On Saturday 11 January hundreds of thousands of strikers and “yellow vests” demonstrated in France against the pension cuts planned by President Emmanuel Macron, while Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced cosmetic “provisional” concessions. These cynical maneuvers are intended to allow the unions to keep the strikers in the dark about the content of the cuts until at least may, thus gradually reducing the strike, while giving Macron sweeping new powers to cut pensions.
While strikers were demonstrating all over France, Philippe proposed in a letter that a conference be organized between employers ' associations and trade unions on the financing of pensions, which would last for four months. However, an analysis of Philip’s letter makes it clear that he makes no significant concessions. According to his Plan, all the basic components of Macron’s cuts will come into force in one Form or another.
This fact makes it clear that the trade union negotiations are a trap. There is nothing to negotiate with Macron. An irreconcilable conflict has developed between the French and the international working class, which is fighting against social inequality and militarism, and the Macron government and the international financial institutions like BlackRock that support it. For workers, the way forward in this struggle is to build action committees that organize a struggle to overthrow Macron independently of the trade unions.
Philippe’s letter reserves the right to enforce Macron’s cuts in full. These cuts include the creation of a pension system based on points calculated on the basis of the last 25 years and not 15 years or six months ' wages. The state may, at its discretion, reduce the value of these points in each fiscal year when a new Generation of workers retires.
Other plans include abolishing public sector pension plans and raising the “balanced retirement age” by two years to 64. Philip’s letter suggests he could “temporarily” suspend the latest attack if the unions find another way to cut social spending.
He writes: “I confirm that the government wants to create a national, point-based pension system […] The special pension plans will be abolished after a transitional period, which will be determined in December. This general System will apply to all inhabitants of France.”
It goes on to say: “the bill will establish the need for a balanced pension budget and the crucial responsibility of trade unions and business associations in managing the programme. Therefore, the bill will also stipulate that the future general System will include a balanced retirement age.“The letter suggests that trade unions and business associations hold a conference to negotiate a balanced pension budget and “present results by the end of April 2020”.
Philippe adds that until the business associations and trade unions submit their proposals, " I am prepared to remove the proposed short-term measures from the bill […] and to raise the retirement age to 64 only in 2027”.
But as soon as the unions present proposals, the government, according to Philippe, will demand draconian powers to drastically cut pensions: “the government will amend the bill to require Parliament to adopt a comprehensive enabling law so that all measures to ensure the balance of the pension system can be implemented by decree by 2027.“This means that the government can introduce the increase in the retirement age, which it claims to be renouncing, and even stronger cuts by decree.
Even right-wing politicians such as the neo-fascist Marine Le Pen and the Gaullist Senator Roger Karoutchi have made fun of Philippe’s letter, saying that they have no idea what a “provisional” renunciation of a pension reduction is supposed to mean. The trade Union bureaucracy, welcomed the letter anyway. The frz. The Confederation Confédération française démocratique du travail (Cfdt) declared that it “signifies the abandonment of the balanced age in the Reform and thus the willingness of the government to compromise”.
The Union nationale des syndicats autonomes (UNSA) also supported Macron, calling Philippe’s letter” a good sign that allows us to discuss the question of balance in peace”.
The chairman of the Stalinist “Confédération générale du travail” (CGT), Philippe Martinez, admitted: “the issue of retirement age is a mirage that will not change our resistance to the cuts.“He stressed that he would continue to participate in talks with the government and business associations, stating that CGT had participated in “all” talks with Macron on pension cuts since 2017.
The union bosses and the millions of workers who are striking and protesting against the Reform are dividing a class divide. The strikes were started by ordinary workers, and they are determined not only to prevent this Reform, but also to end the policies of war and aggression that Macron and the international financial markets represent.
Sylvie, a member of the “yellow vest"movement, told WSWS journalists in Paris: “we don’t care if they take back the pension age increase. We are against the cuts, basta […] We know that we do not completely trust the trade unions, but the simple workers are determined.”
Mikaël, a construction worker and member of the “yellow vests”, said: “I really believe that the union leaders are making common cause with Macron. The ordinary workers who take part in the protests will not give up. But I don’t think the union leaders are doing any good. I call on all construction workers to support us. We really need to all come together to put an end to this.”
Resistance to war and the financial aristocracy is also growing. Heating engineer Laurent told the WSWS: “they destroy everything. We want a future for our children…] They want to send us back to the 19th century. "
Laurent is enthusiastic about the growing strikes and protests around the world, including in India and Lebanon: “We recognize that the population everywhere is manipulated and suppressed. It is always the same who decide everything and cause damage everywhere. When you talk to a Malian, you eventually come across Total and Bolloré, and then you realize that we have the same enemies. The same parasites are trying to destroy all countries. And if they start a war tomorrow, they will use it to justify the oppression of all peoples and the tightening of this policy.”
Laurent added that the recent US drone killing of Iranian General Qassim Soleimani " is terrorism. You can’t just murder people, no matter if you agree with their political views. Today, it is everywhere, criminal actions are possible, such as the assassination of Saddam Hussein or Gaddafi”, the rulers of Iraq and Libya, the were killed after the NATO Wars against their countries by the imperialist-backed forces. Laurent explained :” they were killed for oil and money.”
Several demonstrators pointed to the growing threat of war and oppression in the face of the Iran crisis and Macron’s efforts to enforce his cuts. French teacher Sophie explained that police violence is
unbearable and, what is worse, commonplace. And you don’t come to me with the media and the Intellectuals, who should actually be against it. They are all conspicuously silent about the subject. Police violence is scandalous, and worst of all, they can do it with impunity. What happened at the last protests on Thursday was terrible, they fired rubber bullets at close range.
They warned that attacks on Iran and the Middle East are used to justify nationalism and oppression in Europe :
Many of us think that it is above all a strategy to strangle the class struggle in this Region. We have seen how it has helped to suppress the protests in Lebanon. […] It is well known that war is a tried and tested means of choking off the anger of the population.
This makes it clear that the most important task is to wrest control of the struggle from the trade unions, to build independent organizations and to organize a political struggle against war and austerity and for the overthrow of the Macron government.