French Workers Protest Lay-Offs

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The French municipal elections in March, in which revolutionary groups gained substantial votes, were followed almost immediately by a wave of layoffs.

The reaction from working people has been particularly sharp because many of the companies laying off workers are clearly not experiencing economic difficulties but are showing large profits. (Layoffs have often been motivated by the companies’ speculation in financial markets in the wake of sharp stock market swings.)

Protests have been growing, giving impetus to a campaign for a national demonstration in Paris on June 9. An important example is the international demonstration of 2000 against Marks and Spencer in London on May 17, in which mainly French workers participated. In a climate of radicalization, going back to a series of militant transport strikes, workers are challenging the right of bourgeois companies to deprive their workers of their livelihoods.

Under pressure of the protests, the vote in the French national assembly on the Social Modernization Bill, which contains weak provisions to deal with layoffs and compensation for them, has had to be postponed.

In its May 31 issue, Rouge, the paper of Socialist Action’s comrades of the Revolutionary Communist League, stressed:

“The delay of the vote [on the Social Modernization Bill] gives a new impetus to a massive national mobilization in Paris on June 9. All the unions together, the associations, the left, have to come out. But this delay should not be a time-out for saving the face of anybody [ i.e. so-called left politicians]. Jospin [the Socialist Party premier] says he doesn’t want to concede anything. The relationship of forces and determined pressure has to force him to give in and change the bill entirely.

“The bill must ban layoffs dictated by capitalist profits and offer means of monitoring this by the workers and public bodies. Moreover, in all situations the right to a job has to be preserved by maintaining work contacts without any loss in pay. This is what the June 9 mobilization must demand.”

With presidential elections approaching in France, in which the Socialist Party leader hopes to take the place of incumbent right-winger Jacques Chirac, the strength of the revolutionary left and the working-class radicalization is putting considerable pressure on the reformist Communist and Socialist parties. The French press has been full of speculation about how the revolutionary groups may change the political map of the country.

After a succession of governments of the reformist parties over more than 20 years, it is evident that these parties will not get anything for the workers from the capitalists, and working people are getting more and more impatient for real change in their favor.

France is the one advanced capitalist country in which in the recent period workers have fought offensive strikes seeking new benefits. The fight for control over layoffs can be a new escalation of the workers’ offensive since it strikes at the fundamental logic of capitalism.

In addition, in a series of elections, the French revolutionary groups have shown sufficient strength to offer a visible alternative to the defenders of capitalism within the trade unions and the left.

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