A few months ago, President Emmanuel Macron had no choice but to salute the work and commitment during the pandemic of millions of frontline workers in the health, transport, energy, retail, and food sectors. Now, the man dubbed “Jupiter” — like the Greek god — at the beginning of his five-year term has again donned the mantle of representative of the bosses’ interests.
The President of the Rich Makes his Comeback
In his speech, Macron announced the end of the “recess” for the pandemic and the resumption of the cycle of reforms, the most important of which remains that of pensions. Worried about his chances in the 2022 presidential elections, he again wants to show himself to be the one who will secure the interests of the bourgeois bloc, even if he does not win reelection.
This is the same man who has tried out a more conciliatory discourse during the pandemic, going so far as to criticize “the excesses of a capitalism gone mad” and the need to build a “responsible capitalism.” Once again, though, he presents himself as the representative of what Big Business wants. His party’s defeat in the regional elections and the numerous criticisms of him from the Right are behind this return to form. Columnists have described Macron as a “bulldozer” striking fast and hard, with blows against the Labor Code as well as with reforms of the railway system and the university application process.
However, the speech reveals a fragility, a fear of setting the country on fire again in the midst of a health crisis and just a few months before the next presidential election — which would directly affect whether the bourgeois bloc even supports Macron for a second term. It is for this reason that Macron had left open the possibility of not relaunching the pension reform as long as the health crisis persists.
“70 Percent of the French People Oppose Raising the Retirement Age”
Whether the reform is carried out during his current term or in a future one, Macron has decided to restart the class confrontation. This comes at a time when the deep crisis the entire world has been going through since early 2020 has highlighted the limitations of the capitalist system and neoliberalism. Numerous polls show that the trend is going against neoliberal speeches, and many people want to halt the reforms in favor of improving public services. This is directly connected to growing awareness of the weaknesses of the healthcare system that were revealed during the pandemic.
In a July 8 Odoxa poll, we even learned that a large majority of the population is shocked by how much the wealthy have accrued during the crisis, and nearly 66 percent call for a tax on the rich to pay the debt caused by the pandemic. In an earlier Odoxa poll in mid-June, we learned that 70 percent of the French population oppose raising the retirement age, and that it is such a red line that 64 percent say they would support a strike movement against pension reform. These polls confirm that people don’t want workers to pay for the crisis.
In fact, Macron’s famous and oft-repeated line “whatever it takes” has turned into quite a hefty bill for the working class. During the crisis, however, many pundits have explained that the Covid-19 crisis shows that the proletariat is essential. The pandemic revealed the gap between millions of essential workers earning low wage, and the many high-paid executives who stayed well away from the pandemic. The entire population saw images on the nightly news of those who could afford to do so fleeing to their second homes as quarantines and curfews were announced, while many proletarians had no choice but to stay and keep companies running — especially public services.
It is in public services — health care, cleaning, sanitation, and even transport — that the most sacrifices have been made. These are the sectors where pensions are to be cut. Macron’s fine words for the “heroes” of the crisis have quickly turned into attacks on them, in lieu of going after the richest people in France. The rich have seen their wealth increase by 300 billion euros during the pandemic and hold nearly half of France’s GDP, as Challenges reveals.
Don’t Wait for the Attacks — Organize Now
It is clear that our salvation will not come from bourgeois politicians, nor will it come from the union leaderships, whose deafening silence has allowed the employers to get away with more than 900 “social plans” as they eliminate jobs. Rather than preparing the counteroffensive, Philippe Martinez and Laurent Berger — heads of the CGT and CFDT trade union confederations, respectively — went to discuss “social decline” last week with Prime Minister Jean Castex and Macron at the Elysée Palace. The CGT leadership is currently discussing a 24-hour day of mobilization — but not until October!
It is once again up to the rank and file to self-organize in order to prepare the fight and force the trade union leaderships to take up a battle plan that is up to the task at hand. In 2019, the strike against the railway reform forced the government to put the effort on standby at the beginning of the pandemic. The backbone of this strike was formed by the workers of the state railway company SNCF and the Parisian urban transport company RATP. Macron was afraid of having to manage the health crisis while keeping his reform efforts going, at a time when the reform was being denounced by a large majority of the population.
The success of the railway strike was based, essentially, on the emergence of a new generation of workers in the transport sector, who chose to self-organize and put pressure on the union leaderships rather than settle for one-day strikes or corporatist negotiations. It was as part of this battle, especially during the 2019 Christmas vacations, that the RATP–SNCF coordinating committee was born and became a key element from the ranks as the union leaderships more or less displayed their willingness to call a truce. On December 23, 2019, the press even spoke of a “return of the rank and file,” that the “union leadership was overrun,” and even the “Yellow Vest-ization” of the union movement, recalling the radical nature of the Yellow Vests movement during 2018.
We know Macron’s weak point: it is his fear of having to deal with a fourth wave of the virus and a return of the class struggle as the 2022 presidential campaign approaches. That is why, starting right now — without waiting for his “consultation agenda” and more betrayals by the trade union leaderships — we must prepare to fight. We have seen how great the anger was after Macron’s speech. Preparing a large-scale movement must begin as soon as possible by bringing together important sectors of the workers’ movement to define a solid battle plan that rejects the leaders’ defeatist strategy. This is our central task right now. We cannot wait for the reform to be resuscitated, or for 24-hour strikes that will never make Macron back down.
The experience of the last battles has shown that a massive strike can take place only if our class is united and the rank and file pressures its leaders. In 2019, the preparation between the RATP workers’ one-day strike on September 13 and the beginning of the ongoing strike on December 5 was crucial in confronting Macron, but it was not enough to force him to back down definitively — especially because too many sectors were not mobilized. This time, we will have to lay the groundwork to build the most powerful relationship of forces. But that can be done only from below — and with lots of preparation starting with the beginning of the school year — if we are to avoid defeat. We must demand from the trade union leaders a plan that is truly up to the task. Meanwhile, throughout the country, militants must lay the groundwork without waiting, in order to prepare the working class for a confrontation that will be unavoidable if circumstances are to be kept from becoming even worse.
First published in French on July 13 in Révolution Permanente.
Translation by Scott Cooper