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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: En France, non à la diète salariale

by Loan Nguyen

Workers Say No to Stagnant Wages in France

Translated Sunday 4 March 2012, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Bill Scoble

The bosses’ often-derisory wage offers are sparking more and more wage conflicts in France.

Amid the presidential election campaign, workers are not waiting for the elections to make themselves heard. In retailing as in industry, among both blue-collar and white-collar workers, the pressing need for wage hikes is becoming increasingly urgent. At a time when the cost of living is skyrocketing and government austerity policies are cutting deeper and deeper into workers’ purchasing power, the traditional beginning-of-the-year wage conflicts have become vital. They are expected to be in the forefront of the mobilization on February 29.

Whether the company is making a profit or not, the wage increases offered by management in the framework of the obligatory annual wage negotiations are often derisory and fail to offset the 2.4% inflation rate. A case study is Renault, which has just announced over two billion euros in profits for 2011, and which is offering only a 1.72% overall wage hike. “Every year, management tells us that things are tough and that savings have to be made, and every year profits are up,” said Bernard Brachetta, CGT shop steward at the Renault Lardy center, who notes that the 2011 dividends are up by “386%.” “We always have to turn out more, faster, with less. People haven’t been so fed up for years,” the trade unionist said, noting that more workers have been participating in work stoppages over wages this year, at Lardy, Cléon, Flins and Le Mans.

One finds the same exasperation among Lidl workers, where a speed-up that is increasingly “infernal” is not at all compensated by corresponding remuneration, according to Franck Fergioux, the CGT shop steward at the Noisseville warehouse in eastern France. “Some colleagues are driving 30 miles to come to work, and the price of gas is a big concern. We see more and more workers asking for advances on their wages because they can’t make ends meet,” Franck Fergioux reported. In answer to the 200-euro general hike demanded by the CGT, management is offering only 1.4% and a bonus for workers with 25 years’ seniority. “Lidl has only been operating in France for 21 years,” the CGT shop steward irritatedly pointed out. The CGT, together with FO and UNSA, has issued a call to strike at all the Lidl supermarkets on March 1.

Even at some small companies, where workers are usually slow to protest, anger is increasing. In Vénissieux, the second-largest Lyons suburb, at Crapie, which produces traffic signs, was taken over by Eurovia Vinci in 2011, and which employs only 30 people, the workers are “upset” according to Didier Mazanon, the CGT shop steward, who can’t get over the “100%” work stoppage on February 22. “This is a company where there is no tradition of struggle,” the trade unionist stated. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the 2.6% individual wage hike offered by management, “depending on whether the worker was in management’s good books or not.” “Last year, we didn’t get any wage hike because the company was in receivership. When it took over, Eurovia promised to make up for that with a wage hike this year,” Didier Mazanon explained.

Only the workers’ mobilization pays off in the face of the bosses’ cynicism. In two years, the workers at Manitowoc, which makes cranes in Moulins and Charlieu in central France, have won an increase in the basic minimum wage from 1,520 euros a month to 1,700 euros, and a 55-euro across-the-board increase for workers making more, just in 2012. “That’s the outcome of a long-term struggle,” is the analysis of Alain Morand, a union delegate at CGT headquarters.

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