French President Passes Labor Reform Despite Wide Opposition
Today the French President signed executive orders that will profoundly affect the life of millions of workers. Without blinking an eye, Emmanuel Macron is profoundly transforming labor legislation for the benefit of the very few members of his class.
September 22, 2017
Photo: Reuters / F. Wojazer
Over the last two weeks, tens of thousands of people have demonstrated against what is known as the ‘labor reform XXL’. Alas, their chants were not echoed in the presidential palace. President Emmanuel Macron disregards the social movement: “I do believe in democracy. And democracy is not in the street. They voted”, said President Macron, last Tuesday, to CNN. Well. What Macron omits to mention is that he was elected in very peculiar circumstances. The presidential elections in France take place over two weeks and feature two rounds. Though Emmanuel Macron was the candidate to gather the most ballots in the first round, he won with a very small margin. Only 18% of the registered voters went to cast a ballot for the former Minister of Economy. It is the lowest percentage an elected President ever obtained after the elections’ first round. The second, third and fourth candidates came right after him and respectively received 16% 15% and 14% of the votes.
"Two weeks later, his opposition in the second round was far-right Marine Le Pen. Many voters felt compelled to vote against the fascist anchor of the National Front." Hence, Emmanuel Macron was elected.
What Macron did not say to CNN is that he was elected by only 43.6% of the registered voters. Or that the number of blank ballots cast were never as high as in this election. Macron was elected President even though more than half of the registered voters never voted for him.
Nonetheless President Macron, who sometimes compares himself to the Greek God Jupiter, is fierce. He will soon pass a counter-terrorism legislation which will incorporate into common law the measures of the state of emergency. The sweeping powers of the police and the crackdown on civil liberties will become permanent.
Report from the general strike on September 21, 2017
When President Macron declares that he believes in democracy, he omits to mention that since election day, the police have intensified the attacks on children and adult immigrants living in informal settlements. They have used pepper sprays and teargas, they have confiscated sleeping bags and blankets.
When President Macron declares that he believes in democracy, he omits to mention institutional racism and neocolonialism. He omits to mention that France sells weapons to Russia and Saudi Arabia, which then bomb Syria and Yemen. But, of course, this might be too complicated to explain to the French voter. In President Macron’s world there seems to be only simple problems waiting for simple solutions. “Pedagogy” is the key of successful policy implementation, says the benevolent king: “I think what’s important is to do what you announced, to do it very quietly, and explain and explain”.
There can be only one plausible explanation to the reaction of the French workers: they are obviously too single-minded. President Macron has repeatedly stated his contempt for the working class, sometimes calling them “illiterate”. He mocked the “people who are nothing”. A few weeks ago, ahead of the demonstrations against his labor reform, he blamed the “slackers” for opposing progress and modernity.
President Macron, an advocate for democracy, decided to reform the labor law without going through the regular legislative process. He disregarded the Parliament and has crafted five executive orders that were made public on August 31 and were signed today, and will be implemented right away. The fast-track process was carefully designed to avoid the mass mobilizations, which could very likely intensify in October with the beginning of the academic semester.
A Neoliberal Labor Reform
The executive orders target crucial aspects of the daily working conditions. They represent another step in the steady abasement of the worker, transforming him into a malleable commodity. The rights that workers had fought for, and which contributed to make the French workplace safer, are swept away. The executive orders cap the amount of compensation to which a worker can pretend in case of ill treatment and make it easier for large companies to get rid of part of their workforce, even in times of economic flourishing. From now on, work contracts will be written by the employers only, without consideration for the negotiated agreements between labor unions and the firms.
In parallel with the labor reform, the President is lowering the Solidarity Tax on Wealth. Needless to explain why the business leaders, the banks and the corporate elite have welcomed the reforms with loud bravos. Emmanuel Macron, a longtime investment banker, is their champion.
Emmanuel Macron should not explain further. Opponents to the reform do not need patronizing pedagogues to understand that this reform increases job insecurity and attacks human dignity.