The threat had been in the air for a long time. Surprisingly, it was only the time. On Saturday evening, 29 February, the Council of ministers decided to apply Article 49.3 of the French constitution to end discussions in Parliament on the pension reform bill in the first instance.
Actually, the Council of ministers had been convened this Saturday for a crisis meeting to discuss countermeasures for the spread of the pathogen Covid-19. No one had expected that the Cabinet there would also decide to take the map of Art. 49.3 of the Constitution out of its pocket.
Following the Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Philippe immediately went to the National Assembly, the French parliament, to publicly announce the decision. “In accordance with Article 49 (3) of the Constitution … and having received the approval of the Council of ministers on 29 February, I have decided to assume the responsibility of the government for the bill to introduce a universal pension system,” he told parliament. This immediately brought the debates to a standstill.
The usual 49.3 procedure provides that parliamentarians have 24 hours from the moment it was 5.35 pm on Saturday evening to submit a motion of censure against the government before 5.35 pm on Sunday. Once the motion of censure is submitted, it must be debated in the National Assembly within 48 hours. If the motion of censure is approved, the government must resign.
Two motions of censure were also tabled on time, one by the left Opposition and one by the Conservatives. As expected, neither motion of censure was approved in the National Assembly on Tuesday evening. But the government, which should have resigned in this case, never had to fear this. It has an absolute majority in Parliament. In addition, only those votes that explicitly vote for the motion of censure are counted, all votes against, Abstentions or non-present parliamentarians are counted as trust for the government.
This means that the law on pension reform is now considered to have been adopted at first reading. Now the Text goes to the Senate, and from there back to the national Assembly.
On Wednesday, however, the deputies still have the accompanying organizational law accompanying the Reform, with 1,800 amendments, on the agenda. However, according to the head of the LREM group, his examination by Sunday evening (8 March) was feasible, as the Text had only five articles (compared to 65 for the main role).
It should not have escaped anyone’s notice that the prime minister announced the end of the parliamentary debate following a crisis meeting of the government on the subject of the pathogen Covid-19. This has shocked his opponents even more. The head of government hastened to assure on the first TV channel TF1 that there was “no connection"between the 49.3 and the Covid-19. A statement that hardly anyone wants to take away from him. Because in the same meeting it was also decided to declare Level 2 and thus the first alarm level and to ban meetings in closed rooms of more than 5,000 people, because of health risk of course. There were about 130 infected people and 2 dead across France at the time. But, even if it may sound cynical, from this point of view, a further spread of the Coronavirus is likely to play into the hands of the government.
A real epidemic, a few thousand or ten thousand infected, and Macron will be able to declare the next level of alert, ban all gatherings, maybe even impose a curfew. The police and the military will monitor the curfew, while the people at home wait for the all clear and the legislative machine can meanwhile continue as lubricated and undisturbed. And at the end of the virus epidemic there are perfect facts about pension reform and a no longer existing opposition movement against it.
Pension reform in
As we have already reported, the Macron government has decided to push through the project in a fast-track process and has initiated the necessary legal measures to do so. Now Macron wants to get it over with as soon as possible and show that his Hand is not shaking.
In order to stay on schedule, Macron had to finish the first reading in the National Assembly before the parliamentary holidays for the local elections on 15 and 22 March. Parliament will cease its work from 9 to 22 March.
The Council of State had already complained at the end of January that, because of the prevailing haste, it “did not have the time for reflection necessary to ensure the best possible legal certainty” for the Reform. It could even be that the project was subsequently declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.
In April, the law is on the agenda of the Senate, in which the governing parties do not have a majority. The pension reform comes to the Senate without a break. The House of Lords will have to examine the Text at the end of April, without having received the requested two-week deadline by the beginning of May to await the results of the Finance Commission, which meets by the end of April.
In the Senate, the government may not be able to apply Article 49.3, but it has other constitutional means of enforcing the law, even if no agreement should be reached in the Senate. For of the two chambers, the National Assembly and the Senate, the National Assembly is the stronger. In any case, the NDS will keep their readers up to date about their future career.
