French workers fight back

Hundreds of thousands of French workers have taken to the streets this week in support of a wave of strikes against draconian new labour laws that the class-collaborationist “Socialist” government wants to impose, which will make them work longer and make it easier for the bosses to sack them. Oil refineries and power stations have been shut down. Public transport is paralysed and road blocks have cut off refineries, ports and industrial complexes. Now the resistance is spreading to Belgium, which was rocked by anti-cuts strikes this week.

For the past two months workers and students have been fighting to block the scrapping of France’s Labour Code and its replacement with an employers’ charter that would end the 35 hour week, cut wages, lengthen the working week and undermine job security.

The new laws will not just drive down workers’ living standards, it will also threaten their health. “Workers will find themselves at the beck and call of their employers, with working hours no longer being defined by contract but instead by the employer,” Alexandra Soumeire of the French lawyers’ union (SAF) said. “Variation of working hours will impose an alternation between periods of long working hours with periods of shorter working hours, but without paying for the extra hours worked.”

At the moment daily working hours are limited to 10 hours and cannot exceed 12 hours except under certain specific circumstances prescribed by law. With the new bill, working in excess of these hours will be permissible — for any reason in connection with the organisation of the company — by collective agreement.

François Hollande won the presidency in 2012 on a Socialist Party platform that promised to tax the rich to pay for social housing, and more jobs for young people and teachers. In office he has shown himself to be just another willing tool of the French bourgeoisie, supporting austerity at home and the broader objectives of Franco-German imperialism across the European Union and beyond.

The Hollande government has tried to head off the protests with a number of small concessions. Planned cuts in research spending have been dropped and public money found to settle a dispute over performing artists’ unemployment insurance. School teachers have been given a pay rise, and the government has intervened in talks between the unions and management at the state-owned SNCF railways to buy off the right-wing CFDT (French Democratic Confederation of Labour).

Hollande and the worthless leaders of his Socialist Party have rejected calls from some of his back-benchers for a national referendum and say they will impose the new laws on parliament by presidential decree if necessary.

But with Hollande’s popularity ratings the lowest of any serving president in modern French history and mounting anger on the street, that may prove to be an empty threat. The mass of the French working class, led by the majority of the trade unions, remains solidly opposed to this latest attack on their living standards. The workers have been joined by thousands of students and unemployed youths who have embraced social movements such as Nuit Debout, and have taken the fight onto the streets of Paris and other cities throughout the country.

The anti-austerity resistance that started in Greece when the world-wide slump began in 2008 has now spread to the heartlands of the European Union. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our French comrades and all those working for a renewed fight-back against the cuts that has to be kicked off in Britain too.