From Paris to Athens,
NO to European Union’s diktates !
Christel Keiser (secretary of the Seine-Saint-Denis committee of the POI, France) :
On 25 August, the Seine-Saint-Denis département Committee (The départements are 100 or so administrative units of France below the regional level, roughly equivalent to English counties) of the Independent Workers Party (POI) discussed the developments in the situation in Greece, which demonstrated the urgent need for joint action by the workers and youth together with their organisations in Greece, France and the whole of Europe; joint action to put an end to the Memorandums, “responsibility pacts” and all the other plans dictated by the European Union, for the benefit of the capitalists and speculators.
On this basis, the Seine-Saint-Denis Committee of the POI proposed the organising of an internationalist rally for breaking with the European Union, for putting an end to the Memorandum in Greece, and to the “responsibility pact” and the Macron Law in France. We proposed to invite comrades from Greece and other European countries. We proposed to the POI Committees of the Paris area that shared the thinking and aims of this meeting that they should take responsibility for it and to ensure its success. Many of the POI committees of the Paris area responded positively to this proposal.
Since then, the situation in Greece and all over Europe, which will be commented on by the various speakers, has confirmed that such a rally was needed.
Before handing over to the speakers, I would like to present the comrades on this platform, from right to left: Betty Raineri, teacher and union delegate (Italy); Luc Lestrade, trade unionist in the Civil Service (France); Heinz-Werner Schuster, trade unionist and President of the Dusseldorf SPD Workers Commission (Germany); Daniel Gluckstein, National Secretary of the POI; Dominique Maillot, trade unionist (France); Simon Herrengt, student (France); Panagiotis Papargyris, Greek activist; Fawzi Ibrahim, trade unionist and organiser of Trade Unionists Against the EU (TUAEU) in Great Britain; Gérard Schivardi, National Secretary of the POI and Sarah Chastel, teacher and trade unionist (France).
Gérard Schivardi, Mayor of Mailhac, National Secretary of the POI (France)
Finally, the POI is resuming its rallies against the European Union, a genuine for-profit company. What a pleasure it is for me to see so many citizens and youth meeting together today. Well done to you all.
Let me begin by giving Jean Markun’s apologies. He cannot be with us for health reasons, and I ask you to give him a round of applause in his absence.
In 1932, my grandfather Attilio Schivardi, who was fleeing Mussolini’s fascism with his four children, was welcomed by France in Muret, where he found a job as an agricultural worker that allowed him to feed his family in dignity.
The Republic had not invented “quotas” to sift through the families that were fleeing fascism, and did not expel the immigrants!
In order to impose these “quotas”, in other words to expel these unfortunate people, the European Union has decided to set up “border sorting centres” responsible for choosing from among the migrants those who are fleeing barbarism and famine.
Prime Minister Valls tried to justify these sorting centres by stating on Thursday: “We need to organise and tackle the problem at its source.”
They want to tackle the problem at its source?
Well then, let them stop launching wars, bombing countries and dismembering nations with their warmongering coalitions, helped in the process by the United States.
Yes, Jean Jaurès was right: “Capitalism carries war within itself, as storm-clouds carry the storm.”
Six years ago, I took part with a POI delegation in a world conference “For Peace and Against Exploitation” organised by the International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples, to which the Independent Workers’ Party had affiliated from its very beginning.
Together with all the delegates from 52 countries, we said, and I quote: “We reject the diktat of servicing a debt which is not the peoples’ debt, a debt that is being used as an instrument for pillaging and dismantling the sovereignty of the nations and all the rights won through struggle around the world.”
Because it is indeed in the name of servicing a so-called debt that the Hollande-Valls government has decided to cut the budget of the regional and local authorities by 28 billion euros!
The consequences are terrible: a budget that is 30 percent lower for the communes, over 1,000 communes on the verge of bankruptcy. Many public service workers under contract will lose their jobs. Many enterprises will have to lay people off.
Last Saturday, mayors demonstrated throughout the country demanding the re-instatement of state funding, which – incidentally, and as I have said on several occasions – is simply returning to the communes taxes that have been paid by the citizens who live in them!
Those mayors were getting endorsements of the petition by the Association of French Mayors (AMF) that illustrates the consequences of the 30 percent drop in the communes’ income if their elected representatives decided to relay that policy onto the population.
I quote: “No more water for your shower. No more equipment for playing sports. No more schools, crèches and school meals for your children. No more public transport for travelling to work. No more collecting and sorting rubbish to keep your town clean and sanitary. No more upkeep of green spaces for your living environment. No more cultural spaces or activity to entertain you. No more social measures to help people in difficulty. No more community life to encourage joint projects.”
In order to implement the structural reforms demanded by the European Union, the government has passed territorial reform legislation.
Three laws that aim to group together the regions, abolish the départements and group together the 36,000 communes into communities comprising anything from 15,000 to 405,000 inhabitants, like in the Paris region.
Under the legislation, the regions, which will have economic power, will have the right to regulate in the name of free competition between the European regions, thus putting the equal rights of citizens into question.
With the forced merger of the communes imposed by the NOTRe Law, they want to abolish the inter-commune trade unions that guarantee the running of the schools, the water system, public transport and the public services, and to cut thousands of regional and local employees’ jobs… To do so, they want to impose – and I do mean impose – mobility on the regional and local employees, and therefore to smash the system of recognised job grades.
So, together with my friend Jean Bartholin, a Loire département councillor, we launched an appeal for a national demonstration in Paris, where the decisions are taken: a call on the government to withdraw the NOTRe Law and reinstate funding for the communes.
1,500 mayors and local and département-level councillors supported our first appeal. On 24 June, we demonstrated with 800 colleagues and with the Association of Rural Mayors of France (AMRF) at the National Assembly.
We said at the end of that demonstration that this was a first stage. “If the mayors, the municipal councillors and the people of this country, the regional and local public service workers together with their organisations, were called upon to demonstrate in Paris, where the decisions are taken, in order to demand the repeal of the NOTRe Law and the MAPTAM Law, hundreds of thousands would answer such a call.”
To achieve this, we need to overcome the obstacles raised by those leaders of the elected representatives’ associations who declare themselves in favour of servicing the debt, bowing to the diktat of the European Union, like the Socialist Party Vice-President of the Association of French Mayors, Laignel, who wrote: “Nobody said that the regional and local authorities should not participate in the collective effort to reduce the debt”, or, like the President of the so-called “Republican” movement, Baroin, who is saying exactly the same thing, or other leading figures in the elected representatives’ associations who take issue with the State’s budget restrictions but still pass them onto the population!
But the movement of elected representatives for the repeal of the NOTRe Law and for stopping the “responsibility pact” imposed on the communes is seeking to overcome all these barriers.
This is why the National Bureau of the Independent Workers’ Party, meeting this morning, has decided to support the call for a third national conference of regional and local elected representatives, to say:
“Repeal the laws establishing the metropolises, repeal the NOTRe Law!
Long live the “one and indivisible” secular Republic!
The debt manufactured by the capitalist speculators is neither the communes’ debt nor the citizens’ debt!
Repeal the “responsibility pact”!
No to the diktats of the European Union!
Break with the European Union, its central bank and its euro!
Long live the free union of the free peoples of Europe!”
We must prepare ourselves for a national mass demonstration by elected representatives, together with all the municipal councils, together with all the citizens, in front of the National Assembly, to say: that is enough now, we’ve had enough, we will no longer pay your price, and if necessary we will go on a taxpayers’ strike.
Thank you for your attention.
(The MAPTAM Law (acronym from the French “modernisation de l’action publique territoriale et d’affirmation des métropoles” redefines the competencies of regional and local authorities in favour of the métropoles (inter-commune fiscal entities created by the 2010 territorial reform).)
Betty Raineri, teacher and trade union delegate (Italy)
My name is Betty Raineri, I am a teacher in a primary school in Turin and I am a union delegate. I am also coordinator for a very well-known defence committee of State schools in Italy, the Manifesto of the 500.
