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Vol. 81/No. 34      September 18, 2017

(front page)

French rulers take on unions, join Berlin to try to fix EU crisis

As he promised both during his campaign and after his election last May, French President Emmanuel Macron decreed Aug. 31 an overhaul of the country’s Labor Code, targeting unions, job protections and working conditions. The move comes at the same time as the French rulers are pushing to solidify their bloc with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to hold together the European Union, which the worldwide capitalist economic crisis and conflicting national interests are tearing apart.

At the heart of Macron’s proposed changes would be gutting legal protections workers have won in long-past labor upsurges against being fired or laid off. Collected in the government’s 3,324-page Labor Code, the New York Times said Aug. 4, the laws hinder the bosses’ ability to do as they wish with the workers, “making it expensive to hire new workers and difficult — and even more costly — to fire them.”

Because of these legal impediments, French bosses have been replacing jobs that last a lifetime with a workforce largely comprised of temps — at lower pay, benefits and lacking union rights. Over 16 percent of workers in France are on temporary contracts today, including 85 percent of those hired in the second-quarter this year. Today’s class collaborationist French union leaderships focus on protecting workers already hired and do little to organize or fight for temporary contract workers.

“Every such fundamental economic reform in France for at least the last quarter-century has foundered in the streets of Paris,” the Times said, pointing to the labor movement’s past strength. But officials of the three major unions are divided on whether to oppose the new code. The General Confederation of Labor (CGT) has called for a strike Sept. 12. Two larger unions, the French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CFDT) and Force Ouvrière are not participating.

Macron and the bosses are fighting to cripple industry-wide union bargaining and replace it with factory-by-factory bargaining further dividing the workforce.

Small companies with fewer than 50 workers comprise 95 percent of all French companies. They would be allowed to negotiate directly with nonunionized workers, who previously received the same benefits won in contracts by unionized workers in their sector.

Twenty years ago the capitalist rulers in Germany dealt similar blows to the working class there, which also lacked a class-struggle leadership. Most contracts applied to entire industry sectors, but today the number of company-level contracts has risen sharply, and bosses can’t be forced into collective bargaining.

Steps like these meant that over the last 25 years, German bosses have sped up workers’ productivity by some 40 percent, while real wages have stagnated.

The bosses’ gains have helped Berlin maintain its supremacy in the European Union, which functions to siphon profits to the German ruling class at the expense of its weaker competitors in southern Europe.

At the same time, the eurozone functions as a bloc between German and French bosses, the more so now that London is on the way to “Brexit.”

Macron’s attacks on the labor movement are aimed at strengthening French capital in competition in the EU, as well as at convincing Germany’s rulers, who reap the biggest profits from the 28-nation EU capitalist trade bloc, that Paris is a partner to be listened to.

Macron, Merkel look to bloc
Macron has challenged the German rulers to agree to steps to strengthen the European Union in the face of the competing interests of the ruling capitalist families in each European nation-state that pull the EU apart. He has called for appointing an EU financial minister to oversee a single eurozone budget that would make funds available to capitalist rulers facing deeper economic challenges, like Greece, Italy and others.

German Chancellor Merkel, who is up for election this month, said she backs these proposals by Macron, “so that we get a higher degree of united competitiveness.” But she says the focus should be a fund that can make “small contributions” to reward challenged countries for carrying out structural reforms.

While Berlin needs Paris, and vice versa, if the EU is going to advance, what’s really posed here is whether the German capitalists are willing to sacrifice some of the profits they make to shore up their competitors.

One country where the rulers face some real problems today is Italy, which has the third largest economy in Europe after Berlin and Paris. Rome’s annual growth rate has been stuck at zero since they adopted the European currency when it was launched in 1999.

As a result Rome’s sovereign debt is over 133 percent of its gross domestic product, the second worst in Europe, behind only Greece. Its banking system is close to collapse. Youth unemployment is 35 percent, and more and more workers are being driven below Italy’s official poverty line.

This crisis has led former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi — who says he will run to take over the government in Italy’s next election — to back a measure that would severely undermine the EU. He proposes a “parallel currency” alongside the euro.

This new lira would do what sovereign currencies normally do when they face capitalist trade inequities like Rome does in relation to Germany — sharply devalue against the euro. Real wages would plummet and Italy’s boss class would be more competitive.

But why wouldn’t every other European ruling class that suffers from its unequal union with the stronger, more profitable German bosses — that is all of them — do the same? What would happen to the EU?  
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