Socialist Worker

Battle over workers’ rights leaves the French government weakened

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2514

Workers march through Paris in May

Workers march through Paris in May (Pic: Force Ouvriere)


After five months of bitter struggles the French Labour-type government finally forced its attack on workers’ rights through parliament last week.

On the Work Law’s third reading, prime minister Manuel Valls suspended parliamentary debate on it for the third time.

Only a motion of no confidence in the government could have stopped it. The Tory opposition declined to put one forward and not enough MPs supported an attempt to launch one from the left.

Valls boasted of a “great step forward for the reform of our country”.

Despite numerous concessions he kept intact the Work Law’s “spinal column”, allowing bosses to undercut national agreements.

It can be used to make people work longer hours for less pay, and to fire them more easily. That’s a long term goal of both the French establishment and the European Union.

But the battle to implement these attacks still lies ahead. Many workers galvanised by the massive strikes and protests against the Work Law won’t let their conditions be attacked without a fight. Passing it has already sapped the crumbling authority of Valls’ Labour-type Socialist Party (PS).

Pouria Amirshahi, an MP who quit the PS in March in protest, has launched a constitutional challenge to the Work Law. Trade unions have called a day of action for its repeal on 15 September.

Grandees 

But the political grandees of the constitutional court are unlikely to take a stand for workers’ rights.

And unions’ strategy all along was too reliant on one-day actions spaced too far apart.

Spreading and deepening the wave of all-out strikes that hit hard in May and early June could have made France ungovernable. But that was further than union leaders were willing to go.

And despite some on the left placing hope in the grumbling of the PS backbenchers, it didn’t come to much once Valls called their bluff.

Debate inside the PS and the wider left now revolves around positioning for a 2017 presidential election. Faced with catastrophic polls, some are chasing the votes of the fascist Front National (FN).

The government slipped in a vicious amendment to the Work Law at the last minute, allowing bosses in some cases to ban Muslim headscarves in their workplaces.

Even some liberals and PS heavyweights were outraged at this racist attack on civil liberties.

Meanwhile left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon accused migrants of “stealing the bread” of French workers.

But the movement against the Work Law shows a way to break the cycle of FN breakthroughs and concessions to its agenda.

Building on the rage against the government and the police, and the debates that started in the city square occupations, can change the game.


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