Amid rising anger of workers and youth against the criminal “herd immunity” and austerity policies of the European Union (EU), which have led to nearly 700,000 COVID-19 deaths in Europe, Lutte Ouvrière (LO) is promoting the French unions’ symbolic one-day strike today. The unions, however, approve and support the €2 trillion EU bank bailouts that are based on implementing “herd immunity” policies.
LO is trying to stifle opposition to back-to-work and “herd immunity” policies by spreading the illusion that its demands will give a progressive content to the EU bailouts. LO writes, “With the €100 billion [allocated to France] in the recovery plan, we can create more than 2.7 million jobs: we need worker control over public funding collected by big business! This money must be used to guarantee jobs and salaries and to hire staff for hospitals and retirement homes!”
In fact, the pandemic has exposed the contempt of capitalist institutions for workers’ very lives. In 2020, over 70,000 people died of COVID-19 in France, more than the number of civilians killed per year in World War II. There have been more than 700,000 deaths in Europe, and 2 million worldwide. Moreover, even before the virus arrived in Europe, EU governments had been informed of the deadliness of the virus by their intelligence agencies and Chinese authorities.
However, they refused to take effective action against the virus, such as lockdowns, instead sending workers to work and youth to school despite the risk of contagion. Petty bourgeois parties like LO, moreover, made themselves complicit in this murderous policy.
Stopping the pandemic requires an international struggle to seize the resources needed for workers in non-essential sectors to shelter at home, and for distance learning in schools. This requires expropriating the financial aristocracy—a policy that LO and the unions in reality oppose. They want union bureaucracies and the affluent middle class to have their share of the cake in the distribution of European funds to big business and the financial markets. The Stalinist General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and other French unions formally signed the EU bailout plan.
The February 4 day of action called by the CGT, the Solidarity union and the Unitary Union Federation (FSU) takes place amid an international wave of strikes against back-to-work policies and school reopenings. This reflects rising anger at mass layoffs, joblessness and “herd immunity” policies. However, the unions and LO are trying to drive workers into a dead end and block a struggle of the working class to halt the pandemic based on a struggle for socialism.
CGT general secretary Philippe Martinez warned Macron in comments to the press at the beginning of the year that social anger was brewing in France. Fearing that the unions could be overwhelmed by the workers, LO anxiously points, in its statement on the strike of February 4, to the growing radicalization of workers fighting layoffs: “Many workers are defending themselves at the level of their company.” LO cites the cases of the Total refinery in Grandpuits, targeted for closure, and the tour operator Tui, where the workers are opposing 600 layoffs.
LO refers to workers’ combativeness and notes the counteroffensive by the working class against “capitalists who are leading an offensive against the workers.” However, LO casts aside calls for a general strike and insists that the initiative remain in the hands of the unions: “Such mobilization cannot be decreed, of course. But it is necessary and possible. The CGT, Solidarity and FSU call for a day of mobilization and strike on Thursday, February 4. It is an opportunity to affirm, collectively, that the workers have objectives and perspectives to oppose the bourgeoisie and its government.”
LO suggests that a counteroffensive by the entire working class is needed to deal with the layoffs, but then effectively declares that this is not possible. This only raises the question: when will it be possible, and who can lead it? LO’s demoralized position is, in fact, an attempt to block the building of a revolutionary party to lead a revolutionary political struggle of the working class against EU governments and the international financial aristocracy.
LO instead takes the anti-Marxist path of subordinating the historic interests of the working class, even amid the mass deaths of the pandemic, to the interests of the union bureaucracy—by insisting this bureaucracy is the only organization authorized to call for a mobilization of the workers.
A class gulf separates LO’s attempt to subordinate workers struggles to the union bureaucracies from the aspirations of the workers to oppose the criminal policies of Macron and the EU. LO’s assertions notwithstanding, the only way forward in opposition to mass layoffs and “herd immunity” policies dictated across Europe by the terms of the EU bailout is a united international counteroffensive of the working class. Workers are driven towards an international unification of their struggles.
Workers all over Europe are victims of the EU’s criminal policies, imposed in France by President Emmanuel Macron. In 2018 and 2019, a wave of strikes and protests erupted worldwide—from US teachers and auto strikes to the mass public sector strikes in India, Poland and Portugal, and a wave of mass protests in Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Sudan and across Latin America. The driving force behind this mobilization was the workers’ attempt to struggle against social inequality outside the suffocating grip of the old organizations.
In France, the “yellow vest” protests erupted outside the trade union bureaucracies and pseudo-left parties like LO, who were discredited by decades of betrayal of strikes and social struggles. These organizations were hostile to the “yellow vests,” moreover, which they denounced as a far-right, neo-fascist movement.
Now, with the global pandemic, LO fears that a more radicalized, explicitly political movement of the working class will develop outside of the unions. This is why LO claims with increasing desperation that a working class counteroffensive can only be decreed by the union bureaucracy.
The urgent struggle for a shelter-at-home policy and against austerity requires a break by the workers from the trade unions and the pseudo-left, including LO, which support the EU policy of “herd immunity” and the economic restructuring. To this end, the workers must build their own security committees in neighborhoods, universities and workplaces, and to build the Socialist Equality Party as revolutionary leadership against political satellites of the trade unions such as LO.