France: Union Hacks Back Bosses’ Plan to Tax Workers

PARIS, June 18 — In order to boost the competitiveness and profits of French companies, the government is moving to lower the social security contributions paid by private business. Taxpayers — most of whom are workers — will have to make up the shortfall through a value-added tax on consumer goods. This amounts to a sales tax, and since the tax is the same no matter what one’s income, it will cost workers a greater percentage of their income than rich people.

Moreover, this is a racist tax since workers of Arab and African origin are disproportionately poorer and will pay a larger percentage of their income than higher-income people.

The idea was advanced in a June 8 report co-authored by three bosses’ organizations and three sellout trade union confederations.

This week, both the Industry Minister and the ruling UMP party’s general secretary pushed debating the scheme, the first step in passing a law. To win public backing, the measure is billed as an “anti-offshoring value-added tax.” They claim that wages in France are “too high” because of the social security contributions the bosses have to pay. The bosses pretend they won’t move their factories to low-wage countries if they get what amounts to a wage-cut for workers — the new tax would cut into workers’ wages.


This is straightforward blackmail: telling workers their jobs will disappear overseas if they don’t cough up.

Industry Minister Eric Besson said, “The idea of shifting company social security contributions to a tax on another tax base, like consumption, merits debate. The cost of labor is one of the key elements in competitiveness.”

By cutting social security contributions, French bosses hope to lower their costs and undersell their imperialist rivals, increasing their competitiveness. But once the new “anti-offshoring value-added tax” has been established, the second round will surely see the politicians cutting social security benefits in order to lower taxes.

Co-authoring this scheme, set out in a 40-page report entitled “Approach to French Competitiveness,” represents yet another betrayal by three sellout union confederations. It highlights the bankruptcy of the unity-at-any-price strategy pursued by the supposedly “class-struggle” unions.

In 2009, the three sellout unions — the CFDT, the Roman Catholic CFTC, and the business executives’ union, the CGC — began working with the bosses to collect data on economic indicators. Now they’ve gone a step further.  They want the bosses’ government to “rethink the tax base that finances social protection.”

A worker’s income is composed of wages and benefits, including social security benefits. The proposed cut in our income will increase the boss’s profits. The three sellout unions are quite simply urging the government to change the tax laws so that the bosses can steal more of the wealth that we — and we alone — create!

Union Leaders in Bed
with the Bosses

This attack on the working class is accompanied by nauseating class collaboration. The bosses and union leaders announced in chorus that they had “gone beyond ideological approaches.” CFTC president Joseph Thouvenel trumpeted that “confronted with a fall in competitiveness, we have exited the class struggle to look reality in the face.”

For the past three years, the three openly sellout union confederations have been working hand-in-glove with the bosses to concoct this report. Now they intend to use the document to indoctrinate their members and as a basis of reference in wage negotiations.

Throughout last year’s fight against raising the retirement age, the leaders of the so-called “class-struggle” union confederations — particularly France’s biggest confederation, the CGT (which represents 34% of all workers) — insisted on preserving unity with these sellouts (who together represent 38% of workers). They claimed this was “the key to success.”

But in effect, this strategy gave the sellouts a veto on any possible actions. It guaranteed the struggle would never exceed symbolic one-day strikes. It nixed any possibility of an unlimited general strike. The struggle against raising the retirement age was lost.

Clearly this “unity strategy” was nothing but a fig leaf. It concealed the unwillingness of the “class-struggle” union leaders to really organize against the attack on the retirement age. It allowed them to sabotage the millions-strong movement while shifting the blame to the more open sellouts. So-called “progressives” like CGT leader Bernard Thibault are no better than CFTC’s Joseph Thouvenel.

When masses of workers here understand the pro-capitalist nature of all the reformist union leaders, of whatever stripe, it will provide the basis to develop the needed revolutionary communist leadership. Organizing to convince workers of this reality is one of the important tasks of communists in France.

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