Archive for the ‘Unions’ Category
Reuters reports (Sunday),
Far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon embraced technology during the launch of his presidential campaign at a rally in Lyon on Sunday, with a 3D hologram of him making his speech appearing at the same time at another rally in Paris.
Mélenchon, wearing a Nehru-style jacket, tried to use the hologram technology give a modern look to his launch, which coincided with that of the far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon opened his meeting, transmitted by hologram to Paris, with a rousing speech. But it was hard to hide that the selection of the radical green socialist, Benoît Hamon as Socialist Party candidate, has created profound difficulties for the leader of La France insoumise.
After Hamon’s victory the French left is divided. While many welcomed the Socialists’ change in direction, for the majority of Ensemble, an alliance of radical left currents and part of the (nearly defunct Front de gauche), Mélenchon remains central to the left’s prospects in France.
On the Ensemble site Roger Martelli writes of the left’s Presidential candidates, (Gauche : et maintenant ?)
Depuis une quinzaine d’années, il est de tous les combats majeurs visant à redonner au peuple sa souveraineté et à la gauche son dynamisme. Son programme, dans la continuité de celui de 2012, reprend la logique « antilibérale » et démocratique qui s’est déployée après le choc de la présidentielle de 2002.
For over 15 years he has been there in all the principal battles which have aimed to return to the people their soveriegnty and to the left its dynamism. His programme, consistent with the (Presidential election) of 2012 (when Mélenchon stood, backed by the Front de gauch left bloc), takes up again the « anti-liberal » and democratic logic used since the shock of the 2002 Presidential elections.
Au fond, Benoît Hamon incarne la continuité d’un Parti socialiste qui a accompagné les reculs successifs d’un socialisme devenu hégémonique au début des années 1980. Jean-Luc Mélenchon ouvre la voie d’une rupture dont toute la gauche pourrait bénéficier.
At root Benoît Hamon embodies continuity with a Parti Socialiste which has, since it became hegemonic since the start of the 1980s, has been marked by a succession of backward steps. Jean-Luc Mélenchon opens up the prospect of a radical break, from which all the left could benefit.
Martelli’s reference to “popular sovereignty” raises perhaps one of the most serious problems about Mélenchon’s campaign. The leader of La France Insoumise is not only concerned with “une majorité populaire à gauche”. Or a ” dose” of populism into the left, to re-occupy the field of social division, with a campaign that can express a radical protest vote.
Another Adieu au Prolétariat.
Mélenchon’s ambitions extend far and wide as he asserts the need to replace the traditional strategies of the left.
In a series of writings he has talked about L’Ère du peuple in (the grandly titled) “époque de l’Anthropocène.” (the ‘new epoch’ in human political geography). In this perspective the old ‘hierarchy’ of struggles, centred on the primacy of the proletariat as a political subject, has been surpassed.
In a short history which takes him from the people as a ” multitude ” (without cohesion), the people/working class, as a demand-making category, we have come to the age of « networks » (réseaux). And, in France, more specifically, as he puts it himself, “réseau de soutien à ma candidature et à son programme”. (Réseaux et mouvements. 7th of January 2017)
The network launched as La France Insoumise is at the core of the electoral and social strategy. Mélenchon is engaged in an explicit effort to capture (in his terms, form), the People, in opposition to the Oligarchy, financial and globalising. It is not shaped only by economic issues, but the with the wider effects of capitalism in society: marginalisation, social division, the long series of cultural contradictions and demands of the diverse oppressed groups. Above all it aims to “net” the concept of the People, and refound the left as a movement capable of structuring it politically as a force for progressive transformation (details of the programme on their site). Membership of what might be called a permanent “rally” does not require payment, only backing.
Supporters put this project in the same political sphere as Podemos, as a movement that aims to expand the field of democratic mobilisation against the political caste (la casta), more commonly called, in French and in English, the elites.
For this venture, which draws on the writings of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, populism is a political logic. The objective is to unify, to create a radical democratic People, not as (it is asserted) through the forms of exclusion and division, between “us”, on ethnicity or nationality and others.
Citizen-Movement and the Leader.
