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Catherine Mills: “To check unemployment, a break with economic dogma (is necessary)”

Translated Tuesday 10 December 2013, by Gene Zbikowski

Catherine Mills, the French Communist Party’s economist, underlines the role played by austerity policies and puts forward the need to extend social security to employment and training.

Huma: The French statistical bureau (INSEE) has just announced a rise in joblessness in the third quarter. Do you think French president François Hollande will attain his goal of reversing the unemployment curve by year’s end?

Catherine Mills: No. Mass unemployment is directly linked to the business management models that have been adopted since the 1980s, and whose goal is lowering the portion of added value paid out in wages and increasing the portion paid out in profits. They’re hooked on a free-trade vision based on the principle that today’s profits are tomorrow’s investments, and the-day-after-tomorrow’s jobs. Now, what actually happens is the exact opposite.

This new phase in the systemic crisis demonstrates the dominant corporations’ and finance’s responsibility for the new explosion in joblessness. On top of that come the reforms that’ve been adopted, like the so-called law to "make jobs secure", which opens the floodgate to layoffs. It’s a law for flexibility which undermines workers’ rights and economic layoffs. You’ve simultaneously got the economic crisis, the limits of growth, and at the same time the policy that’s being implemented.

Now, the policy being implemented by François Hollande, like all of the policies that’re being implemented in Europe, is marked by austerity regimes and by a reduction in the “cost of labor.”

Huma: On precisely that point, the government keeps hammering home that the tax credit granted to companies will make possible the creation of 30,000 jobs…

Catherine Mills: This is false. This tax credit granted to companies, amounting to 20 billion euros right from 2014, benefits companies without the slightest criterion as to the real development of research, training, and jobs. It’s based on the idea that the cost of labor is too high. Now, France isn’t a high-wage country. The area where there’s a competitiveness problem is in research and training. Our workers need to be better trained. This tax credit measure doesn’t encourage research expenditures, it doesn’t spur investment, whereas any drop in the cost of labor is going to result in insufficient demand, because the tax burden is shifted to households, and a new spiral of depression will be triggered. All this is extremely grave.

Huma: What measures can be taken immediately to begin to check unemployment?

Catherine Mills: That requires a break with the current economic dogma. There’re measures to be implemented immediately, like an increase in the rate and the period of unemployment benefits. It’ll also be necessary to undertake a complete reform of vocational training in order to re-orient it, not towards the best-trained workers, but towards the least-well trained, those who need it the most. All this has to be accompanied by a reform of Pôle emploi (the French jobs agency), so that it will be able to accompany jobless workers individually. It’s also necessary to fight against insecure jobs by punishing companies that don’t play the game and by ratcheting down the employer contributions of the companies that convert insecure jobs into steady ones. Those are the urgent measures.

You are also advocating a law for the social securing of employment and training. What are its general principles?

Catherine Mills: It’s a systemic measure. It involves integrating a process of securing careers right from school-leaving age, with the idea of a continuous career, not only for active workers, but also for those deprived of a job. This system would guarantee every male and female worker either a job or training to find a better job, with a rotation of activity between work and training, or from one job to another; all this, with a continuity of social rights and of a guaranteed income. This new, broadened version of social security implies new sources of financing, not only through an increase in employer contributions, but also through the creation of a contribution based on companies’ financial revenues. This is an ideological battle that has to be fought, together with social struggles. France isn’t the only country in Europe facing an explosion in joblessness. To eradicate unemployment, there has to be a radically different coordination of European employment policy. It can’t happen without building a different European Union.

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