To talk about what is happening in Italy today, I shall begin with schools, the sector where I work. In July, Parliament passed a reform proposed by Prime Minister Renzi which the government called the “Good School” reform, when in fact there is really nothing good about it. It is another step further along the road to destroying State schools, through the implementation of the school autonomy principle that first emerged in the late 1990s. This reform introduces performance-based pay, with different salaries for teachers, the hiring of teachers directly by school directors, the introduction of private financing of schools and educational interference as well as the end of the national contract.
The so-called centre-left Renzi government has managed to get the leaders of the right wing parties to say: “It is a good right-wing reform”. This government has succeeded in doing what all the previous governments of the right and left had tried to do, thus obeying the European Union’s diktats.
However, was it easy for Renzi to get this reform through? Not at all! The teachers’ strike on 5 May was one of the biggest mobilisations in the history of State schools: hundreds of thousands of teachers and students out on the streets, almost all schools closed, and with the greatest trade union unity achieved since 2008, at the time of the Berlusconi government. Things were made difficult for Renzi, but Parliament passed the bill in mid-July. What made all this possible? Why was the workers’ mobilisation unable to stop the government?
Before answering this question I want to tell you about what is happening in other sectors.
Renzi, who was placed in government by Confindustria (the Italian bosses), big finance and especially the European Union, with the aim of eliminating all of the workers’ gains which the preceding governments had not succeeded in eliminating, managed to get a reform of the labour market through with the “Jobs Act”. The Jobs Act entails the abolition of recognised job-grades, a legal right which represents the biggest gain by the Italian workers in the 1970s. The Jobs Act allows bosses to lay off workers without any problem or justification; it is a law that worsens working conditions in the workplace, changing working hours, work days, Saturday and Sunday included, with breaks being eliminated and workers monitored via cameras. The Act introduces several new categories of contract designed to fragment the national contract. What is more, it offers employers millions of euros in new exemptions.
Renzi has claimed that the Jobs Act will make it possible to hire more workers, especially among the youth, because employers will have less difficulty. Yes, they will certainly have less difficulty in laying them off at any moment!
So, here again, the workers mobilised en masse against the Jobs Act, also against the Budget that delivered further blows to public services and the healthcare sector: a decree has just been published that aims at severely limiting the possibility for doctors to prescribe medication or necessary tests for patients, saying that most tests are “unnecessary”. This seriously undermines the rights of workers and will encourage privatisation of the healthcare sector.
A year ago, the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) organised a huge demonstration against the Jobs Act and the Budget in Rome, with a million workers, youth and unemployed out on the streets. Then grassroots pressure grew and forced the CGIL and UIL leaderships to call for a general strike on 12 December, with two million workers in the streets in 50 towns and cities all over Italy.
And today, in the education sector, even though the reform has got through Parliament, mass meetings are being organised (also during the summer). Teachers are asking the trade unions to organise demonstrations and a new strike to stop implementation of the law.
So what allowed and continues to allow Renzi to move forward?
In Italy, there is no independent workers’ party to which the workers can turn. The latest forms of workers’ organisation are the confederated trade unions (CGIL, CISL and UIL). Over the last years and months, the working class has – more or less spontaneously – continued to address the unions, and its resistance has on several occasions forced the trade union leaderships to organise strikes.
Well then, where is the problem?
The problem is that, on the one hand, those same union leaders, under pressure from the workers, say in the streets: “This is only the beginning, the struggle will continue until the government changes direction.” But on the other hand, they sign pacts with the government and Confindustria, and say that the reforms can be improved, that we must not fight for their withdrawal. In this way, the union leaders agree to accompany the destructive policies.
The union leaderships have not gone all the way for the same reasons that they refuse to question the European Union straitjacket. But as far as the workers are concerned, it is necessary to go the whole way. In Italy as elsewhere, there is an obvious contradiction between workers’ readiness to fight – this has been seen several times over, with the millions out on strike and demonstrating – and the fact, that at this stage, achieving unity has not made it possible to put an end to the policies of the Renzi government.
This is the issue we are faced with today. That is why, to help the workers overcome the obstacles to their fightback, to help them resist and fight for the independence of the trade union organisations and also build a conscious force, we have set up in Italy, from the 1990s onwards, a committee for breaking with the European Union.
Luc Lestrade, trade unionist (France)
Hello comrades. My name is Luc Lestrade. I am a trade unionist in the civil service in the Landes département.
In my workplace, like everywhere else, the workers are coming up against the government’s policy: two of the biggest factories in the département have already closed down, a third one is at risk, the Les Chênes Polyclinic in Aire-sur-l’Adour, is threatened with closure, which means the only medical centre within a 50-km radius could disappear; post-offices, tax offices and six EDF (electric utility company) customer centres have all disappeared one after the other. Closures by the dozen. In short, this is the local aspect of a situation that is the same everywhere and which you all know.
When the 9 April day of action took place, we mobilised because the slogans were crystal clear: repeal the “responsibility pact” and the Macron Law3. Of course, we knew perfectly well that one day of action would not be enough to resolve every question. But we did take part. The workers and activists demonstrated their capacity for mass mobilisation.
And then we saw what followed. And today we are being asked to take action on 8 October.
We’ve had a debate in my département-level CGT committee.
Many comrades do not understand why the demands which at the time were clearly directed at the government – the Macron law, the “responsibility pact” – have now vanished.
And I must add that in the last few days, a new difficulty has appeared during the discussion. Among those calling for action on 8 October is the FSU trade union federation, which has announced it would sign the Memorandum of Understanding proposed by the government concerning the civil service, the famous “Agreement on the future of the civil service: modernisation of career paths, careers and remuneration”, or PPCR.
This issue concerning the Civil Service is extremely important. More than 5 million workers are affected.
As was explained in Tribune Ouvriere, its main objective is to impose mobility, from one job to another, from one sector of the civil service to another, especially in the context of the local government reform Gérard talked about just now. Actually, in my own sector they have begun to implement what they call “inter-ministeriality”, i.e. jobs classified under the rubric of various ministries rather than a specific branch of the civil service, in order to impose the mobility of public employees from one job to another.
We should make people everywhere aware of this, because this is linked to the 250,000 job-cuts being planned in the State civil service, local government and hospitals as a result of the territorial reform.
This is programme of job-cuts on a horrific scale that is going to impact the whole of the country’s social life.
In these conditions, how is it possible to accompany the government in its work?
This is where all the issues intersect: how can we argue for “all out together” if we take part in the government’s “social dialogue”? This has nothing to do with negotiation.
I’m a trade union activist and like every trade union activist, I know what negotiation is all about; but it has nothing to do with this “social dialogue” through which the government is seeking to tie our hands.
Let’s take the question of the Social Conference to be held on 19 October. We know that the government calling for this so-called “social dialogue” conference is also the government that has been launching all-out attacks against the workers. Everybody knows very well that no good will come out of this, as there have been such conferences before and each time the result was more blows to the workers’ heads.
Now we are being told we should attend, because no mention is to be made of the Combrexelle Report or the Labour Code. It’s a trick. Let me take just one example: on the agenda of this conference is the “individual record of activity”. I don’t have time to go into details, but this “individual record of activity” amounts to counterposing so-called individual rights to collective rights. Therefore it leads to the destruction of the Labour Code.
This government has a plan. It has commissioned the famous Combrexelle Report. And now, in order to make it a reality, it wants in-depth social consultation, in other words it needs to co-opt the trade unions in the implementation of the plan and its passage into law.
(The Macron Law is a mixed bag of privatisation and deregulation measures.
The draft PPCR agreement aims to unify the three divisions of the Civil Service (state administration, public hospitals and local government) in order to reduce the number of civil servants within the framework imposed by the European Union on the cutting of public deficits. Under the agreement, public employees would be forced to move between different jobs, sectors and geographical areas, and would be subject to changes in the rules for recruitment and new pay-structures relating to transfers.
The Combrexelle Report proposes a long list of measures that in practice dismantle the present Labour Code.)
The whole labour movement, I am sure, can give only one answer: Hands off! Don’t lay a finger on the Labour Code!