But, as Pierre Khalfa has observed, the “citizen-movement”, La France Insoumise, charged with this objective, organised in hundreds of “groupes d’appui” (support groups) is not democratic in the sense that political parties are – in principle. (Le peuple et le mouvement, est-ce vraiment si simple?). There are no organised confrontations between different currents of opinion; disagreements only arise over applying the ‘line’ in local conditions. There is, in fact,the worst form of Occupy style ‘consensus politics”, ruling out by fait real dissensus, wedded to the decisions of the Chief. It is “JLM who decides”. Or, as Laclau put it, the, “..the “symbolic unification of a group around an individuality” is inherent to the formation of a ‘people’ (Page 100. On Populist Reason 2005. ) (1)
Critics point to the lack of coherence in the definition of the would-be “people” a vast category with many internal conflicts between social groups. They also state that it is also highly unlikely that the ambition to remould populist resentment, expressed and solidly articulated in the Front National’s nationalist attacks on globalisation and a whole range of groups, from Muslims to migrant workers, has struck deep into French political reality. Detaching the ‘floating signifier’ of the People and putting it to a new use is a hard task. It more probable, and Mélenchon’s comments on Europe, migrant labour and the importance of the French ‘nation’, that it will end up more influenced by nationalism than become an alternative to it. Over everything lingers Pierre Khalfa put it the figure of “l’homme providentiel”, the Man of Destiny. (Le populisme de gauche, un oxymore dangereux).
In these conditions it is little wonder that many of the French left are not just wary of Mélenchon, but actively hostile to his entire project.
It is equally not surprising that elsewhere would-be People’s Leaders, like George Galloway in Britain, have warmed to La France Insoumise.
(1)Le peuple et le « mouvement. Jean-Luc Mélenchon (2.11.16. Blog).
“Il n’y a pas de carte. Il ne peut y avoir des cotisations mais seulement des participations financières à l’action c’est-à-dire des dons ou des versements réguliers pendant la durée de celle-ci. Il n’y a pas d’autre discipline que celle de l’action, c’est-à-dire celle que chacun s’impose dans l’action individuelle ou collective.” In other words, la France Insoumise is devoted to the “action” of getting votes.
Immigration Controls: from pro-Brexit ‘left’ to Rachel Reeves’ Dire Warnings.
Nothing illustrates the often artificial divisions between Left and Right in the labour and socialist movement than the issues of immigration and migration.
On the one side are those like the authors of the recent Fabian publication arguing for a hard-line against immigration,
Three of the MPs – Rachel Reeves, Emma Reynolds, and Stephen Kinnock – explained in articles for the Fabian Society that the party should change tack on migration rights in response to the Brexit vote that won in many of Labour’s English and Welsh heartlands.
Reeves, in quotes reported by The Huffington Post, said: “Immigration controls and ending free movement has to be a red line post-Brext – otherwise we we will be holding the voters in contempt.”
Kinnock added: “The referendum had a clear message: the limitless nature of freedom of movement, despite its proven economic benefits, is not socially and politically sustainable.”
Reynolds said that “no future deal [with the EU] can retain free movement of people in its present form” adding that Leave voters had asked for migration to be cut whatever the economic implications.
They were preceded by the nationalist British Communist Party (CPB) and the Socialist Party (SP),
Robert Griffiths as leader of Britain’s ‘official’ communists in the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain; argued against the “the super-exploitation of migrant workers”. Not, you udnertanad, to create a Europe wide (EU) system of raising standards, but, raising the drawbridges against the said ‘migrant workers’.
The Socialist party has argued for “local jobs for local workers” – sufficiently often to be noticed by the European Press.
Clive Heemskerk is one of the central leaders of the Socialist Party, has argued “The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle, but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists.” (Socialism Today September 2016.)
In other words immigration controls- perhaps on the model of the ‘closed shop’?- should form a central part of ‘socialist’ policy.
Far from being a ‘victory’ against ‘Capital’ the principal effect of their ‘Brexit’ on the labour movement has been the rise in calls for ending the freedom of movement of people.
Rachel Reeves has since issued this warning (Independent).
Labour MP Rachel Reeves: Riots could sweep streets of Britain if immigration isn’t curbed after Brexit.
Former Shadow Cabinet minister Rachel Reeves has warned that Britain could “explode” into rioting if immigration is not curbed after Brexit.
The former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary warned that there were “bubbling tensions” over immigration that could spill over into violence if the deal agreed with the rest of the EU did not include an end to freedom of movement.
Speaking at a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool on Tuesday afternoon, the Leeds West MP said the party must listen to voters’ concerns.
She said: “We have got to get this right because there are bubbling tensions in this country that I just think could explode.
You had those riots in 2011… If riots started again in Leeds and bits of my constituency – it’s like a tinderbox.”
Ms Reeves, who left the Shadow Cabinet last year when Jeremy Corbyn was first elected leader, rejected claims that she was “Red Ukip” for calling for an end to mass immigration.
She was one of several moderate Labour MPs who campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU but said it should accept immigration controls now that the public had decided to leave.
