France: To Fight Inflation and Finance Pensions: Let’s Impose Wage Increases!

October 3, 2022, Editorial of the Workplace Newsletters of the Etincelle fraction of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), translated from French

Starting this week, there will finally be a “series of consultations” about pension reform in France. With this, the government is pretending to be willing to negotiate, for fear of more strikes. The union leaderships immediately jumped on board, while saying that they would set some conditions. But President Macron has already announced the goal: to raise the retirement age to 65. Beyond a healthy life expectancy.

As with every successive attack, the government claims to be “saving the pension system.” Except that the only threat to this system is the government itself. Previous reforms already slashed retirement spending, resulting in longer working hours and lower pensions. And the Retirement Council (established in 2000 to study retirement) forecasts that if there are no further reforms, there will be a positive balance in pension funds around 2040.

So there is no funding problem. But the new reform aims above all to grant employers new subsidies (lower taxes on production, lower social security contributions for companies), as if profits were not already breaking all records!

Even if there were a real financial hole, it could be filled by increasing wages to restore the balance by bringing in higher contributions. A wage increase would also make it possible to reverse all the reforms of recent decades, starting with the reinstatement of retirement at age 60.

Strikes Over Wages

The same remedy can be applied to inflation, which drives down wages. Faced with rising anger, employers want to give out bonuses instead, which they can deny the following year. However, several strikes have broken out to demand real wage increases, as at PSA-Stellantis (French automaker), where 500 workers went on strike for three days at the Hordain factory in the north of France. Other factory sites soon followed the lead. On September 28, 4,300 PSA workers went on strike, demanding an increase of €400 (400 euros or about $395) per month and a bonus of €6,000. This is the least they can ask for since PSA made eight billion euros in profits in the first half of the year. The same is true at Total Energies refineries, several of which are at a standstill due to strikes, or at Arkema (the leading French chemical company) whose Pierre-Bénite plant in the Lyon region has been on strike for more than two weeks.

The Dead End of Referendums

Faced with the indecent profits of certain sectors, including the energy sector, left-wing politicians are proposing a referendum on the taxation of “super-profits.” This is an institutional dead end that would drag out for months. Macron himself isn’t opposed to the idea, while the European Union is studying the question: proof, if any were needed, that such a tax wouldn’t displease business owners. It could allow them to redistribute profits better on the one hand, by taxing the profits of corporations that are raising prices most as they benefit from the war in Ukraine and the disorganization of production, and on the other hand by granting tax exemptions to all the businesses. The working classes would see none of this, or at best see something in the form of a new and insulting energy bonus. The best way to tax profits, “super” or not, is still to raise wages.

Let’s All Fight!

This wage increase will have to be imposed on the bosses, through strikes and mobilizations, taking advantage of every opportunity. The party, France Insoumise, and other associations and organizations, such as the New Anticapitalist Party, have called for a demonstration on Sunday, October 16, against the high cost of living. Above all, we have to to build a relationship of strength at the grassroots, organizing everywhere to defend our demands:

400 euros net for everyone at least every month, no salary or pension below 2,000 euros net, and the systematic alignment of wages with prices.