In this respect, I must say I did not understand the answer Philippe Martinez, General Secretary of the CGT trade union confederation, gave to a Le Monde journalist. A certain Noblecourt, “responsible for social affairs”, asked him if he was in favour of withdrawing the Combrexelle Report, to which Martinez replied: “No, because there are things we agree on, notably the company-level majority agreement.”
Comrades, this is baffling! In any basic trade union training session you learn that you should defend the “favourability principle” and the “hierarchy of norms”, in other words that company-level agreements should always give more guarantees than branch collective bargaining agreements and the Labour Code.
Here, it’s the opposite. It would be possible to derogate from the Labour Code and collective bargaining agreements via a company-level agreement. In other words, in such a case the collective bargaining agreements and the Labour Code would not be worth the paper they’re written on.
Comrades, in all circumstances, workers should be able to have access to the information that makes it possible for them to form an opinion, to decide and to act.
When we heard about the draft PPCR agreement in our own small département-level branch, we did what we usually do: our Executive Committee met after reading the texts, we heard a report and then we discussed. Everybody understood at once what it was all about: the government would like us to sell our recognised job-grades for a mess of pottage. So we drafted a resolution, which we sent to our national union, we reported back to our members and we are now preparing to distribute a union newspaper to alert all our colleagues.
To us, this didn’t seem very hard to do.
Is it really so difficult to tell it like it is, namely: this government, serving the interests of the bosses and the European Union, wants to demolish – like in Greece and everywhere else in Europe – the whole structure of collective guarantees produced by the class struggle, and at the same time destroy the independent trade unions that were formed in the process of winning that structure through struggle?
Such a situation therefore calls for the unity of workers in both the public and the private sectors, together with their organisations, in the general strike.
This goes against the straitjacket of the so-called “social dialogue” aimed at tying workers’ organisations to the State and the institutions of the European Union at every level – European (with the support, incidentally, of the so-called European Trade Union Confederation), inter-professional, professional, and now even territorial.
Preparing the entrance of the oppressed and exploited masses onto the political stage begins with a very simple thing. Let us act throughout the country to forge the solid bloc of workers and their organisations united on this simple, basic but fundamental demand: Hollande-Valls, hands off the Labour Code!
Panagiotis Papargyris, activist (Greece)
Dear comrades and friends,
On behalf of the Communist Revolutionary Action I salute your initiative and thank you for the invitation. The Greek crisis has been associated with the infamous word “memorandum”: this is a political program devised by the ruling circles of European capital in order to help the capitalist system overcome its crisis. It includes the reduction of the cost of labor, the slashing of social spending and a wave of privatizations. It is a counterrevolution against the subordinate classes driven by the Troika (IMF, European Central Bank, European Commission) and the Greek bourgeoisie.
I will just give some indicative examples so that you can get a sense of the level of the attack. Comparing 2010 with 2015:
- Unemployment has raised from 9% to 27%
- 34% less funds are spent for education, 36% less funds for health
- In the years 2010-2012 there were 35% more suicide incidents
A destruction of such magnitude usually appears in war times. And indeed, there has been war – class war.
This war began in 2010, when the first memorandum was imposed. Mass struggles of economic nature developed. Record number of general strikes and demonstrations. Although these struggles were fierce, they were not coordinated and lacked a concrete plan on the street and, more importantly, on the political level. The leaderships were neither willing nor able to lead them to victory. The lack of a revolutionary leadership was apparent.
We entered a period of low expectations and lack of prospect followed by the explosive rise of SYRIZA, a left reformist party, which raised the slogan of a left government that would end austerity. The elections of 2012 saw the victory of the old bourgeois parties and the escalation of the attack against the popular masses. This period ended with the electoral victory of SYRIZA in January 2015. According to SYRIZA, the way to end austerity was through a hard negotiation with the European “partners” that would result in a “mutually beneficial solution”. At the same time, the domestic bourgeoisie would be convinced that the Greek economy can only
recover from the crisis through growth, something that could not happen with the memoranda that plunged it deeper into recession.
For seven months the SYRIZA government tried to negotiate with its “partners”, who did not appear willing to consider the “win-win” deal that SYRIZA was proposing; instead, they pressured and blackmailed, trying to humiliate SYRIZA (and more importantly the prospect of an alternative to austerity), demanding a new memorandum. SYRIZA kept retreating and giving up more with every passing day.
The magnitude of the contradictions of SYRIZA combined with the depth of the political and social crisis caused a major political development: the referendum of July the 5th. The question: yes or no to the Juncker proposal (memorandum).
What SYRIZA wanted from the referendum was a better bargaining tool or a way to shake off the responsibility of signing the memorandum. But the referendum unleashed a dynamics that Tsipras had not dreamed of. Society was torn in two in a way we had not seen since the Civil War. Two class camps are formed:
On the one hand, our bourgeoisie and its courtyard. Their line was that a NO vote will mean an exit from the Euro, the EU and that Greece will become Syria – after the ten plagues of the pharaoh hit us.
A reactionary movement raised its ugly head under the slogan “we stay in Europe”. Pro-capitalist forces started gathering at the central square of Athens demanding that Tsipras sign whatever the lenders ask him to sign without further discussions. This movement followed to the letter the methodology of the CIA for colour revolutions, while at the same time profound politicians of the bourgeoisie threatened openly with a coup if Tsipras did not sign.
And what about the other class camp? Without any serious political guidance and plan, unprepared, faced with the internal and external bourgeois reaction. And with the KKE (Communist party of Greece) not willing to join the fight and calling for a spoilt ballot and the GSEE selling them out and calling for a yes… And with SYRIZA’s leadership trembling and thinking about cancelling the referendum until the last minute.
Despite all that, our class camp endured. Two days before the referendum, more than 150,000 gathered at the central square of Athens and shouted NO. They stood up to the threats of the bourgeoisie (domestic and foreign) and voted massively NO. Poor reformist Tsipras was at an impasse. He knew that a break would trigger a large scale confrontation with the EU and the Greek bourgeoisie, and he was not prepared for it. Within a week he had capitulated and signed everything the lenders asked, stating that by doing that he prevented a civil war. That was a defeat for our class camp. Tsipras passed the deal from the parliament in one night, with the support of the bourgeois parties and then he announced elections. The Left opposition within SYRIZA split.
Tsipras capitulation and the collapse of his mild, reformist program shows three things:
- – It underlines in the clearest manner the reactionary nature of the European Union. Tsipras declared that he was going to reform it. That illusion collapsed. Like common gangsters, the Brussels bureaucrats together with the IMF extorted and threatened the Greek government with an embargo. By doing that they sent a crystal-clear message to all the peoples of Europe: “There is no alternative to eternal austerity. Anyone who questions this simple fact will be crushed without mercy. Workers of France, Spain, Italy and every other European country, get this well inside your head.”
- There can be no national unity with the bourgeois class in any country of Europe. The “patriotic struggle of all Greeks united against the foreign occupation and Germany” is a reactionary myth. Despite their disagreements in various issues, the domestic and external bourgeoisie are always united when it comes to attacking their workers.
- The bourgeois class does not allow even mild pro-worker measures to be taken. The workers and the oppressed must be turned into slaves so that the capitalists can keep their profits.
Anyone who wants to fight austerity must remember this. No struggle against austerity can be effective if it does not recognize its enemies:
- the European Union
- the domestic bourgeois class and its state
And we need to fight against them both within our country as well as outside of it. No struggle against austerity in Greece has any meaning if we stand indifferent to the thousands of women and children drowning in the Aegean Sea due to Fortress Europe and the imperialist policies of the NATO and EU in North Africa and the Middle East, which “our” bourgeois class supports. No fight against the reactionary new labour code that Hollande wants to impose can be effective without the fight against the French intervention in Syria. A people oppressing other peoples cannot be free.