One wing of the pro-Brexit and pro-immigration control ‘left’, cited above, is going to have a hard time explaining away their support for tougher immigration controls..
The ‘best friends’ of Jeremy Corbyn from the CPB and the SP, and others, who back these reactionary policies, will have to answer this.
In his speech to the Labour Party Conference this afternoon, Jeremy Corbyn will reiterate his commitment to liberal immigration policy.
‘A Labour government will not offer false promises,’ he will tell delegates. ‘We will not sow division or fan the flames of fear. We will instead tackle the real issues of immigration – and make the real changes that are needed.’
The party has spent most of its conference week attempting to unite after a summer of acrimony, but on immigration the divides are only getting deeper.
Some, like Rachel Reeves, have taken a hard line on stopping European freedom of movement — she has argued that not to do so would mean ‘holding voters in contempt.’
Chuka Umunna, too, has suggested that ending freedom of movement should be a red line in Brexit talks, even if it means losing enhanced access to the single market.
And many more have danced close to the fence, insisting that Labour must be more attentive to voters’ concerns about immigration, but in a progressive, left-wing way.
With today’s speech, Corbyn is making clear that his pro-immigrant stance has not changed and will not change in the aftermath of the referendum.
This is a tough issue.
I must say I am immensely encouraged by Corbyn’s speech.
Local Workers Excluded from Being Able to Provide for Families by EU ‘shunting’ people around Europe.
The Daily Express (May 25th) reports.
…hitting back today campaign group Trade Unionists Against the EU (TUAEU) nailed the “delusion being promoted by some that we should remain in the EU to transform it”.
Director Enrico Tortolano said: “One of the bizarre features of the pro-EU campaign is its spreading of the lie that the EU can be reformed and transformed into paradise on earth. The reality is that the EU is reform proof.
“As these states lurch to the right and the EU gives itself up further to the demands of the corporations, the delusion of reformability looks even more ridiculous and flies in the face of the brutal realities being challenged by trade unionists forced to take the streets in Belgium, France and Greece this week.”
Patriotic trade unionists have launched a campaign to get Britain out of the EU and are urging ordinary workers to look at the “constitutional reality” of the 28-nation bloc rather than believing Mr Cameron’s spin doctors.
This is what campaign leader Enrico Tortolono says about the free movement of labour (Trade Unionists Against the EU):
Moreover EU rules demanding the complete free movement of labour have had a profound impact on all trade unions operating within the EU.
Following the accession of eastern European states to the EU, migrant labour has been rapidly moving west while capital and manufacturing jobs are moving east.
While western European countries experiencing a large influx of migrant labour, eastern European states are suffering population falls and an inevitable brain drain, leading to a loss of skilled labour and young people as well as an uncertain future of underdevelopment.
In more developed member states, wages have been under pressure in many sectors in a process known as ‘social dumping’, as cheap foreign labour replaces the indigenous workforce and trade union bargaining power is severely weakened.
A campaign to Leave the EU based on the defence of the “indigenous workforce” against “cheap foreign labour” is no doubt welcomed by the Daily Express.
This is another Express story (today):
Boris: Voting to stay in the EU means ‘kissing goodbye’ to controlling immigration
BRITAIN can “kiss goodbye” to any chance of controlling its borders if it stays in the EU, Brexit campaigners said yesterday.
In Reply: CGT Trade Unionists Face Violence Smears.
France prepares for day of strikes as nuclear workers join labour protests.
France faced an eighth day of industrial action on Thursday after workers at nuclear power stations voted to join protests against labour reforms. Blockades of fuel depots by angry unions have forced France to dip into its fuel reserves.
CGT energy and mining federation spokeswoman Marie-Claire Cailletaud said the strike action at nuclear plants will reduce power output, but that the reactors will not stop running.
“One cannot just turn off a nuclear plant, it is not like a thermal or hydro plant,” Cailletaud said.
The union said late Wednesday that 16 of France’s 19 nuclear stations had voted to join the strike, although CGT official Jean-Luc Daganaud said the effect on power supply would depend on how many workers decided to join the action.
Workers led by the powerful CGT union have blocked oil refineries across France over the past week in protest against planned changes to France’s cherished protective labour laws, leading to fuel shortages in parts of the country and long queues of cars at near-empty petrol stations.
The Ufip oil industry federation has confirmed that around a third of the country’s 12,000 petrol stations were running dry. France has also mobilised its emergency fuel stocks for the first time since 2010 but officials said there was no risk of a shortage.