In principle, however, the Senate now has the opportunity to examine the legislative project and to propose amendments. According to the prime minister, the Senators will not be presented with the original version of the bill, but with a new Version that takes into account a large number of the amendments that have already been discussed. Of the 65 articles in the Law Project, only the first seven had been discussed and adopted by 29 February. The remaining 58 were forwarded to the Senate as they are. Of the 232 amendments that have been retained in the version for the Senate, there are amendments that have been proposed by all the parliamentary groups. Except those of La France Insoumise!
Both chambers are to present an identical legislative text to parliament in the second reading. To achieve this, so-called “navettes” (dt. “Boat”) between the National Assembly and the Senate. “The strategy of the Senate is usually to change texts, but this is not repairable,” says a member of the Senate. If no agreement can be reached, the National Assembly can still put its Text to a vote. And in the second reading, the government will again have the opportunity to break off the debate on constitutional article 49.3. According to the government’s Plan, the law should come into force before the summer break.
As you can see, there is hardly any legal way to prevent the legislative project if the government is determined to enforce it at all costs. It is true that one can try to prolong the process, as the Opposition did, by bringing in about 25,000 amendments alone, and to put as many obstacles as possible in its way. Limited to practices such as obstruction or censure, however, the deputies of the left are powerless. The only way to prevent the pension reform is by pushing it off the streets, by raising the price for Macron so high that he either gives in or takes his hat off.
Recourse to Article 49.3
The energetic move by the executive on Saturday once again underscores the fiasco of Macron’s pension reform. With such a fundamental Text for the future of the country, to act with all force carries the risk of having to pay for it sooner or later. The government is certainly aware of this. But she wants to get this over with as soon as possible. In view of the growing resistance within its own ranks, the reality is also that the government must even doubt its majority in parliament itself.
Macron can no longer win over the French people to the project. He had more than 2 years for this, he did not succeed. Many scandals and poor craftsmanship have accompanied the Reform so far. The government has completely failed in public communication around the pension reform.
In view of the confusion of 42 different systems, a pension reform would not even have been so unreasonable. The transformation into a universal, just System makes perfect sense. Basically, it is a social democratic Reform that has been wrongly implemented by right-wing technocrats and politicians, leading to a fiasco.
Hardly any French woman today can expect anything other than a pension cut from this “Reform”. “The French have to work longer,” prime minister Philippe said at the beginning. In the logic of Macronie, this means working longer without getting anything in return. Or leave at the same time as before and accept a reduction in the pension. Hardly an Alternative that a French woman can afford in times of unemployment and wage cuts to the edge of the subsistence level. So work up to the coffin.
Recourse to the exception clause 49.3 is the government’s admission that the pension reform law rejected by most French women can only be saved with this questionable, undemocratic lever. The law is now to be passed by decree, a law that is itself enforced with recourse to ordinances. The responsibility for this lies largely with the executive, which has become entangled in an inevitable confrontation with the population because of self-imposed deadlines for its enforcement, but also because the pension reform is not supposed to simplify the pension legislation for the benefit of all French women, but for the further redistribution of work according to (financial)capital.
In this respect, the current recourse to Article 49.3 raises a considerable democratic legitimacy problem. In view of the situation, Macron now wants to get it over with as soon as possible and show that his Hand is not shaking. While the French people are watching the government’s actions develop into a mere act of authority.
In addition to its anti-democratic insolence, this action is also a declaration of bankruptcy of bourgeois democracy, according to which it is supposedly the highest democratic good to elect any party that then represents the interests of its voters in Parliament. But if Macron can’t get any further on the parliamentary path, then he will leave that out with democracy.
Outrage in the population
Initial reactions were not long in coming after Philippe’s announcement. On the evening of February 29, people spontaneously gathered in front of the National Assembly and the following day in front of the Paris City Hall. Although few at first, there was hardly any time for mobilization. In this respect, the government’s surprise coup was successful. The trade unions had to get together and discuss the next steps and called for the first decentralised demonstrations on 3 March, the day on which the two motions of censure were also rejected in Parliament.