After the elections of last week in Greece, in which SYRIZA won and the anti-austerity parties got a small percent of the vote, the European bourgeoisie can be happy. They can cynically point to SYRIZA and declare to the workers that “there is no alternative to austerity”. Well, 250 years ago Marat had proposed an alternative that retains its full value today: “we must substitute the despotism of the masters with the despotism of freedom”. Today this means the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the crushing of its state. We will fight for this in a common struggle with our brothers and sisters in Europe – and together with the peoples that “our” EU imperialism is oppressing. For the destruction of the imperialist EU, the Bastille of our time. The Socialist United States of Europe can only be built on the ruins of the EU.
The struggle to achieve these aims is the minimum tribute we can pay to those who were killed by “our” “civilized” European bombs, to those who drowned in the borders of “our” Fortress-Europe and to all the victims of imperialist savagery all around the world.
Sarah Chastel, Teacher and Trade Unionist (France)
Hello, I am an English teacher in a secondary school in the Val-de-Marne département, and I would like to address all the participants in this rally, be they teachers, parents, secondary school or university students, wage-earners or others.
All of us here have noted – with anger, indignation and dread – that this government, like the previous one, is engaged in an undertaking to break up the republican school system, which is resulting in a veritable devastation of public education and of the right that every child of this country has to benefit from quality teaching delivered by trained and qualified teachers.
Indeed, behind very civilised phrases such as “renewing the schools system”, “reform of the teaching week”, “secondary school reform” and “inclusive schooling” hides a brutal reality, that of a government which – in response to the commands of the European Union and the OECD – is applying itself to the methodical destruction of everything that our republican school system is based on; a school system that has become an unbearable financial burden for those who govern us.
In her speeches, French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem talks continuously about a “caring schools system”. I see a clear link between this and the “Good School” in Italy that our Italian comrade mentioned earlier. And the teachers can no longer stomach these words!
Because what is the “caring school”, as far as our Minister is concerned?
It means an end to students being able to repeat a year, which is now judged to be too traumatizing for the student. It means an end to numerical marking, which is now judged to be discriminatory. It means disabled students being enrolled in ordinary classes. It means the reform of the teaching week, which demolishes teaching schedules – which become different from one local authority to the next, and even from one school to the next in the same local area.
“The caring school” is in reality a generic term for passing through Parliament the counter-reforms that are indispensable for reducing the public deficit and finding the 50 billion euros required by the “responsibility pact”.
You have heard how the famous secondary school reform presented by our ineffable Minister is to be “the answer to students’ boredom” in our classrooms! But how many parents know what is really at stake?
To put it briefly, it is about eliminating the teaching of basic subjects and replacing them with “practical” and “interdisciplinary” teaching, enabling the axing of five hours of teaching per week for the students, and putting into question the recognised job-grades of the teaching personnel, who are to become, and I quote, “guides, tutors, mediators and trainers”, according to the terms used by the European Union in its October 2000 memorandum on education.
I leave you to imagine what this means; at least five hours less teaching per week, in subjects such as French, mathematics, history, foreign languages, etc. It is the organised dumbing-down of the students!
Furthermore, each school will have its own way of functioning and its own programme, which means that your children will not have the same teaching in the various secondary schools within the same local authority.
This is the French territorial reform applied to the public schools through the introduction of the new school zone system, which aims at autonomy for educational establishments and their being placed in competition with each other.
Autonomy for educational establishments means opening the door to private companies and to the many and varied lobbies that could contribute to their financing.
Since the start of this academic year, we have seen the arrival of “IMPs”, or “remuneration for special missions”. These are remuneration payments given by the local education authority to each school, whose principal must then distribute to the teachers. In my case, for example, I will have a meeting next Monday where all the teachers will be present, and we will have to determine who should receive this remuneration. Imagine your boss calling a meeting with all the employees and saying: “I’ve got bonuses, who should have them?” Above and beyond pitting schools against each other in competition, this also puts teachers in competition with each other within the same education establishment.
Stemming directly from the Peillon Law, which was enacted on 8 July 2013, the secondary school reform is aimed at shattering the teaching of basic subjects as determined in national programmes that leads to national qualifications, which are the basis of collective bargaining agreements and nationally recognised job-grades.
All of this must disappear in the name of lowering the cost of labour, of free and unfettered competition and the flexibility demanded by the European Union.
Those of you in this hall who are parents need to know: the vast majority of teachers reject these counter-reforms. The vast majority of teachers chose this profession because they hold the education of the young generation dear. They are mobilising; they are fighting to defend the right to an education – which is moreover tantamount to defending their recognised job-grades as teachers and their own collective rights.
Of course, this fight has come up against a whole series of obstacles, like all struggles by wage-earners. We were recently on strike, on 17 September. But that strike, which was a follow-up to other strikes which took place before the summer, has led the teachers to wonder: will one isolated day of action after another be enough to make the government back down? Many doubt that.
The question that is obviously raised is that of a united movement, a general strike by the whole of the teaching body, in order to make Mme Najat Vallaud-Belkacem back down and to force her to withdraw all these counter-reforms.
Moreover, this issue goes beyond the teaching sector; this is an issue for the whole working class.
So yes, it is a difficult situation. Yes, the destruction of public education truly puts civilisation at stake. It is a situation in which they want to condemn the youth to barbarism, and there is a link between this and the fact that the government is encouraging the bosses to wantonly super-exploit the youth, saying there is no need for qualifications.
It is obvious that in order to wantonly super-exploit the youth, there is no need for either education or qualifications.
But this fight is far from being lost. This fight that we have waged and are waging in defence of the right to an education, in defence of the young generation, we will continue to wage it, despite the obstacle of the “days of action” that are aimed at wearing us out and discouraging us. We will continue to fight because we have no other choice, because the youth have a future, because public education has a future and human civilisation has a future.
By achieving unity, teachers, together with all the workers, with the youth and the parents, will make this government back down.
But it can never be repeated enough that it is also by building a party that is totally independent of the European Union that the workers will be able to organise the resistance that is indispensable for facing up to this barbarism. That is the fight of the POI!
Comrade Jean Markun, national secretary of the POI is not among us today, but he has sent us a message that I am going to read:
“To all the comrades present at the internationalist rally organised by the POI Committees of the Paris area, with the participation of labour activists from different European countries, I give my fraternal greetings and encouragement in building a force strong enough to say “No” to the European Union’s diktats!
My one regret at this moment is that for health reasons I cannot be present at the rally.
I want this French initiative we are taking part in to have the strength to be effective. The presence of labour activists from different European countries is necessary, and at the same time is an encouragement, strengthening the initiative, at a moment when the working class really needs it.
Saying “No” to the diktats of the European Union means that there is urgency about organising gatherings and confrontations in order to open up perspectives for real change, for the peoples and the working class both at home and internationally.
With this perspective in mind, we need action both home and abroad that is solid and based on a strong political movement.
Capitalism makes the peoples and working classes of different countries take the brunt and pay for its difficulties. In order to confront this, we need the workers to rally together with the perspective of real changes. With this perspective in mind, I wish you all courage and the strength to contribute to the balance of power we need.
We need this rallying together above all others! Just as we need “a tool”, a party that genuinely serves the workers, a combative and resolute party to fight for the changes which the working class needs.
Rallied together, we have the courage and the guarantee of winning! (…) Long live the struggle of the French and international working classes and the class fightback that we want to develop with the workers of the various European countries!”
Fawzi Ibrahim, trade unionist , Trade Unionists Against the EU – TUAEU (Great Britain)
Madame Chair, comrades and friends,
Thank you for inviting me to speak at your rally and congratulations for such a magnificent turnout. It is nice to be here in Paris among so many comrades.
I bring you comradely greetings from Trade Unionists Against the EU which is now having a revival in the UK. Our meeting at the TUC earlier in the month attracted capacity crowd.
We live in momentous times and the future has never looked so encouraging.
Today the EU is fractured with rancorous in-fighting among member states. The cruelty that was meted on Greece, the heartless conditions imposed on the people, the determination to make an example of Greece stems not from strength, but from weakness. The EU and the single currency is in systemic crisis.
Meanwhile the opposition to the EU and its love-child, austerity is growing and becoming more vocal. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in Britain is just one such example.