The French media is full of reports that the Confédération générale du travail (CGT) is “using everything it’s got” in the dispute (Loi travail : « La CGT joue son va-tout »). Le Monde suggests that the leader of the left-wing federation, Phillipe Martinez, has taken on the role of the ‘Leader of the Opposition’ to the El Khomri law. (Le patron de la CGT se hisse au rang de chef de l’opposition à la loi travail.)
There are daily claims, from those hostile to the union federation, that the CGT are using the protests as a means of resolving their own – serious internal difficulties. These range from loss of membership (the result of long-term industrial decline) to the fall-out from the controversy over expenses paid to to their former leader, Thierry Lepaon
It is the case that the CGT faces a challenge from the ‘reformist’ union federation, the Confédération française démocratique du travail (CFDT). This morning on France Inter Véronique Descacq, secrétaire générale adjointe to the CFDT, claimed to have negotiated a deal which they can live with. She asserted that the reform embodies new workers’ rights (listen here).
Against this claim – essentially that the CGT is acting purely out of its own interests – L’Humanité has pointed to the unity between the trade unionists (with the CFDT excepted), from the corporatist and (partly) Trotskyist federation, Force Ouvrière , to the radical left SUD in protests and strikes against the Loi Travail (Une grande partie du personnel qui attendait l’unité syndicale va se mettre en grève).
What is at stake is not only moves to make working practices more ‘flexible’ to the bosses’ advantage. It is the shape of French collective bargaining (covering up to 98% of employees). The ‘reforms’ weaken them allowing local accords and which give employers the ability to go over the heads of unions by enterprise by enterprise referendums. The CFDT is equally acting in its own interests, with, it claims, strength in the these direct company negotiations it can by-pass the CGT which prefers to reach agreements by “branche”, that is by sector.
It would not, by contrast, be unfair to point out the CGT is using the industrial strength that it has – in the sectors cited in the France 24 report. (Loi Travail : pourquoi la CGT durcit le mouvement).
Why should it not do so?
As the conflict intensifies there is a concerted attempt to link the CGT not only with claims of intimidation against non-strikers, but also with acts of violence against its opponents which Descacq echoed. Those in the Parti Socialiste who have backed the ‘reform’ – despite opposition within their own ranks – have, it is claimed, been singled out.
31 of the Governing Parti Socialiste’s offices across the country have, since December, been the target of acts of vandalism. These have mostly been minor but on Monday their Grenoble HQ was sprayed with 12 bullet shots (le Monde).
It would be extremely rash to offer any kind of judgement about the probable outcome of this conflict.
Update: The leader of the CFDT has just declared that it would be “unacceptable” to drop the ‘reform’ as that would mean losing the “new rights” which it offers.
French unions, students, and radical activists in groups such as Nuit Debout continue to campaign against the ‘Loi Khomri”.
The laws will undermine the ability of unions to reach collective agreements (although unions are weak and divided with only 8% members, over 98% of French companies operate within the framework of collective bargaining, compared with under 29%, 63.7% public sector, only 16.0% in the private sector, in the UK, (Here). The ‘reforms’ will encourage local negotiations, means to go over the head of unions, and other devices to weaken the collective system.
They will reduce hard won workers’ rights, getting rid of the ‘red tape’ that helps the system of Inspecteurs du Travil, enforce decent working conditions.
Contrary to the falsehood being broadcast by the UK ‘Lexit’ campaign the pressure for these changes comes from the French Employers’ organisation, the MEDEF, not Brussels or the European Commission.
As can be seen in this banner which links the government, from Hollande, Valls, and Macron, to the Bosses’ federation.
The action by the CGT is considerably more significant than the clashes between demonstrators and police which have been widely reported internationally.
Police fired tear gas in central Paris as an initially peaceful protest organised by unions and students was disrupted by a more radical fringe.
The labour reforms have sparked two months of protests on France’s streets, drawing 68,000 nationwide on Tuesday, authorities said, while organisers put the turnout at 220,000.
Withdraw, withdraw this law of the wealthy, it’s the law of the bosses,” was the message blasted from loudspeakers at the Paris march.
But Hollande said the battle against unemployment was not yet won and he placed the need to reform over his personal popularity, which remains at near-record lows a year ahead of a possible bid for re-election.
“I will not give way, because too many (previous) governments have backed down,” Hollande said in an hour-long interview with Europe 1 radio.
“I prefer that people have an image of a president who made reforms rather than a president who did nothing,” he said.
Police were quick to act as violence by masked youths broke out during the march in central Paris, kicking off another week of nationwide strikes and demonstrations against the package of reforms. Some 87 people were arrested.
Demonstrations were also reported in cities across the country from Marseille in the south to central Lyon and Lille in the north.
