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Economy

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le 11 octobre, riposte syndicale commune à l’austérité

by Yves Housson

Common Trade Union Response to Austerity on October 11

Translated Friday 9 September 2011, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Derek Hanson

It was a long hard road to agreement, but everybody seems satisfied with the result. Such at least was the public face put on by the representatives of the inter-trade union committee on the evening of Sept. 1 following their meeting at the seat of the CGT trade union. The inter-trade union committee includes five confederations: CGT, CFDT, FSU, UNSA, and Solidaires.

After five hours of talks, they arrived at a joint declaration announcing their decision to organize a “national all-trades day of action” to counter the austerity plan announced by the French government last week. It will be on Tuesday October 11, in accordance with modalities that remain to be fixed, and which are to be the subject of another meeting on September 15. The Force Ouvrière confederation decided to go it alone and plans a “day of information” on September 20. The CFTC and CGC confederations turned down the invite to the meeting.

According to the joint text, “Everywhere, debate on the context, the stakes and the modalities of action (demonstrations, rallies, work stoppages, etc.) must take place in order to build for this day” on October 11. On the evening of Sept. 1, the participants at the meeting did not conceal their differences of approach to the last point. The CFDT’s Marcel Grignard felt that at this stage “striking is absolutely not the right way to go,” due to “the very difficult situation concerning purchasing power and workers’ worries about their jobs.” But the other four trade union confederations do not want, at the very least, “to exclude any” form of action, as UNSA’s François Joliclerc said. Nevertheless, the main thing today remains the agreement of the five confederations that it is “indispensable for the workers to intervene in order to put pressure on the government, the bosses, and the ongoing and coming parliamentary debates.” As from Sept. 5, the deputies will have to act on part of French Prime Minister Fillon’s “austerity” measures, before the arrival of new boxes of bitter pills during the October debates on the Social Security and government budgets.

The trade union confederations together expressed the criticisms that they had already formulated separately last week: the austerity plan is both “unjust and unfair,” the bill being “mainly footed by workers and consumers,” whereas the tax on high incomes is “symbolic” and tax loopholes that have “no economic or social effectiveness” are spared. With a view, at one and the same time, to “relaunching economic growth,” “reducing inequality,” and “controlling the deficits,” the inter-trade union committee came out for “structural reforms,” such as reforming taxation to make it more progressive, “a Europe-wide industrial policy,” and “quality public services.” But, in the short term, it has set itself the objective of obtaining a series of “urgent measures.” At the top of the list: the abandoning of taxing supplementary health insurance (to the tune of 1.2 billion euros in the Fillon plan); and the elimination of company tax and social security exemptions on overtime hours. More generally, the trade union confederations are demanding that all public aid be henceforth “conditional” on its economic and social effectiveness. The end of the axing of civil service jobs, support for purchasing power, in particular for the lowest income groups, and the reopening of wage negotiations in the private and public sectors complete the list of their short-term grievances.

Between now and October 11, the trade union confederations will therefore dedicate themselves to popularizing this platform and generating a debate in the working population. On Sept. 15 they will meet to evaluate the return to work following the summer holidays and the state of mind of the workers before setting the forms of action for October 11. For the CGT, which launched the idea of a mobilization way back in June, it will be necessary “in any case to aim at a significant day, with strikes, demonstrations, rallies,” argued Nadine Prigent, adding: “maybe this day will bring others in its train.” “It is not just a question of not submitting,” she emphasized, “but of developing other solutions” to the economic crisis, of finding “new recipes to answer to the people’s needs and conducting a real policy for jobs and economic development.” October 11 must not be “a day of bearing witness,” but an action “to change direction,” the FSU’s Bernadette Groison added, for whom the decision to mobilize “answers the workers’ expectations.” Solidaire’s Annick Coupé, for her part, underlined the existence of a “very great sentiment of injustice in the country,” adding that it is the responsibility of the trade union confederations to “begin to develop a process of mobilization to put a halt” to austerity.


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