Faced with a democracy that has been denied, an authoritarian government and repressed social movements, the seven trade unions that have spent almost three months fighting against the El Khomri bill (CGT, FO, FSU, Solidaires, Unef, UNL and FIDL) and in favour of a labour law commensurate with the 21st century are organising a referendum in companies, administrative bodies and research centres.
At present, over 70% of the population is still opposed to this bill and to the use of article 49.3, which enables the government to pass a law without it being voted in parliament. And the call to arms has already borne fruit. The French government has proposed amendments to the bill in order to reduce its impact. It gave in to the demands of lorry drivers and finally put in place measures designed to support young people that have no link to the aforementioned bill but which were introduced years ago and had never been effective. But all this still falls short as the four most retrogressive measures remain:
- The 2nd article of the bill by which company-level agreements prevail over the law and industry-wide agreements. This paves the way for social dumping by removing the overarching framework that is common to all employees and reversing the working condition improvements brought about by collective negotiation. This will lead to more inequality among workers faced with potential blackmail from their employer with no protective measures. As such, there will be as many labour laws as there are companies.
- The easing of redundancy measures remains and enables job cuts without the need for a legal assessment of the veracity of the reasons given for such job losses.
- An employee referendum organised by the employer would enable them to bypass majority trade unions and to oppose the decisions made by employees through a ballot at their place of work.
- The médecine du travail (occupational health services) would lose its preventive function for all employees and focus solely on employees exposed to ‘specific risks’, doing away with regular medical examinations. It would no longer be concerned with preventive medicine but would instead issue licences to hire or fire employees.
At the same time, the number of employees taking part in demonstrations and strikes is not substantial enough to establish a position of power and to force the government to back down and withdraw the bill. As has been the case in the last few years, political action in France is once again being delegated.
In light of this, and drawing lessons from the struggles of 2010, 2006 and 1995, the seven trade unions are trying to bridge the gap between strikes and demonstrations in every way possible. Renewable strikes in each industry is one solution that has proven effective. We have seen a growing number of these in the transport and public services sectors as well as in the energy and petrochemical industries.
But a lot still needs to be done to see employees, students, pensioners and citizens involved in this call to arms and make this position of power more visible. We need to transform this potential for action into solid commitment.
This is the aim of the referendum, which is mainly targeted at workplaces and research centres.
Some detailed, easily understandable material is available providing information on the content of the bill and drawing up a list of social rights yet to be gained. There are two questions on the ballot paper:
- Do you agree or disagree with the withdrawal of the bill?
- Do we need new rights for employees, young people and pensioners?
The referendum will take place over the next ten days and part of it will also involve collective action during a demonstration in Paris on 14th June that is set to draw huge crowds as a general strike has been called for that day. Other initiatives for the second half of June are currently being set up in order to strengthen our position of power if the government still has not budged by then.
The ball is in the government and the President’s court.
Will they have enough lucidity to put the current legislative process on ice and to start a fair and respectful negotiation process, attuned to all positions? Will they finally have the courage to meet the expectations of those who voted for them – a majority of workers – and to resist the orders of EU technocrats as well as the wishes of business owners, shareholders and the representatives of multinationals?
To compel them to do so, we need to strengthen our position of power again and again. A struggle on all fronts against this will help achieve this aim. The Votation citoyenne is just one part.
See also the petition:
“For the right to demonstrate and against police violence in France”