Nevertheless, it was now clear that, as announced by the Intersyndicale, one could not wait until March 31 to take further steps. The RATP-SNCF Coordination Committee, the most militant body in the strike and protest movement, has called for a major strike meeting on Tuesday, March 10, to take stock of the strike actions so far. The other agenda of the meeting is mainly to create a substantial battle plan for a massive strike movement in the public and private sectors, as well as to discuss the possibilities to call for a nationwide General strike and its technical implementation.
On 5 March there was a day of action in the universities, connected with the blocking and closing of the same. Universities and laboratories took to the streets against precarity in their professions. In addition to their displeasure with the pension reform, they also oppose a legal project in their profession that would lead to even more insecure and temporary jobs. The call was supported by all trade unions.
In addition, new forms of protest are now being tried out. Unforgettable are the ballet dancers of the Paris Opera on Christmas Eve, who supported the strike movement with a performance of the Swan Lake in the open air. The New Year’s address by director Sybile Veil of Radio France, who is in the process of “rationalising” the station, was drowned out by the workers with Giuseppe Verdi’s “prison choir”. In Caen, the minister of Justice wanted to give a speech to assembled lawyers. They threw their black robes at her feet and went home. Doctors throw their white coats at the speakers ' desks and teachers empty the contents of their satchels at the feet of school leaders loyal to the regime, throw old textbooks in front of the Rectorates or symbolically barricade access to the school.
And not only on the French mainland, but also in the overseas territories, the Protest is stirring. Strikes among teachers in the Antilles, Martinique and Guadeloupe are just as common as in Paris. Because they are just as affected by Macron’s cuts. For example, the education system in the Caribbean was at a standstill for two months.
It should also be mentioned that in addition to the above mentioned actions, local protest actions take place every day, at any time and in all places everywhere in France. To concentrate all these actions and to focus them like a Burning Glass on the same focus is precisely the ambition of the RATP-SNCF action committee, which has recognized that it is hopeless to have any negotiations with this government. The last Coup with the recourse to Article 49.3 was proof enough.
Even in the eyes of some officials in Macron’s party, things seem to be getting out of hand. On Saturday, after the announcement of Philippe in parliament, Senator Amiel left the LREM. “There have been a number of mistakes that have been very, very unfavorable for fluid government action. The end is 49.3, on a Saturday night in the midst of a Coronavirus outbreak, almost sneaky,” he said. In addition, two deputies left the party. At the beginning the LREM counted 314 deputies, so it is now only 300. And rumor has it that after resorting to art. 49.3 about 40 more deputies are leaving the party. That reminds involuntarily of the song of the Ten Little Negroes… there were only nine left.
Also in the municipalities, the members of the LREM run away in droves and run on their own or on other lists for the elections.
And finally the CGT has closed the door to the financing conference on 3 March and no longer wants to participate in this “Mummenschanz”. One day after the Force Ouvrière (FO) had already announced its withdrawal from this body.
On Sunday is International Women’s day and women’s strike day.
“Women will be the big winners of the Reform.“So Edouard Philippe lied to the women on 11 December 2019. An attempt to give his deeply antisocial Reform a feminist façade. However, there are plans for a general reduction in old-age pensions, also for women, at low wages and especially for all those who suffer from precarity and choppy careers. Not to mention the disregard for the drudgery that wears off body and mind in the most difficult professions at the bottom of the ladder, which are largely feminized. As with the maids in the Hotels or the cleaning women at the Paris train stations.
“So if the Macronie wants to give itself a feminist facade, then it is time to declare loudly and clearly that the emancipation of women can only be achieved with class-struggle methods and in complete independence from employers, the state and its institutions,” it said at a recent feminist meeting in Paris: let’s build an March 8 against Macron and his world!
And indeed, even in the strikes and demonstrations and in the strike committees, women are now in the forefront. On March 8, the women’s movement also wants to publicize its opposition to the Macronie.
