants, pensioners: it is the entire world of work that is in the crossfire.

A Specter is Haunting the President’s Annual New Year’s “Wishes” Speech

Nevertheless, unlike in 2019, President Macron preferred to postpone Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s announcements until January 10. This is because the strike of 2019-2020 against pension reform is still on everyone’s mind. Faced with such anger, ministers and bosses prefer to roll this reform out in stages, starting with the extension of the minimum retirement age to 64 or 65 years old…

All of this to save pension funds? What a joke! There was a surplus of pension funds in 2021 and there will be even more so in 2022. While later there will be a deficit of perhaps 17 billion euros (over 18 billion dollars), but out of a budget of 330 billion euros. So only about 5 percent… There is a simple solution: increase salaries, even by a mere 5%! That would increase the contributions by the same amount. Then, with the 400 euros that we need today, there would be no more “deficit” problem for a long time! And we would kill two birds with one stone!

Connect Striking for Wages to the Struggle Against Pension Reform

Strikes for real wage increases multiplied in 2022: among refinery, chemical, pharmaceutical and automobile industries and dozens of their subcontractors, in public transport, etc. Since 1874 in France, the time between Christmas and New Year is known as the “confectioners’ truce” during which political differences are meant to be paused for the holidays. However, it is the French government calling on the SNCF (French national railways) controllers (ticket inspectors) to engage in the “confectioner’s truce,” and to pause the strike for the holidays. The workers demand more than bonuses, which do not make up for salaries lagging behind rising prices, and do not count towards retirement.

“Trust and Unity” not in Macron but Amongst Ourselves, Against Pension Reform

“It’s the holiday season and the SNCF (French national railways) strike has people worried at the highest level of the State. For it was not the unions, but the less predictable rank-and-file collectives […] that caused the train cancellations. This method reminded some people of the ‘Yellow Vests‘,” explained the newspaper, Le Monde.

It’s true, this strike was initiated by the controllers themselves, who formed a national collective completely independent of the union leadership. And here, the “concessions” attempted by the SNCF management were perhaps enough for some unions, but not for the controllers! They have learned that the struggle depends on the workers themselves, whether or not they are union members.

Well now, the fears felt by government and businesses are showing us what could make them back down. Let’s start by discussing among ourselves what we need. Wage increases, but also hiring, because this current situation is no longer tolerable. We should be indexing wages to prices, so that they don’t take back with one hand what we might force them to give with the other.

And then let’s get organized. Let’s do it ourselves directly, by involving the union militants who are willing to take a risk. There are some. Also, by coordinating ourselves between companies in struggle, directly under our own control, so as not to be dependent on the clever calculations of certain unions.

Let’s trust our strength, and the unity that struggles can forge between all public or private sectors. We stand against Macron and the employers he serves; let’s build the overall movement that will make them all back down, gaining inspiration from all the mobilizations our social camp has initiated. These are our wishes for 2023!