The working class of France is in the streets, with millions of people striking and demonstrating.
The proverbial straw — more like a whole big bundle of straw — was French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Macron, who imposed this attack on pensions by presidential edict, also raised by two years the length of time a worker must work before retiring with maximum benefits. For most retirees in France, in both the public and private sectors, the state pension is their only source of income.
Why is this so important?
A fight over pensions is essentially a fight over deferred wages. Part of the compensation a worker receives is paid out in the form of a regular paycheck, while another portion is set aside to be paid at a later date as a pension and/or social security. It’s money already earned, usually over a period spanning decades.
To extract more of what Marx called surplus value — unpaid labor realized in the form of profit — without paying more wages, it would be hard for capitalists to do in 2023 what they did in the 19th century. Back then they just made the workday longer without raising pay. That would provoke a hell of a revolt today!
So instead, the French bourgeoisie is attempting to squeeze another two years worth of value from the hides of the workers — without paying one euro more for it! But if they thought there would be no fight-back, it was a gross miscalculation.
The class battle lines could not be clearer. For workers in the rest of the world, including the U.S., the question is simply, “Which side are you on?” The labor movement here should be calling actions in solidarity with the workers in France fighting to hold the line on pensions. An injury to one is an injury to all! And a win for one is a win for all.
Not only should U.S. workers join in unity with workers across the ocean, they should emulate them. There are but a few examples in U.S. labor history of mass, unified strikes: 1919 in Seattle; 1934 in San Francisco, Minneapolis and Toledo, Ohio; the May Day 2006 strike of immigrant workers across the country; and a handful of others.
Imagine if the AFL-CIO were to call out its ranks, along with the ranks of unorganized workers, to demand a halt to union-busting by Amazon and Starbucks! It’s time for workers everywhere to start talking along those lines.
Workers rights are human rights!