France: Contract of First Employment Shows that Capitalism’s Laws Know no Borders

After the revolt in the suburbs of Paris it is not just the students who struggle against increased job insecurity - From Battaglia Comunista 4 (April 2006)

On the 18th March a huge demonstration against the CPE (Contract of First Employment) was held in Paris. The CPE is aimed at those young workers under 26 years of age. It allows them to be sacked without any reason and whenever an employer likes during the contract’s expected life of two years. The response was immediate and massive with more than a million and a half taking part in the demonstration. Such a level of participation has been seen only rarely in the last few years, and was repeated in cities throughout France, including Nice and Marseille. This is certainly a positive event in the context of the feeble responses so far to the ferocious attacks which the European bourgeoisie have inflicted on the labour force. It is an episode which cannot fail to gladden the hearts of those who are on the side of the working class. Alongside students, from both the secondary schools and the universities which were the organisational driving force behind the demonstrations, on the streets there were hundreds of thousands of young (and not so young) proletarians, office workers and employees of both public and private sectors, all of those who are already experiencing precarious working situations or fear that the casualisation of labour is not just a temporary measure for the present situation but the future reality for the entire working class.

For the time being the struggle has had the merit of bringing about a crisis of for the Chirac government which first had to promise the eventual lowering of the trial period of the CPE to one year and to force the work provider to issue a written justification for any dismissal, and then was forced to cancel the law to wait for a better time to try again.

Equally strong and well-organised was the presence of the forces of the capitalist Left, like the official and rank and file trades unions which however, as usual, were dragged along behind the initiatives rather than promoting them. Their main institutional role here is well-known. In opposition to the Government of the Right they are ready to carry out the very same policies, albeit in a different form, once they themselves arrive in power. The demonstration in Paris was not only very big but was also evidence that modern capitalism is drawing the noose too tightly. The demonstrations rejecting pauperisation, increasing social insecurity and war are multiplying in many continents from Latin America to the USA, and more recently in the old continent itself. So far none of this has been decisive but the signs of increasing impatience are multiplying.

Less positive as far as a more effective proletarian strategy is concerned was the content of the protests. With the exception of some scattered revolutionary minorities putting forward slogans with a class content, the slogans against the government of De Villepin were limited to a criticism of the CPE and its immediate and future consequences, without taking into account the context which governs job insecurity is the capitalist crisis. In France, as in the rest of the world capital suffers from a lack of adequate profits which weakens the whole economic system and as a consequence makes it more evil and inhuman. Every act of aggression against the world of labour is an attempt to make the proletariat pay for capitalism’s contradictions. Capitalism’s entire effort is devoted to the survival of its own way of producing and distributing wealth, which in a period of decline means less real wages and less welfare, a lower purchasing power and more poverty and insecurity, particularly as regards a permanent job, as well as a longer working life to obtain a pension and more generalised unemployment. For younger proletarians a pension becomes an unattainable mirage, health care is a luxury and state education has become a temporary parking place before either unemployment or an insecure job. This is the only certainty that the present economic system is capable of guaranteeing.

The CPE is nothing but the French version of increasing the insecure nature of labour which, for example, in Italy, has already made gigantic steps. First the Treu reform, then that of Biagi have created 40 different exceptional work contracts which have as their common object the aim of giving capital that amount of labour power that it needs and no more. To have it available only at times when it is economically convenient, when the rate of exploitation is adequate for the valorisation needs of capital and when the market demands it. When the situation is reversed, that is when it is necessary to reduce production, and it is for this that the various exceptional contracts have been created, capital can get rid of the excess labour power without giving any kind of reason, without costing it a penny. All of this has to be understood as the result of the need for national competiveness which has to keep step with the other international capitalist competitors who are facing the same problems and are imposing the same measures on their own proletariat.

Another limit of the huge demonstration in Paris, and of the struggles which it subsequently produced, is that no one thought of, and even less attempted any initiative to transform, at that moment when the state was under pressure, the movement to generalise and coordinate with other struggles within the workplace. The proposals on casualisation of labour in the CPE which today involve the young workers and students, will tomorrow be transferred to all other categories and ages of the working class. The huge demonstration should have been conceived politically not as the endpoint of the mobilisation but as the starting point for struggles in the workplaces, in the various productive sectors. Yes, it is a struggle against the increasing insecurity of labour, but it is also against the capitalist system that imposes it, against its crisis and its aggression towards the workforce. True, it’s unthinkable that a movement of protest which has only just been created, and which is composed in so socially and politically heterogeneous a manner could immediately, and on its own, make a coherent analysis and pose clear and significant objectives for itself. What is needed is that in the margin of struggles like this (Paris shows this but in how many other situations is the same problem present?) there has to be the real presence of a political force which knows how to be in the struggle, grows with it, stands as a strategic and tactical point of reference in order to carry out the work which can raise the political level of the struggle itself. When the opposite happens any demonstration, however big, any struggle, however determined and as strong as can be imagined, are destined to end on defeat or to die out from exhaustion leaving behind them only discouragement and resignation, if not supported and guided by the revolutionary vanguard which doesn’t just have the task of leading the struggle in its ascendancy but also the task of politically negotiating defeats. But all this today is almost nonexistent. The international party of the working class, the revolutionary party of communists is missing as the necessary guide to the struggles which are arising today, and which will arise tomorrow, as the increased intensity of the capitalist crisis becomes more deeper and more widespread. Now isn’t the time for anguish and remorse, now is the time to work for its construction.


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