After two and a half months, the lockdown is now over in France and it is time to draw a first balance sheet. There is not one single aspect of the way Macron’s government managed the crisis which cannot be criticised. The way they did it was going from one scandal to another.
Regarding safety, there was no PPE for the frontline workers in the healthcare sector for weeks and weeks, nothing for the cashiers in the supermarkets, for doctors in their practices, no masks for months for the general population, only cloth masks produced by volunteers all around the country.
This government was not able to do anything effective for so many. Regarding industrial production to fight Coronavirus, for example, they allowed the re-opening of Peugeot car factories for them to produce ventilators. This was well received by workers and their unions to help the fight in the healthcare sector. But the model of the ventilator that was produced was useless! One thousand ventilators were produced but they were inoperable in intensive care against the Coronavirus pandemic!
The government ordered one million swabs to be used with the new Chinese testing machines they bought, but they were not the right sort of swabs! Previously, two factories that were producing surgical masks and medical material for oxygen supply had been forced to shut down. President Macron and Prime Minister Philippe did not decide to reopen them.
It seems like this government has always acted in the short term and with no plan. This is a very ironic situation because it is the first French government with so many people coming from leading positions in the corporations, top managers, and so on. But with more than 29,000 deaths in two months and a half, according to official figures, it is no joke!
Tests were really difficult to obtain. Only private research laboratories were allowed to do them, except for people who were in the hospitals. The government did everything they could to let the private sector get the benefits from the Coronavirus crisis by undermining the ability for public laboratories, hospitals, doctors, and pharmacists to react.
Crisis at the top
Some high-up officials have signed public statements against aspects of the national education policy of the education minister. Some MPs from Macron’s parliamentary majority – La République en Marche (LREM) – have left the LREM group in the National Assembly.
There are signs of disagreements within the government between the president and the prime minister. Macron is losing credibility according to the latest polls. Philippe, the prime minister, is doing better because he seems more cautious and serious. It is only a question of time before Macron makes Edouard Philippe resign – probably after the postponed second round of the local elections planned for 28 June.
Macron and the LREM are showing their true face. In many cities, they had to merge their local municipal lists with the Republicans – the more traditional right-wing party (of Sarkozy) – to fight the second round. This is the case in Lyon for example.
As we have analysed, Macron does not represent a new kind of policy. He was, and still is, the only representative for the French capitalist class in a very peculiar time of increasing class conflict and deepening economic crisis. In the coming period, it is not certain that they will be able to manage this situation.
Workers and youth in danger: anger larger than ever
Macron acts primarily to protect the interests of the multinationals and the big bosses: seven billion euros given to Air France, five billion in guaranteed loans for Renault, while they have just announced 4,600 lay-offs in France and 15,000 worldwide. On 13 May, this government announced that they would award frontline health care workers with medals and the right to participate in the military parade on the Champs-Elysées on Bastille Day in July. Then they announced a new health care reform for Sundays, probably increasing working time per week and increasing wages for just some nursing staff.
So-called “talks” have begun between representatives of the government and health care unions. Already one union has slammed the door against these fake negotiations. On the many protests of hospital workers that have been taking place, in spite of a ban that still exists, during the past weeks, the vast majority of workers did not believe that talks with the Ministry of Health would make any difference. And they are right: beds are still being cut, public hospitals are still being shut down and not all hospital workers are going to get a pay rise.
On 16 June there is going to be a national day of strike action and demonstrations of health sector workers. Gauche Révolutionnaire is demanding general pay rises for all workers in the sector, mass hiring, provision of equipment according to need, democratically decided by the workers and the public and the nationalisation/expropriation of the whole health sector (including pharmaceuticals, care homes, etc.) to be run as a completely public service.
Since the lockdown ended, transport and schools are progressively reopening. It is a very unsafe situation. In schools, safety for the children and the workers is not provided – no serology tests and no real PPE -while the mood is very tense and the organisation within the schools has to be military-style.
Parents have the right not to send their children to school. Nationally, 20% of children returned in May. For the government, safe or not, pupils and national education workers must go back to school. It is a question both of obliging parents to return to their work and ideological pressure in the country to give the impression of coming back to a “normal” situation. On public transport, workers coming from the suburbs around Paris and big cities cannot observe social distancing. And they are being told they have to go back to work. Teleworking is limited to only some working people.
No return to “abnormal”!