But a more significant event is yet to come. We, in the UK have secured an in-out referendum on the EU.
Prime Minister Cameron, who is currently having a problem with pigs, may wish to make the referendum about the ‘repatriation of some powers from Brussels’. But we want the repatriation of all powers; we want out.
And a NO vote, when it comes, as it surely will, will strike a fatal blow to the corporate structure that is the EU.
Make no mistake; the referendum will not be about reforming this treaty or changing this law or that act, but about the central issue of national sovereignty. National sovereignty is as important to a nation as the right to strike to a trade union.
If the events in Greece prove anything, they prove that the EU is synonymous with austerity and the struggle against austerity is inexorably linked with the fight against the EU.
We are told that there is no alternative; no alternative to neo-liberalism, no alternative to the free market, no alternative to austerity.
It is true. For nations within the EU, there is no alternative. The free market, the free movement of capital and labour is in the very DNA of the EU and from that stems austerity, privatisation, anti-trade union laws, poverty and rampart inequality.
That the heroic defiance of Greece ended in national humiliation shows that defying austerity and the EU is not enough; they must be defeated. For neo-liberal policies are not politically motivated; they are an economic necessity for capitalism’s very survival. The very survival of capitalism depends on the transfer of an ever increasing portion of the value created by workers to the capitalist.
I’ll finish with this: The call must go out from this rally today to all trade unions, left-leaning political parties and anti-capitalist campaigners that you cannot fight austerity while remaining in the EU.
‘Out of the EU’ is the first and the only practical step if we are to roll back the crippling policies of neo-liberalism in Europe.
Armed with this, we can certainly defeat the EU and its free market philosophy.
Dominique Maillot, trade unionist (France)
While preparing this contribution, I Googled “labour code” for each country of the European Union.
And I realised that although labour legislation exists in every country, it is only France that has a genuinely coherent set of several thousand Articles, laws and regulations guaranteeing the rights of 16 million employees, compiled in a single book called the Labour Code.
It is not a simple compilation of social legislation, as in many countries.
It is a legal structure linked to the history of the Republic and the class struggle.
It is a transposition into labour rights of the equal rights of citizens declared by the Republic.
It is first of all the right to an employment contract, a right shared by all the workers of this country, whatever the size of the enterprise, its location or his/her professional branch.
It is recognition of the fact that the employer and the worker are not equal in the workplace, that they have contradictory interests and that the law must be imposed on all employers in order to guarantee a minimum level of rights shared by all employees.
The Labour Code “is not a code like the others, because it is loaded with passion”, says Mr Combrexelle, the former Director General of Labour.
Yes, the Labour Code stands for 130 years of class struggle, but struggle within the framework of the “one and indivisible” Republic.
Yes, any worker knows instinctively that his/her rights are part of that framework.
One need only see the number of employees queuing every day at the door of the labour inspectorate’s information service to submit their problem and find out about their rights.
— Since 1982, hundreds of derogation opportunities have been opened up, notably through flexible working time.
— The Labour Code was comprehensively stripped out, line by line, between 2004 and 2008, which drastically changed the very structure of the Labour Code with the explicit aim of making it “Euro-compatible”.
— The possibility of being able to derogate from branch agreements via enterprise-based agreements was opened up by the 2004 law, and then above all by the 2008 law on representativeness.
But despite all this, the Labour Code still remains “Euro-incompatible” today.
It is an obstacle to the policy of lowering the cost of labour as demanded by the MEDEF employers’ organisation and the European Union.
So then, the Combrexelle Report is not “just another report”, as some are saying: 123 pages, 44 recommendations, a tightened schedule taking into account everything that has been done over the last 33 years to destroy the Labour Code.
What does Combrexelle say? “Despite all the derogation opportunities opened up over several years, the 39,000 agreements signed in 2013 still remain in the margins. The employers do not dare go ahead.”
He gives an example: “Today it is possible to decide to pay overtime at a rate of time plus 10 percent instead of the legal rate of 25 percent. And they are not doing so! Why?”
Combrexelle tells us: because the trade union delegate, who is convinced that negotiation must improve the situation, relies on the Labour Code.
Combrexelle asserts: trade unionists must “switch software programs” and take into account “the common good of the company”, they must agree to necessary concessions instead of continuing to make demands, in a situation where supposedly there is no longer “something to chew over” but jobs to save.
But even if the trade unions, with a gun to their heads, sign up to agreements to scale down, the employee can reject this and go to court, in the name of respect for his/her “sacrosanct employment contract”.
And Combrexelle deplores the fact that the judges, trained in the school of equal rights before the law, consider that if the law says that overtime must be paid at time plus 25 percent, there is no reason why a single worker should be paid less – enterprise-based agreement or not.
This is about the primacy of law over the contract. It is about the Labour Code. It is the famous “favourability principle”.
Hence the totally innovative idea presented in the Combrexelle Report: he precludes any full-frontal attack on the Labour Code that would immediately make hundreds of thousands of workers take to the streets.
Combrexelle is still traumatised by the unprecedented mobilisation by the youth in 2006 against the CPE [First Employment Contract], of which he was already the spiritual father.
Then, he tells us: “Since derogation is not working, we simply reverse the problem. We simply say that the enterprise-based agreement becomes the norm, with the Labour Code becoming “supplementary” to the agreements obtained through management blackmail.” They simply had to think of it.
They simply need to add seven words before each provision, volume or title of the Labour Code. This could be done very quickly: “In the absence of an enterprise-based agreement…”.
The Labour Code is thus “deleted”. Not dismembered, blown apart, pulverised, wiped out or I don’t know what. No: erased, deleted, cancelled…
And this applies to key areas: wages, working time, working conditions.
I will take one example that gives the scope of this project.
Combrexelle says: “It is unthinkable to touch the legal working time of 35 hours, as this is a symbol.”
But he quickly adds: “One could define the threshold for overtime via enterprise-based agreements.”
For anyone who knows a little about the Labour Code, this is precisely the very definition of the legal duration of working time: the threshold beyond which the hours worked are paid at a higher rate.
39,000 enterprise-based agreements? 39,000 different ways of calculating and paying overtime? 39,000 different wages for the same amount of work? And this is just one example.
So this is a matter of urgency.
Valls and the government, who sponsored the Report and mapped out its objectives, have announced a draft bill for January 2016.
Combrexelle explicitly advocates recourse to Article 38 of the Constitution, i.e. to ordinances, to Article 49.3, to a coup d’état against the Labour Code! (An ordonnance is a statute passed by the Council of Ministers in an area of law normally reserved for statute law passed by the French Parliament.)
And he dots the i’s: with this first phase completed in 2016, it will be possible to rewrite the whole of the Labour Code by 2020, encompassing this “evolution of the norm”.
In other words:
— On the one hand, a Labour Code reduced to a simple code of “managerial good conduct” and a few big principles, like the length of the daily rest period or the maximum weekly working time, gender equality, harassment, etc.
— On the other hand, thousands of agreements with an obligatory specified term of four years, so that wages and working conditions can in this way be permanently adapted to the bosses’ narrowest and most short-term needs.
This is a matter of urgency. The Combrexelle Report is already part of the government’s timetable in early 2016.
This is a coup d’état against labour rights and against democracy.
This is a project for a corporatist society, one that aims to destroy the trade union organisations, federations and confederations, such as were constituted in relation to the historic linkage between the Labour Code and the collective bargaining agreements.
It is our responsibility to decide to alert the population, the workers and the youth so that the labour movement can unite:
— Hands off the Labour Code!
— Neither debatable nor amendable: withdraw the Hollande-Valls-Combrexelle bill!
Here, Comrades, I will read you the draft statement by the speakers at this rally, which I am sure everyone will approve, and everyone will understand the commitments we are taking.
