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FRENCH workers’ nationwide mobilisation in defence of public services and employment rights, with the promise of much more to come, deserves the unqualified solidarity of their comrades in Britain.
They are showing through their action that, unlike too many self-deceiving trade unionists here, they understand that the European Union is no Shangri-La for workers’ rights.
President Emmanuel Macron’s assault on hard-won employment conditions, especially for railway workers, and on workplace organisation mimics Margaret Thatcher’s anti-working-class campaigns in the 1980s and subsequent developments under the John Major and Tony Blair governments.
His current attacks follow on from last summer’s presidential decrees to reduce — especially in small and medium enterprises — access to facility time for elected trade unionists, introduce the notion of employers talking to staff representatives who need not be trade unionists and drop the constitutional requirement for union consultations over proposed changes to existing conditions, all of which were set down in law after liberation from nazi occupation.
In larger workplaces, those with 50 workers or more, his “streamlining” plans included merging such institutions as works councils and health and safety committees into an amorphous social and economic council (CSE) to reduce trade unions’ independent role.
Employers could, citing “competitiveness,” drive through redundancies, slash wages or reduce hours, while trade unions are denied previous access to the courts to argue, in the case of transnational corporations, that overseas profitability be considered as a factor to justify outlawing their actions.
Macron’s recourse to decree, sidestepping even the National Assembly in which he has a clear majority, indicates that he was anticipating parliamentary resistance and was not confident of defending his policies in debate.
He and his ruling class allies rode through a number of protests, including a number of marches, but today’s actions have taken resistance to a higher level.
Widespread strike action, backed by mass marches and protests in no fewer than 140 towns and cities, shows that French workers and their trade unions understand the scale of the assault against their living standards and the public sector and are ready to fight back.
There will be no ringing solidarity declarations from the EU Commission for French workers in struggle.
The myth of EU backing for workplace rights is based on mainstream employers’ support for establishing minimum standards for individual workers to prevent their firms being undercut by more ruthless barbaric bosses.
The EU Commission backs Macron’s “reforms” to the public rail system because they emanate from Brussels as part of a longstanding agenda to impose a narrow competition and tender-based approach throughout the EU to maximise corporate “efficiency” and profits.
The Major government’s privatisation and splitting up of Britain’s railways wasn’t a Tory aberration. It was simply a trail-blazer for the promised land envisaged by the EU.
Labour’s policy of returning the rail system from the current privatisation chaos of separation of track and trains and franchised routes to a unified regime under public ownership would be ruled out under existing EU laws that will become yet more restrictive.
French rail workers, like those in Britain, have a reputation for standing up for their their living standards, their industry and their communities and they are already committed to two-day weekly strikes for the next three months.
Similar factors apply to the rest of France’s public sector whose workers have begun a battle they must win against their government and its supporters at the highest levels of the EU.
Britain’s trade unionists must join hands with their comrades across the Channel and answer calls for assistance positively.
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