France

Macron’s latest speech has confirmed what we already knew: that his priority is not to save as many human lives as possible, but to safeguard the profits of the capitalists. The measures he announced during his speech on Monday are motivated solely by the defence of the material interests of the ruling class. The MEDEF (the bosses’ organisation) was surely satisfied.

Since mid-March, the National Education system is supposed to ensure pedagogical continuity for nearly 12 million primary and secondary students. Far from the meticulous preparation praised by Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, pedagogical continuity has been set up with a mixture of approximation and improvisation. This has plunged students and staff into great confusion, while, at the same time, reinforcing social discrimination.

In November 2018, the British management of Luxfer Group announced the closure of its factory in Gerzat, in the department of Puy-de-Dôme. This despite the fact that the site was turning a profit and receiving many orders. The factory, which manufactured oxygen tanks, shut down in 2019, which led to an important mobilisation by the workers. The health crisis triggered by the coronavirus has given new meaning to their struggle.

Interview with Axel Peronczyk, CGT shop steward from the Luxfer factory in Gerzat.

For the last 5 years, I have been a volunteer fireman in a small fire station in the south of France. Like many other professions, we are mobilised to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. And like our colleagues working in healthcare, we are doing our absolute best with the means available to us.

The cynicism of the bourgeois knows no bounds. It reaches even the darkest of domains, like pandemics. Under capitalism, the existence and spreading of diseases can bring massive profits to a small minority. These last few years, while healthcare systems around the world have been destroyed by austerity, investors have pocketed colossal sums of money by speculating on pandemics. Since 2017, the World Bank has allowed investors to buy bonds with an annual interest rate of up to 11%, specifically under the pretext of fighting pandemics in poor countries. If a pandemic is declared, they lose their investment. But every eventuality is covered, and the criteria that trigger pay-outs to

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The COVID-19 outbreak is rampant. As we are writing, 3 billion people are in lockdown. The economic consequences of this situation are far-reaching. In some countries, whole sectors of industry are shut down. NASA satellite images reveal drastic decreases of greenhouse gas emissions in areas that are usually high emitters, such as China or northern Italy. The economic crisis that has been raging for several years has erupted under the impact of the lockdown, striking another blow to the global economy. Some reactionaries rejoice at this and go so far as to assert that "the virus is the solution to save the planet!” Marxists must staunchly counter this nonsense. 

The current health crisis marks a turning point in world history. Its economic, social, and political repercussions will be colossal. The chain reaction that began in December 2019, in a wet market in Wuhan, will not end with the ebb of the pandemic.

The entirety of France has supposedly been in lookdown since 16 March. Macron said it and the media repeated it: “Stay home!”. Personally, like millions of other workers, I can not isolate myself. I continue to go out each day to work as a cashier in a “fair” minimarket. Although, the sales are reaching record highs and the boss sends us raving emails each day to congratulate us on our role in this “national effort”.

On 19 March, several trade unions (CFDT, CGT, FO, CFE-CGC, CFTC) and employers' organisations (Medef, CPME, U2P) signed a short "joint declaration" with the bosses’ organisations on the current health crisis. A number of trade unionist activists, local branches and leaders have signed a counter-statement, rejecting this scandalous move by the union tops.

Strikes have broken out in several Amazon warehouses in France, to demand the closure of the sites and full payment of wages. Gregory Lavainne, activist and delegate from the UNSA trade union on the ORY1 site in Saran (close to Orléans), explains the situation.

Faced with the spread of the coronavirus in France, the government and mainstream media are calling for national unity. But this hollow slogan, however many times it is repeated, cannot indefinitely hide the class contradictions that are becoming more apparent each day.

The bourgeois media never tire of repeating it: the French left is in crisis. Gone are the days in which the Socialist Party (PS) and the Communist Party (PCF), between them, held a clear majority of the electorate. And when it comes to France Insoumise (FI), they haven’t consolidated the success of the 2017 presidential elections, when Mélenchon got 20 percent in the first round, as we saw in the European elections last year.

The mobilisation that began on 5 December is now at a crossroads. The indefinite strike called by French rail workers is at an ebb, after over 40 days of exemplary struggle. This ebb fits perfectly into the government’s scheme. Since the month of November we have emphasised that: “If the rail workers’ strike remains isolated, the government will have one of two options: either it can make concessions contained to the isolated sections of workers on strike, or it can count on their exhaustion. In either case, the masses in general would lose.”

The battle in France over Macron’s reactionary pension reform passed its 40th day on 13 January. A fourth interprofessional strike last Thursday and follow-up protests on the weekend brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets yet again, and further days of action have been declared up until 16 January.

At the time of writing these lines, the outcome of the struggle that began on 5 December is still uncertain. The government has made clear that it will not back down on the key elements of its “reform” (a counter-reform, in reality). Faced with this, the striking workers have demonstrated exemplary courage and militancy.

For the third consecutive week, French workers from dozens of professions (train drivers, teachers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, factory workers – even opera singers!) downed tools and hit the streets, alongside hundreds of thousands of supporters, to oppose the reactionary Macron regime. While the government has been downplaying the turnout, claiming only 600,000 took part, the protests were at least as big as on 5 December. The CGT union federation claims they were even bigger, citing a figure of 1,800,000 demonstrators, which would be hands down the biggest mobilisation since 1995.

The speech delivered by Edouard Philippe (the Prime Minister) yesterday concluded over 18 months of “talks” and “consultations” with the leaders of the trade unions. Hundreds of hours of negotiation meetings culminated in this enlightening result: the government presented exactly the same reform that they would have put forward if none of the “talks” and “consultations” had taken place.

Yesterday’s interprofessional strike against Macron’s pension reform brought between 800,000 and 1,000,000 workers and youth onto the streets of France, according to the CGT. While this is a drop from the mobilisation last Thursday (which was possibly the biggest since 1995), the turnout was still high, with strong participation by transport workers, teachers, health workers and students.