An independent international labour delegation to Greece
“We, labour activists from Germany, Great Britain, Italy and France, having participated in the rally organised by the Independent Workers’ Party “For breaking with the European Union, against the policy of the Hollande-Valls government” on Saturday, 26 September in Paris,
Noting the testimony we have heard from a young Greek activists regarding the devastation caused by the Memorandums dictated by the Troika, which are continuing despite the massive “NO” expressed by the workers and people of Greece on 5 July;
Noting that the institutions of the European Union and the governments of our respective countries (Hollande-Valls, Cameron, Renzi, and Merkel’s “Grande coalition” government) are congratulating themselves on the agreement reached on 14 August and the Greek government’s decision to implement a third Memorandum;
We hereby decide:
— This very day, to establish ourselves as an independent international labour delegation, and to visit Greece at the earliest opportunity;
— During that visit to meet up with activists, workers and youth who are fighting back against the Memorandums, in the factories, the hospitals, the schools, the trade unions, in the towns and villages, and to gather the facts regarding the real meaning of the implementation of the first, second and third Memorandums dictated by the Troika;
— To express during that visit the militant solidarity of the workers, activists and youth of our respective countries, whom we call upon today to support the delegation;
— To report widely within the labour movement of our respective countries on what we will have seen and heard, in order to contribute to the joint struggle of the workers of the whole of Europe against the anti-labour plans, Memorandums and measures being implemented by our governments as a result of the diktats of the European Union, the ECB and the IMF.
Our independent international labour delegation is open to all workers, activists and youth from other countries who wish to join it.”
Heinz Werner Schuster, trade unionist and Chair of the Düsseldorf SPD Labour Commission (Germany)
Dear friends and comrades,
Next Thursday, the Scientific Institute of the German DGB trade union federation is to publish a study on the effects of the third Memorandum on the people of Greece. As a result of the first two Memorandums, the Greek system of collective bargaining agreements was shattered, their mandatory character was abolished, 90 percent of collective bargaining agreements were weakened, wages were cut by more than 20 percent; and strange bodies called “workers’ representations” were authorised to sign bogus collective agreements.
The third Memorandum includes the obligation to take even more drastic measures to reform the Greek system of collective bargaining. So-called independent experts are to be involved, as well as international organisations such as the ILO, to aim at what they call the “best practices” in Europe.
Two remarks need to be made:
It is up to the Greek workers and their organisations, and no one else, to decide freely which sort of collective bargaining they want. It is up to the Greek people to decide in a sovereign manner whether they wish to return to the former collective bargaining agreements rejected by the Troika.
We are familiar with Cameron’s anti-strike laws. In Germany, we fought against Merkel’s anti-strike law, which was falsely called the “Act on Collective Agreement Unity”. We know what the “best practices” of wage-setting mechanisms amount to in the European Union.
Central to the European Commission’s recommendations on what they call the “European semester”, which were approved by the European Council and which in fact are ultimatums for imposing fiscal consolidation, are very detailed demands which those they call “social partners” must implement.
In Belgium, in Croatia, in France, in every country, the Commission is demanding the reform of wage-setting mechanisms, the “flexibilisation of wage-setting arrangements”. Thus, Bulgaria, which has the lowest minimum wage in the whole of the European Union, must not increase it. In France, the minimum wage is too high and wage-setting should be devolved to the enterprise level, etc. And in Greece, wage bargaining should be conducted according to the “best practices” in the European Union.
Everyone in this hall knows that Greece is a testing-ground for measures that are intended to affect us all. This is the reason why it is our duty to fight with all our might against this deadly attack against the Greek trade unions.
In this fight we are going to clash with sectors of the leaderships of our organisations, with those who are siding with the Troika and the ETUC, an institution of the European Union, against the people of Greece. It is that same ETUC which, in an open letter to the heads of states and governments of the European Union, and to the institutions of the European Union and the IMF, completely dismissed the Greek people’s No vote by stating that the people did not vote against the European Union and the euro. And Hoffman, the President of the German trade union confederation, the DGB, acting on his own behalf, without a mandate from his organisation, in his capacity as a “European trade union leader” together with other European presidents and general secretaries, called for “a sensible compromise” and the resumption of negotiations with the aim of reaching “a socially fair and economically sustainable agreement with the Greek government”, in other words of continuing with the brutal plundering of the country.
In Germany we immediately made it known that Hoffman was not speaking in our name, not in the name of the workers are fighting in Germany for their jobs, for their wages, for their collective bargaining agreements. And the same Hoffman accompanied Merkel in the implementation of the TEG anti-strike law.
Greece is meant to become a protectorate subject to diktats and to a company in charge of liquidating state assets, and the Greek trade unions are supposed to give up their independence and emulate the models of “European best practices”! Never!
Against these attacks and diktats across the whole of Europe, we need to forge in each country and across borders the unity of workers and their organisations, the united mobilisation to defend, and if need be, to win back all those gains incorporated in collective bargaining agreements, labour laws, public services, hospitals, schools, universities…
This unity in the joint struggle is the condition that makes it possible to overcome all attempts aimed at dividing workers and peoples. Wars and their trail of misery, exodus, columns of refugees, are plunging Europe into a deep crisis and clearly show that under the system of private ownership of the means of production there can be neither peace nor a union of peoples.
Peace and the struggle to put an end to misery and massive exodus require the independence of the labour movement and a break with the submission of the leaderships of workers’ organisations to the diktats of the European Union, its institutions, and the governments that implement those diktats.
The independence of the labour movement is the prerequisite for putting an end to the worsening current catastrophe. By this means it will be possible to achieve the unity of workers and their organisations, youth and oppressed peoples, paving the way for the free union of the free peoples and nations of Europe.
Simon, Student (France)
Hello everyone, comrades,
I am a university student in Lyon and I am proud to be representing the young people here today on this rostrum – because youth has its place alongside the working class, in order to fight exploitation and the destruction of our future by the plans of Hollande and the European Union.
In the universities, the start of this academic year has been marked by the fact that the number of baccalaureate holders entering university is a record high. (The baccalaureat (known popularly as the “bac”), is a standardised academic qualification obtained via exams in the final year of secondary school education. It thus acts as both a leaving certificate and as a qualification for being admitted to a university or college. In France, there are three main types of baccalaureate: general, professional and technological) And, like every year, many of them have had a hellish struggle to get enrolled in the school and the course of their choice. And even when that choice is respected, the conditions for studying are deplorable, the lecture halls are full to bursting point and not everyone gets a seat.
Not to mention, obviously, the need to find a crap job to pay your way as a student. It’s a real uphill battle.
This is the consequence of the reforms by successive governments which decided to eliminate diplomas and qualifications: Hollande’s Fioraso Law following on from Sarkozy’s LRU Law.
These laws organise autonomy for the universities and thus lead to their bankruptcy. On the pretext of mounting debt, faculties are then ordered to be selective, to increase tuition fees and, with phoney degrees, to ally themselves with companies, to merge courses, to merge amongst themselves and even to merge with religious and private schools!
This is the framework of the “community of establishments” which Tribune Ouvriere has spoken of. These “Commus” – as they are called – are aimed at managing the reduction of budget resources which the “responsibility pact” imposes and eliminating qualifications.
On this subject, you have perhaps heard of the Internet site that has just been launched by UNEF, which is the main “trade union” for French students. This blog is called “MaSalleDeCoursVaCraquer” [My classroom is going to burst]. On it you can see photos and videos showing that the classes are indeed over-crowded to bursting. It is revolting. UNEF is demanding “more budget investment in the universities” from the government.
But here there is a problem: after refusing to take part in the strike on 9 April to fight against the “responsibility Pact” and the Macron Law, UNEF is now subordinating the fight against austerity in the universities to… a day of action on 8 October – the 8 October day of action that is turning its back on 9 April. And what about the Commus that are organising the shortages? The UNEF leadership is fighting to become a cog in that machine! Who can believe that this is the way to defend young people and to fight austerity?
The government, the MEDEF employers association and the European Union are using these leanings towards an accompanying movement to hit even harder: they need to empty the universities in order to deskill the youth and to exploit them even further. In a report by the StraNES (the National Strategy for Higher Education), you can read the government’s imminent roadmap. For example, it wants to call into question the right of all baccalaureate holders to access university education: those who have a technological “bac” will no longer have the same rights as holders of a “general bac”.