In the face of new challenges, the trade unions must also rethink their role and, above all, find new ones. In our last contribution, we had already drawn attention to the fact that the current strike movement as well as the movement of the yellow vests emerged practically without the intervention of the trade union leadership. The base organizes itself, the workers mobilized in their workplaces drive the actions and organize themselves differently than expected by the National Union leaders.
The same applies to interprofessional general assemblies or local coordination and their actions. In times of social networks and Smartphones, information can be exchanged and disseminated more quickly than before and actions can be organized past the union officials.
But the yellow vests movement also teaches us that a protracted Protest cannot be sustained without organizations like the unions. A Smartphone alone is not enough to sustain a protest movement for a long time, let alone lead it, it also requires a certain infrastructure. And not to forget that the yellow vests could never use the instrument of the strike, since they were hardly anchored in the factories. Strikes, however, are a crucial part of the trade union repertoire of action.
As long as strikes for wages or working conditions are conducted in different companies or sectors, they are also successful there. But the situation is different with political strikes. Here the strike is not directed against a company, but against the government and therefore political strikes should be extended to as many sectors as possible. Strikes in a company that are not directed against the management itself, but against the government, are, however, a rather delicate matter, especially in the private sector.
Many commentators have compared Macron to Thatcher, and this is true in the sense that Macron is ideologically committed to the superiority of the market and unassailable for doubt. But we are no longer in the historical period which Thatcher or Reagan produced, in the period of conquering neoliberalism. On the contrary, the legitimacy of the market is now also being questioned in France. For this reason, too, Macron’s advance is delayed and meets with completely different resistance than Gerhard Schröder in Germany at the time.
Extending the strike to the private sector is always difficult in political strikes. If it is already difficult to go on strike in order to put pressure on one’s employer, it is even more difficult to do so in order to indirectly reach the government. Therefore, political strikes are usually also carried out by public sector workers.
In the private sector, trade unions generally play only a minor role. The smaller the operation, the less your influence. And in the large companies, too, the Basis is increasingly being withdrawn from them through temporary work and works contracts. This has led to the fact that the trade unions increasingly have only the “labor aristocracy” as their Basis and only care about the precariat on the margins. In this way, however, they also lose their anchorage in the population, in which the well-earning permanent employees increasingly become an exceptional case. Their bastions are shrinking.
The most important challenge for the trade unions therefore remains the reconstruction of a representative capacity, which also includes the precariat and the unemployed. The trade unions must learn to recognize neoliberalism as their main enemy and to fight it as such. And at the same time to bring back on board the parts of the working world and also the population and to be regarded by them as defenders of their interests, which they neglected during the decades of the “social partnership”.
Social struggles are becoming increasingly political. That is why a political strategy of the trade unions is more necessary than ever. With pure wage negotiations one becomes more and more insignificant in the long term. What we need is a trade union that is once again beginning to see itself as the “party of labour” and is committed to the interests of the workers in all their diversity.
At this time, Friday, March 6, according to information from the Ministry of Health in France, there are 423 registered cases of contagion, seven people have died. The government has so far declared Level 2, so to speak the first alert level and a ban on Assembly for more than 5,000 people in confined spaces. However, according to statements by Health Minister Sibeth Ndiaye, the government will soon have to declare Level 3.
The Paris Marathon, scheduled for April 5 and expected to attract around 60,000 people, has been postponed to October 18, while the Paris Half Marathon, scheduled to take place last Saturday, has been cancelled on the eve of the start and will be moved to September 6.
However, contrary to various rumours, the postponement of the local elections on 15 and 22 March is not on the agenda.
A good 100 schools, Colleges and high schools remain closed in France for the time being.
The staff of the world’s largest museum, the Louvre, closed the Museum last Sunday to prevent the spread of the Virus after the government banned the gathering of more than 5,000 people in a confined space. The Louvre can receive up to 40,000 people daily.
According to labour law, if an employee has “reasonable grounds to believe that [a work situation] poses a serious and imminent danger”, he or she can “withdraw from such a Situation”. Covid-19 is about the risk of infection. The virus epidemic, but not only you alone, can therefore still provide many surprises and unexpected turns in this labor dispute.