Lorry drivers blocked roads and ports in northern and western France, and there were clashes between protesters and police in the western cities of Nantes and Rennes, where thousands more took to the streets.
“We have been ignored, so we will work even harder to make our voices heard,” said Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, at the Paris rally.
The government argues the changes contained in the draft law will make France’s notoriously rigid labour market more flexible, but opponents say it will erode job security and do little to bring down the unemployment rate, stuck at 10 percent and nearly 25 percent for young people.
The labour reform, which would make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers, is likely the last major piece of legislation for Hollande, the least popular leader in modern French history who faces a re-election next May.
Police in Civilian Dress Spray Paris Demonstrators. (le Monde)
Police fired tear gas after protesters hurled bottles and other projectiles during a May Day rally in Paris Sunday, where controversial labour reforms were the main focus of demonstrations.
- Tens of thousands of demonstrators took part in the march in the French capital amid a heightened police presence after several recent protests against labour reforms ended in violence.
- There were ugly scenes as a small group of protesters in balaclavas hurled projectiles at the security forces, who responded with volleys of tear gas, bringing the march to a standstill.
- Calm was later restored, however, and the majority of those taking part in the demonstration did so peacefully.
- Police said between 16,000 and 17,000 people took part in the rally and Paris. The CGT union put the figure at 70,000.
- Rallies in other French cities including Nantes, Bordeaux and Marseille passed largely without incident earlier Sunday.
Le Monde carries a report in which demonstrators accuse the Police of having acted with the aim of stirring up trouble.
« C’est la première fois que je vois ça », commentait un manifestant d’une cinquantaine d’années, présent dimanche à Paris, alors que les forces de l’ordre avaient pris en sandwich la tête du cortège, constituée majoritairement de jeunes sans étiquette syndicale, la séparant en aval du reste du défilé et la bloquant devant par une ligne de CRS quasi inamovible. Résultat : quarante-cinq minutes à peine après le début de la manifestation, au-dessus de ce peloton de tête « nassé », les premiers gaz lacrymogènes fusaient et rencontraient les premiers pétards et autres feux d’artifice, occasionnant quelques charges sporadiques des policiers. « On appelle ça la politique de la tension », regrettait un manifestant. « La surprésence policière est une provocation », surenchérissait un autre.
This is the first time I’ve seen that” commented on Sunday a middle-aged demonstrator at Paris, as the police held the head of the march, largely made up of young people unaffiliated to the trade unions, and separated them at the top, by a solid line of the riot squad (CRS), from the rest of the demonstration.
As a result, a bare 45 minutes after the beginning of the demonstration, above and outside this ‘kettle’, the first tear gas grenades were thrown, and were met with bangers and other fireworks, followed by sparodic police charges. “You could call this the ‘strategy of tension” one marcher said regretfully, “The massive police presence is a provocation” forthrightly added another.
British readers will note that the Police used a tactic we are familiar with: ‘nassé ‘ means literally netted, as in fish, but in the jargon of marches it signifies “Kettled”.
One demonstrator alleged that this was a deliberate “strategy of tension” to rattle up disorder.
Which is not to deny the existence of bands of ‘casserus’ – those who smash things up (casser) on the margins of French demonstrations.
Topless Femen activists on Sunday interrupted the French far-right National Front’s (FN) annual May Day gathering for the second year running, baring their chests and toasting “The end of the FN” before being arrested.
At midday, the Femen militants, topless and clutching bottles of champagne, burst from a red van parked outside the party’s headquarters at Porte de la Villette in northern Paris.
Their torsos were daubed with slogans including “Fascists stay in the shadows” and “Long live the end of the FN”.
Their protest was short lived as riot police controlling the gathering moved quickly to arrest them with the enthusiastic help of FN security guards.
Bystanders shouted “Put them under the wheels of your truck” and “Don’t be gentle with them”.
The official FN gathering this year, dubbed a “patriotic banquet”, took place earlier in the day at Saint Augustin in central Paris, in a break from tradition that usually sees far-right supporters march from another statue of Joan of Arc on Rue de Rivoli, next to the Louvre Museum, to nearby Opéra.
However, bitter infighting that saw FN leader Marine Le Pen oust her father Jean-Marie last year meant there were two different rallies at two different Joans and more airing of the family feud.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, 87, kicked out of the party for refusing to tone down racist and anti-Semitic comments, held court at the traditional spot in front of about 400 supporters where he woefully predicted a loss for the FN in next year’s presidential elections.
Earlier, Femen posted a picture on Twitter of its topless militants mopping the ground outside Opéra, under the slogan: “We are proud to clean our democratic and secular streets of Marine Le Pen’s dirty hatred”.