According to this same report, the “development of civic service may be generalised”. Let me remind you that civic service is not an employment contract. It requires no diploma or qualification and is not covered by the Labour Code, which itself is now under fire from the Combrexelle Report and the CFDT-MEDEF manifesto on apprenticeship. Civic service pays a little under 600 euros per month for 24 hours work per week!
But you know, after all this thing is great for the government, because it appears that, thanks to civic service, youth unemployment has fallen – hold tight…by 0.1 percent! The new Labour Minister is delighted, and I quote: “Youth unemployment is less than what it was at the beginning of 2013. This proves that the measures that we have implemented (“jobs for the future”, “youth guarantees”, “generation contracts” and the “relaunching of work-study”) are bearing fruit.” That says it all: come on kids, drop out of college and get yourselves exploited!
So we have a choice between uncompensated unemployment and working for almost free.
Ah, no, excuse me! There is another possible choice: war! A French army general recently declared: “The leading recruiter in France will be the army”! And indeed, just after that came Hollande’s announcement of going into Syria, and a new campaign for 11,000 recruits has been launched.
You heard me correctly: 11,000! Every year there is a new campaign along the same lines, with the advertising to go with it which we all know so well… They are even shown in the cinemas!
Even the Left Front coalition has been seduced by this advertising… Yes, yes it’s true: the other day I heard one of its Members of Parliament speaking about the war in Syria, deploring the fact that France is “going it alone in Syria”. For my own part, I am revolted to hear all these gentlemen revelling in the support for the imperialist interventions. That money needs to go to our universities!
The youth are burning with impatience to be rid of this policy.
Everyone remembers that in 2006, millions of young people went on strike, united with the workers and their trade unions, against the CPE, to have it withdrawn. Copies of the Labour Code were brandished during the demonstrations! The government was forced to back down.(The First Employment Contract, available solely to employees under 26, would have made it easier for the employer to fire employees by removing the need to provide reasons for dismissal for an initial “trial period” of two years, in exchange for some financial guarantees for employees.)
When the LRU [the law on the autonomy of universities] and the mastering of competitive exams came along, the mobilisation by the youth was every bit as big, but it was held back by the fact that some of the trade unions accompanied it.
Since the Hollande government came to power, everything has speeded up: the Fioraso Law, the Commus, the Combrexelle Report, “universal” civic service (according to the terms of the President of the French Republic) the increase in the number of military interventions and so on. Locally, we have obviously fought against the application of all this. Young people say to me when we are out selling our newspaper: “We are sick and tired of all this, we need to fight together.” And they have a problem: the organisations which say they represent them do nothing to help them fight! I gave you a few examples of this earlier.
To win, the youth need to get organised. They need to become confident of their own strength, which they will find through organising. I think that the POI, with all the activists that it brings together, can and must contribute to this. We can help the youth to build the independent political organisation that they need, in the same way that the working class needs an independent workers’ party. It must be an independent organisation that fights back against the government’s measures taken for breaking with the European Union, the Fifth Republic and the IMF… in connection with the POI.
For my part, I subscribe to the newspaper Tribune Ouvriere. It arms me with tools for this battle. It can be a lever and I intend to participate in producing this newspaper.
I would like to propose that this rally launches a call for a broad POI campaign against war and exploitation, a campaign that will be particularly aimed at the youth. Already, the leaflets being distributed on this theme have had a broad positive response among the youth.
I would like to invite all the young people in attendance here to introduce themselves at the table set up for them in the hall. Let’s keep in touch, and organise together the youth’s fightback against the policies of the government and the European Union, and for the revolutionary organisation of the youth.
The youth want a real qualification! A real job! A real wage!
The money should go to the primary schools, secondary schools and universities, not to war!
Long live the struggle of the youth alongside the workers!
Long live the POI, the POI true to its origins!
Against these attacks and diktats throughout all of Europe, we need to forge – in every country and across borders – the unity of all the workers and their organisations, a united mobilisation in order to defend, and where necessary win back, all the gains included in the collective bargaining agreements, the labour codes, the public services, hospitals, schools and universities…
This unity in the common struggle is the condition that will allow us to overcome all the attempts to divide the workers and the peoples. Wars, with their cortege of misery, poverty and the exodus of columns of refugees, have plunged Europe into a deep crisis and have clearly shown that under the system of private ownership of the means of production there can be neither peace nor a union of the peoples.
Peace and the fight to put an end to poverty and massive exodus necessitate the independence of the labour movement and a break with the submission of the leaderships of the labour organisations to the diktats of the European Union, its institutions and the governments which implement those diktats.
The independence of the labour movement is the necessary condition for ending the catastrophe that is worsening before our very eyes. It is through this independence that it will be possible to achieve the unity of workers and their organisations, of the youth and oppressed peoples, opening the way to the free union of free peoples and nations throughout Europe.
Daniel Gluckstein, National Secretary of the POI (France)
Did we need to hold this rally? (Response from the room: Yes!) Listening to the comrades who spoke before me – and I thank them for coming, despite the difficulties this might have posed – one is struck by the oneness of the problems we as activists must respond to. And finally, listening to all those contributions, one wonders: is it possible to not say “break with the European Union”? Is it possible to say anything else?
The comrade from Greece said: “The Memorandum is a counter-revolution”. He is absolutely right. But what is the “responsibility pact” in this country, the Macron Law, the Touraine Law, the reforms of [Education Minister] Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, what is the NOTRe Law, the MAPTAM Law, the Combrexelle Report, if not a long series of counter-revolutionary measures intended to destroy everything that the democratic and labour movement has won through struggle over the course of two centuries?
What are the series of measures by the governments in Spain, in Italy, in Germany and in each one of the countries of Europe, if not the counter-revolution on the move? So then, is it possible to say anything other than “break with the European Union”?
Of course, they will tell us that breaking with the European Union does not resolve everything. That is true. From the working class’s point of view, breaking with the European Union is the first link in a long chain, the first of a series of political measures which necessarily call for the political institutions not only of the European Union but of the Fifth Republic to be swept away. It poses the necessity to install a genuine government of the working class and of democracy, guided by a single demand: the satisfaction of the needs of the vast majority; a government capable of taking the elementary measures of cancelling the debt, stopping the privatisations, stopping the imperialist wars of intervention in Syria, in Iraq, in Mali, in the Central African Republic…; a government capable of banning lay-offs, of renationalising the privatised public services, of re-establishing the public service monopoly of the SNCF, EDF, the Post Office…
Of course, comrades, breaking with the European Union does not resolve everything. But submitting to the European Union does “solve” everything. As long as the submission to the European Union by the political parties and the leaders of the organisations claiming to stand for the working class and democracy lasts, that continuing submission will in one way or another involve their accompanying the Memorandums, the “responsibility pacts” and the counter-reforms, or in any case will involve their adapting themselves to all that.
And in one way or another, this leads to giving up the fight to repeal those reactionary measures. Breaking or not breaking, submission or non-submission to the straitjacket of the European Union: this is the major question facing the labour movement in each of our countries.
The Independent Workers’ Party claims the right as a party to express itself on subjects that concern the working class and, more generally, society. For example, at the time when the continent-wide counter-revolutionary unholy alliance was formed and, following the 5 July referendum in Greece, it presumed to dictate to the people of Greece that they must remain in the European Union, we recall that the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) took on the responsibility of seeking endorsements of a joint letter to all the leaders of all the trade union confederations in France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain and Spain – a letter which, in the name of the workers of our various countries, said to the Greek people: you must remain in the euro and in the European Union.
It is our duty as the Independent Workers’ Party, whilst respecting the independence of the trade union organisations, to say that this letter from the ETUC did not reflect the viewpoint of the workers of France and of Europe, the vast majority of whom are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our Greek brothers and sisters in struggle against the Memorandum and the European Union.
Of course, France is not Greece, for historical reasons with which we are familiar. The gains won through struggle by the working class in France were of a higher level than those won in Greece. But whoever might be under the illusion that French, German and Spanish workers will be spared the fate reserved for the Greek workers would risk being surprised by what is being prepared in the coming years.
