Calls for walk-outs and strike action on Tuesday, October 18 have multiplied in the wake of the oil refinery strike. Workers’ anger over insufficient pay has been rising in workplaces across the country for weeks. It’s the case in nuclear plants and in companies like Dassault (military aircraft industry), Stellantis and Renault Trucks (automotive industry), Monoprix and Carrefour (retail and supermarket chains) among others. But it was the strike in the oil refineries that made the question of pay rises a national matter.
The oil refinery workers on strike, like railway workers, garbage collectors and teachers before them, were accused of taking the general population hostage. But management at TotalEnergies is to blame for the blockage as it refused to acknowledge a very basic demand: to raise pay at the same rate as price increases. And considering the profits the company has made – 18.8 billion euros in the first half of 2022, three times more than last year – refusing to increase workers’ pay is an outright scandal.
More anti-strike invective: oil refinery workers were also accused of engaging in a “preventive strike”1. The shareholders at TotalEnergies received a “preventive” advance payment of special dividends totaling 2.62 billion euros. But the people who repeat the bosses’ propaganda weren’t shocked!
Any extremists to be found are among the big bosses who are putting more in shareholders pockets than they’ve ever done before. It’s the CEOs who grant themselves annual salaries that are in the millions – 6 million euros for the CEO of TotalEnergies this year, an increase of 52% on his 2021 salary. They are extremists when it comes to profit and they can never get enough!
All this propaganda is sick-making, even more so because what’s going on at TotalEnergies is going on in every company. Profits and dividends come before wages and working conditions everywhere.
The bosses are always going on about “negotiation”. They’re happy to spend hours, days, nights in talking shops even though they’re not willing to concede anything. They’ll discuss insignificant details but that’s enough to make some trade union leaders feel important.
But the only way workers can gain anything is by fighting for it and definitely not through a sham negotiation. It’s now a principle for certain bosses: no increase to basic wages. To sweeten the pill, a small bonus will suffice!
The oil refinery workers’ strike is proof that going on strike and fighting together are the only means for workers to be heard.
The struggle between the workers and the bosses of big companies isn’t easy and never has been. They’re not competing on equal terms. The bosses have the money and the power and they can count on the state and government with their requisitions, court bailiffs, repressive law enforcement and justice system.
Faced with the crisis and the uncertain times ahead, the capitalists are determined not to give in. They want to make as much profit as possible and in advance. Hand in hand with the government, they are ready to push us back a generation in terms of pay, unemployment rights and retirement pensions.
For workers, the fight is bound to be difficult, but the life that government and bosses have in store for us will also be more and more difficult. Therefore, we need to prepare ahead and to face the situation with determination and the conviction that we are fighting a just battle.
In these times of soaring inflation, the gap between prices and wages is widening. Workers don’t have to accept getting poorer! Pay must be increased by 300 or 400 euros per month and indexed to the real evolution of prices, not to what the government tells us. This basic demand is perfectly legitimate; the laboring classes must make it their own.
Mobilization for pay rises must become everybody’s business. Let’s take advantage of every meeting, every walk-out to discuss our demands – not the bosses suggestions or proposals, but what we need to live decently. And let’s discuss how we can lead our own struggles ourselves so that they’re not sold out by any union leaders.
If there are only a few of us, we can’t change the balance of power with the bosses. But, as soon as mobilization becomes or threatens to become a mass movement, what was impossible becomes possible.
So, let’s take advantage of the fuel provided by the oil refinery strike to get moving!
1 “Grève preventive” originally used by the CFDT union and taken up by a number of disapproving politicians, government officials and trade unionists to disconsider a strike organized before pay negotiations take place.