When the Government Declares War on the Unemployed

Demonstration in Paris, May 1st, 2021, against the government withdrawing unemployment benefits. Image source: Hermann Click via NPA

This is the April 1, 2024 editorial of the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) in France, translated from French.

Under the pretext of a government deficit, following the growth of subsidies to employers and the swelling of the military budget, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal has just declared war on the unemployed. On the program: reduction in the duration of unemployment compensation, extension of the duration of the period worked to be entitled to benefits, reduction in the amount of benefits. Attal deliberately confuses the State budget and that of Social Security! But the government’s only goal is a new attack against the most at-risk among us, hoping that it will be more difficult for them to react. By attacking the most precarious, the government seeks to put pressure on all workers, with or without jobs, to increasingly increase their exploitation.

The plan is to reduce the duration of compensation from 18 to 12 months; it had already been reduced from 24 months to 18 in February 2023. Added to this would be the increase in the number of months worked to qualify for an allowance: it had already been increased to six months of work over two years; the plan now is to ask for eight. The amount of benefits would be reduced, by changing its method of calculation and making them significantly regressive: with previous reforms they have already fallen by an average of 16% (and up to 50% for some of the unemployed). And only 36% of registered job seekers receive an allowance.

We are already in the third such reform under President Emmanuel Macron. During the last one, in February 2023, Macron announced that if we reduced unemployment benefits it was because there were more jobs available, that the unemployed only had to take them, but that the rules could be relaxed if the unemployment rate increased. Today he says the opposite: it is because unemployment is increasing that we must force the unemployed to work for a pittance. We have already imposed hours of almost free work on the recipients of the RSA (national minimum income for the poor). The savings made possible by the previous reforms are already estimated at 6.7 billion euros (approximately dollars) per year. And Macron says we would like more. On the backs of the unemployed and on the backs of workers generally, since it is about getting any job accepted at any price. And it is also the sick that the government wants to attack by talking about increasing the number of waiting days at the start of sick leave.

Because this reform of unemployment insurance is part of the social war that the government is waging, it is also on the budgets of schools and hospitals that Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire announced that he intended to recover 10 or 18 billion euros. Already it is from the reserves provided by the savings account books (the savings put aside by ordinary people), until then largely intended to finance the construction of public housing, that we will draw on to finance the huge orders from arms dealers. This announcement is all the more revolting given that this week, with the end of the winter amnesty, evictions of tenants who have not been able to pay their rent will resume, that there are 330,000 homeless people, 2.4 million of pending subsidized housing applications.

To get them to revise these projects, we will all have to do it together. In different sectors, reactions are multiplying: teachers, against this “clash of knowledge” which wants to organize the social tracking of students and worsen the teaching conditions in middle and high schools in working-class neighborhoods. But also in other sectors on wages, such as the walkouts last Friday by more than 3,000 employees in some 150 supermarkets, applauded by customers who saw them parade with signs in the aisles.

These are uncoordinated actions for the moment, but are only waiting to become a collective movement to put a stop to this general offensive by employers and the government against us.