We start from a higher point, and so we fall from a higher point, but in the same direction. And the same policies and the same party leaders on both the left and the right, submitting to the straitjacket of the European Union, are sacrificing our rights, our guarantees, our public services, our youth’s future, here as in Greece, for the sole purpose of servicing a debt which is not our debt and of bailing out the bankers and speculators, with the sole aim of feeding the Competitiveness and Employment Tax Credit (CICE) through which the capitalists are benefiting from tens of billions drawn from public funds.
Comrades, we respect the independence of the trade union organisations, which features in the POI’s Founding Manifesto. We do not recognise the right to tell the trade union organisations what to do. Just as we do not recognise anyone’s right to tell us, as a party, what we must do.
The Manifesto of the Independent Workers’ Party, adopted at its founding Congress in this hall in 2008, remains completely relevant today. And I recommend to comrades that they should reread it. It would be useful to reprint it in Tribune Ouvriere.
In the Manifesto, it says this: “Recognition of the class struggle means recognition of the right of the exploited and the oppressed to organise in complete independence, and in particular to have at their disposal trade union organisations that are independent from the State, from the European Union, from the bosses’ government, and therefore independence also assumes independence in relation to the political parties.”
The Manifesto goes on: “For its part, the workers’ party, whilst including in its programme the need for the trade union organisations to be strengthened and independent, in keeping with the Amiens Charter of 1906, affirms its own independence in relation to any other organisation whatsoever.”
It would be a serious error for anyone to only focus in the Manifesto on the independence of the trade unions in relation to the party, forgetting the necessary independence of the party in relation to the trade unions!
Yes, it falls to us as a party, acting in total independence and in keeping with our Founding Manifesto, to say that more than ever the working class needs independent organisations. As a party, it falls to us to say that political democracy relies on the existence of independent trade unions and of political parties. And that consequently, corporatism, which co-opts the organisations to the State, is contradictory to political democracy.
As a party, it falls to us to say that a social conference – associating trade unions, bosses and government in order to implement the government’s road-map – is contradictory to democracy and to the interests of the working class.
As a party, it falls to us to say that the straitjacket of the European Union institutions is contradictory to democracy, whether this involves the European Commission, the European “Parliament”, the European Central Bank or the European Trade Union Confederation, which is nothing more than a subsidiary branch of the European Union.
Many comrades have said before me, quite rightly: a lot of things are concentrated today in the offensive against the Labour Code. The POI will soon make a proposal on this subject.
The demand for a real job and a real wage – to which we could add: real housing, real qualifications, a real schools system, or even a real healthcare system, real hospitals – these are not revolutionary demands. They should not call for an upheaval of society. These are the most elementary of demands which any civilised people would be entitled to make. And yet, today, they are being systematically denied to the vast majority of the youth, to the less young, to employees, to pensioners, to the unemployed. They are denied as being incompatible. Incompatible with what? Incompatible with the demands of the European Union.
And they are going to tell us, once again, regarding the Labour Code, just as they told us in other circumstances: “Of course, we must reject the Combrexelle Report, but after all we cannot reject everything. We cannot stick to the status quo. We must recognise the need to “revamp”, to “tidy up”, to “modernise outdated texts”.”
A position of labour independence, comrades, means saying: “No-one is laying a finger on the Labour Code.” It doesn’t need tidying up or revamping. It is huge, thick, complicated? That is just as well. A few years ago, during a trade union conference in the United States, one trade union delegate waved a document made up of a few pages. He told his comrades: “Do you know what this is? It is the handbook of labour rights in the United States.” He added: “In Europe, they have labour codes as thick as you like. The thicker it is, the more it serves to defend the workers.”
I know very well what they are going to tell us: “We should be careful, this government is not great, but compared to the one that could take over the running of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region (Marine Le Pen of the Front National is an official candidate in the regional elections due in December 2015), obviously, we do need to be careful. We need to protect this government.” But comrades, it is ages since they stopped trying to pull the wool over the eyes of this country’s workers. It is obvious that the Le Pens, father or daughter, represent vile reaction. But how does one struggle against reaction?
One struggles against reaction by defending democracy. One struggles against reaction by defending labour rights. One struggles against reaction by fighting against any attack on the Labour Code and for the repeal of all the counter-reforms, for the repeal of the “responsibility pact”.
Only the working class, organising to be united on its demands, has the capacity to fight back against reaction, not with words, but in action. The fight against reaction means the working class achieving unity in a general strike to defend its rights, which has been lacking in Greece for political reasons we are familiar with.
The fight against reaction means fighting back now, to force the Hollande-Valls government back, but also to defeat it, because it is the government that is paving the way for reaction in this country.
So then, comrades, it falls to the labour movement to achieve that fightback, to the working class which is coming up against obstacles within its own camp, obstacles it really must overcome. And it is in order to overcome those obstacles that a political party is necessary.
I am well aware that it is fashionable at the moment to say that political parties are “old hat”, that we don’t need them anymore, that other forms can take their place – associations, NGOs, newspapers…
Comrades, abandoning the building of a party amounts to saying that power will remain forever in the hands of the class of the exploiters and the oppressors. It would mean that for all time, in the name of the debt and the dictatorship of finance capital, it will always be possible for the bosses to impose even more deregulation and superexploitation.
But if one considers that the working class has the legitimate right to seek power, that it has the legitimate right to demand to take society’s future into its own hands, then yes, that requires a political party. And that party must be built.
The Independent Workers’ Party does not claim that it alone is that party. But it claims the right to help build it. A lot has been said and written recently about the Independent Workers’ Party. But what is the point? The Independent Workers’ Party is here, in this jam-packed hall for this rally. To those who have doubts or are pretending to wonder about it, we simply reply: the POI is not about corridor intrigues, it is not about anteroom coups d’état, nor initiatives involving bailiffs or whatever.
The Independent Workers’ Party is about its activists, its members, about those who are building it and waging its campaigns.
We have said it before: we want to prepare a Congress that will be the Congress of the POI true to its origins. The POI true to its origins was founded in this hall in 2008, to shouts of “European Union, enough is enough!” The POI true to its origins? Its spinal column is the fightback within the class struggle, which includes the fight for unity of the workers with its organisations, but also every manifestation of the class struggle. It is the party that fights against every military intervention by the French government, none of which is legitimate. It is a party that was formed a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, rejecting all the dross resulting from Stalinism: slander, lies, anathemas, the attempt to impose a single way of thinking on the labour movement. It is a party that was built by re-establishing relations of fraternity, free discussion and mutual respect between all its component parts and, more generally, between all the currents of the labour movement.
That’s what the Independent Workers’ Party true to its origins is about. It is the party which we have formed on that basis, the party which we will continue to build by helping it rediscover its roots. Whatever some people may say or think, whether they like it or not: the POI lives and the POI will live on. Together we will see that it makes progress in the campaign in defence of the Labour Code, in the campaign to help the working class open up the path towards “all out together”, in the campaign to help achieve unity between the workers and their organisations, in order to put an end to the most reactionary policy seen under the Fifth Republic, the policy of the Hollande-Valls government.
And we will do so while engaging with our comrades throughout Europe and in relation to what is happening in Greece. We will build it in free discussion with all the labour activists, elected representatives and democrats around the open platform constituted by Workers’ Tribune. We will prepare a POI Congress whose main characteristic – which might seem banal, but is not these days – will be that it will be open to all POI members, without restrictions, without conditions, without discrimination.
It is following this path, this orientation that we will act – from Athens to Berlin, from Rome to London, via Paris – to forge unity between the workers and peoples of the continent, against the European Union, the European Central Bank and the European treaties. It is following this orientation that we will act to lay the foundations of a free union of the free peoples and nations of the whole of Europe, rid of exploitation and oppression.
The working class lives and is ready for the fightback. Our rally forms a component part of that fightback.
It is the rally of the Workers’ International, of the POI, which lives and will live on.