It is with much anger that we see the government lying and sacrificing the lives of thousands of people and workers, while, at the same time, distributing billions of euros to the ultra-rich and to multinational corporations. Elderly people are being sacrificed, with nearly 11,000 deaths in the care homes.
Macron and Philippe have prolonged the so-called ‘State of Health Emergency’ until the beginning of July. They passed laws that allow extension of the working week up to 60 hours and to cut workers’ holidays. For the moment, the government is being cautious. Thousands of lay-offs have been announced during the past weeks in some sectors like at Renault. The coming economic crisis will accelerate these issues.
Just a few days after the end of the lockdown, some strikes and demos have taken place in front of big hospitals – in Toulouse, Paris and other big cities. Workers in some private care homes run by companies went on strike to demand pay rises and more staff.
On 28 May, the prime minister announced a new lifting of restrictions linked to the pandemic, such as the right to travel more than 100 km from our homes. People are allowed to plan their holidays and restaurants and cafés are now reopening. One restriction was not withdrawn, though: the right for ten or more people to assemble!
On Saturday 30 May, and the following week, several “illegal” demos took place in big cities to support democratic rights for migrants, with thousands marching in Paris. A twenty thousand strong, still illegal, gathering took place in Paris on 2 June. Protests against racism and police violence in France and in solidarity with the anti-racist movement in the US and worldwide are going ahead all around the country.
In Maubeuge, in the north of France, people have marched against the risk of closure of the Renault factory in this city. In a city of 30,000 inhabitants, 8,000 people were on the demonstration. When they passed the hospital, the workers and young people gave warm and long applause to the nursing staff, shouting, “Tous ensemble!!!” (“Everyone together!”)
Renault workers in Choisy-le-Roi (near Paris) began a strike on 2 June, blocking the factory in a fight against the closure of their workplace. A demonstration took place on Saturday. It is only a question of weeks or months before the working class and people take back the streets to confront this new devastating social situation and Macron’s government.
The policies carried out for the past thirty years and largely continued by Macron have broken up the public hospitals, in order to make profit out of them for the capitalists. Equally, in nursing homes, our elderly people are dying, and doctors have to decide who lives and who has to die.
Macron and his gang of criminals must be sacked
The primary concern of Macron is to save capitalism; the health emergency comes second. The logic of the government is to throw the public into a panic in order to hide the absence of face masks and PPE and their refusal to carry out systematic testing.
This health crisis will further widen inequalities. The wealthiest get tested and can afford to be seen by doctors without waiting for a salary at the end of the month. At the same time, millions of temporary and interim workers find themselves unemployed, without anything to be able to feed themselves.
The capitalists’ strategy shows concern neither for the protection of workers nor for the protection of public services. Nor is in favour of nationalisation, except when it allows them to save a few of their own business people.
So we say: enough! A mass struggle is going to have to take place. The unions and the workers’ movement should be campaigning amongst workers and the population and organising to prepare for a massive fightback.
Against Macron, we demand:
- The right to be tested systematically for all those who need it and for all workers
- The production of adequate face masks and equipment for health workers and other essential professions. The end of production of non-essential products or their conversion into necessary items to aid the current crisis
- An end to austerity policies, both for the health system and our public services. Nationalisation, under democratic control by workers in sectors and the wider working population, of the health sector – from multinational pharmaceutical companies, like Sanofi, to private retirement home/nursing home groups like Korian – to create a state monopoly of public health services
- No lay-offs or increased pressure on wages and working time
- Shorten the working week to hire unemployed people and end unemployment, without pay cuts or flexible working
- Expropriation and nationalisation of the main multinational corporations and companies which are planning lay-offs, under the democratic control of workers, in order to democratically reorganise the economy to meet the needs of ordinary people.
- Public ownership of the major industries including pharmaceuticals, in order to make advances in research and provide for the needs of the majority of the population.
Macron and his attacks on workers and the public will have to be fought as he attempts to make us pay for this crisis. Today, France Insoumise (France Unbowed) led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is organising opposition in a parliamentary struggle, but there is much more to be done. We need a mass organisation, a new party, so that workers and young people have their own voice and can organise against this system which leads only to disaster.
Only socialism would allow us to fulfill all our needs by organising society and the economy in a democratic way and allowing the majority of the population to bring about progress without discriminating against anyone. A mass revolutionary movement is needed to carry through the transformation of society.