First of all, I send you the fraternal greetings of all the CGT unions of the chemical industries in France as well as those of the unions affiliated to the TUI Chemistry Energy.
I address special thanks to the comrades of PAME for the organization of this conference.
All the speakers have already underlined that we are facing a major crisis of capitalism, but resistance is very present, everywhere in the world and must be amplified.
One of the classic strategies of mass manipulation is to entertain and even infantilize public opinion. We water our information time with unimportant news, such as Macron’s strategy in terms of huge vaccination centers or variable geometry confinement. The world reduced to these small events worthy of a People magazine seems quietly subject to the vagaries of the virus, and of a capitalist system which supposed to do what it can to limit the damage. However, since the financial crisis of 2008 until today with the systemic crisis of 2020 and attributed to Covid, the reality is, unlike lethargy, that of social activism around the world, strikes and of mass mobilizations in opposition to the status quo. Almost everywhere, these strikes, mass demonstrations and mobilizations have been the result of economic change, upheaval and distress, sometimes exacerbated by war.
In 2019, 47 countries, almost a quarter of all nations, experienced major civil unrest. These protests swept across all regions of the world and were joined by new mass mobilizations underway in 2020, notably in Belarus, Thailand and the Russian Far East; mass strikes in Indonesia; as well as the resurgence of Black Lives Matter in the United States and much of the world, riots in Senegal, etc.
Since the 2008 crisis, there have been a series of huge general strikes – Guadeloupe and Martinique, India, Brazil, South Africa, Colombia, Chile, Algeria, Sudan, South Korea, France, the teachers’ strikes of 2018 – 2019 in the United States and many others – as well as waves of strikes that helped bring down heads of state – Tunisia, Egypt, Puerto Rico, Sudan, Lebanon, Algeria, Iraq.
Some mass strikes have taken place amid larger mobilizations in the streets or squares around the world, such as those in Hong Kong, Chile, Thailand, Ukraine, Lebanon and Iraq.
Between 2010 and 2018, there were 64 general strikes in the European Union, almost half of them in Greece. More broadly, the ILO, taking into account only 56 countries, estimates that there were 44,000 work stoppages between 2010 and 2019, mainly in the manufacturing sector.
In China, the China Labor Bulletin recorded some 6,694 strikes between 2015 and 2017 in a wide variety of sectors, including manufacturing.
In these movements, whether students have taken a pioneering role or not, and professionals and middle-class politicians have taken over the leadership, most of these revolts are primarily working class revolts within its composition, and that to a large extent they used the traditional weapon of the mass strike.
In many developing countries, these workers have organized in their neighborhoods and through national unions, informal worker associations, migrant workers’ organizations and cooperatives, as well as in workplaces, to invade streets and squares, as workers have done for generations. As Rosa Luxembourg said, they have organized themselves into “a multiplicity of the most varied forms of action” and into organizations, often through mobilizations made possible by social networks.
And yet, for lack of clarity on the demands for a change of society, nowhere have these strikes sought to gain political power for the workers themselves or following a program approaching socialism. Nowhere were the workers organized for such goals. These strike movements are the breeding ground from which a socialist orientation can develop, but on condition that the workers endow themselves each time with a capable and efficient organization.
The economic crisis attributed to Covid is an explosion whose effects will be lasting. We now understand that there will be no return to the “abnormal” previous situation, not that this means that we are heading for better days, on the contrary, capitalism, as a system, does and will do resistance, and even seek to take advantage of the crisis to strengthen its supremacy.
There are two main methods to restore the rate of profit, that’s the main goal of capitalism : the most modern consists in increasing productivity faster than wages, in particular by generalization of various forms of automation, digitization, robotization, like Amazon or Uber, via teleworking. But in this case, maintaining high productivity over the medium term requires companies to be able to both invest and innovate, and therefore spend on research and development. But the list of companies that are taking advantage of the crisis to cut their engineering, research and management workforce is long. “Among others Sanofi, Total, Michelin here, but also Renault, Danone, Nokia, etc. We therefore remain in a short-termist logic of capital to restore the accounts for the shareholders.
The most immediate solution, and this is the second major method to restore the rate of profit, is obviously to lay off workers, which is already being implemented in France, with the multiplication by 3 in 2020 of layoff plans, including in companies that are not affected by the crisis.
The second solution is to lengthen working hours, bypassing the law or not.
These anarchic measures, taken by companies, will result in rising unemployment, which always has the effect of modifying the balance of power to the detriment of workers, who, like job seekers, say they are ready to make “concessions” to either keep a job for the former, or find a job for the latter. The bourgeois state of course supports this policy, it maintains a regressive reform of unemployment benefits and envisages a law which would remove the priority given to the payment of wages in the event of company bankruptcy.
If we limit ourselves to discussing all this, the illegitimate or too violent nature of the reform of unemployment insurance, or of pensions, or even to only organize the fight against these reforms, the question will not be whether profit must be restored, but how quickly. However, as during the violent attacks during the establishment of the 35-hour week in France, we will see the resurgence of the spirit of revenge of the dominant classes, determined to erase everything that the crisis has imposed on them, which is already implicit in some speech.
Nothing is intangible or written in advance, everything will depend on the balance of power. It is urgent to adopt positions that make the link between immediate resistance and the project of social transformation. In terms of employment, we must talk again about the reduction of working time and put forward the requirement to guarantee employment and income, whether wages, pensions or social minima.
We see it, we know it, the problem is not the conjuncture but the system in which we are locked up today. The capitalist system. Our duty is to transform all the punctual struggles for the defense of our rights into a global struggle for a real change of society.