April 2006   
Racist Provocation Against Ghetto Youth
Spearheads Capitalist Offensive Against the Right to a Job

The following is a translation of an article by the League for the Fourth International that was distributed at the March 28 mass mobilization in Paris which drew up to 700,000 participants. On April 1, French president Jacques Chirac promulgated the “first employment contract,” but instructed employers not to implement it, promising that a new amended bill would be submitted to the National Assembly.

This waffling satisfied no one. Within the government there is great turmoil, with the arrogant aristocratic prime minister Dominique de Villepin threatening “consequences” if the law is gutted. His rival for the candidacy of the right in next year’s presidential election, hard-line interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, pretends to be the voice of “dialogue” with the opposition. Meanwhile, the mobilizations in the streets have not let up, and on April 4 another 3 million people demonstrated throughout France demanding the law be repealed. Subsequently rail and road blockades have been thrown up at dozens of locations around the country.

Jussieu University, March 15. CPE spells capitalism, job insecurity, exploitation.
Photo: Benoît Tessier/Reuters

MARCH 25 – As was to be expected, the response of the reactionary Chirac/Villepin/Sarkozy government to the revolt by youth of immigrant origin last fall has been to launch an attack on all youth and the workers movement as a whole. The “first employment contract” (CPE – contrat de première embauche), which was rammed through the National Assembly on the night of February 8 and approved a month later as part of the so-called “equal opportunity” law, lets bosses fire young workers (under the age of 26) easily, without giving the least justification. According to Prime Minister de Villepin’s argument, this would help to resolve the problem of youth unemployment which (according to official statistics) reaches 23 percent nationally and over 50 percent in the housing projects of the working-class suburbs. As a young protester said of the head of government in a March 24 demonstration in Paris, “he claims to be doing social work for ghetto youth, but in fact he is ladling out gravy to the employers.”

The capitalist logic is as perverse as it is simple: to encourage hiring, they must make it easier to lay off workers when there is a downturn in the business cycle. Obviously, the same argument could be used to eliminate any protection of job security, for older as well as younger workers. This is precisely what the bosses in Medef, the French employers association, want when they demand, as they have done for quite a while, that labor contracts must be more “flexible.” That is the real purpose of the Villepin Law. And that is why opposition to the CPE, and to its cousin, the CNE (“new job contract,” which permits firing without cause for companies with less than 20 employees), can’t be limited to reestablishing the status quo, driving out the prime minister or even bringing down the government. The working class is targeted in a worldwide offensive by capital, and therefore the response must be a counteroffensive by the exploited and oppressed against the capitalist system.

To achieve this, it is necessary to bring together in struggle the college and high school students of the big cities, workers in the public and private sectors, and youth of North African and sub-Saharan African origin living in the desolate high-rise housing projects where they are subjected to ceaseless police repression. De Villepin, Sarkozy and Chirac are perfectly aware of this, and assiduously try to set each against the others. They whisper to the youth of the banlieues, the suburban ghettos1, that the students demonstrating in the streets only want to hold onto their “privileges” and keep youth of immigrant origin from getting jobs. The government consciously provokes the blind violence that grows out of desperation, in order to label all demonstrators casseurs (“smashers”)2. These are the insults that are always used by counterrevolutionaries, like de Gaulle in 1968, who accused the youth of creating a godawful mess (chienlit), or the partisans of the Ancien Régime (the Old Order) in 1789, for whom the revolutionary crowd were nothing but scum (canaille). Sarkozy called the young rebels in the suburbs “thugs” (voyous) and “rabble” (racaille), but the real thugs and smashers are sitting in the Elysée presidential palace, at the Matignon prime minister’s office and the Place Beauvau HQ of the minister of the interior.

All these demagogic appeals by the bourgeoisie and attempts to stigmatize those who fight against its rule must be rejected. The most conscious militants of the generation précaire (“precarious generation,” lacking stable jobs), of aging sixty-eighters, of militant trade-unionists and residents of the suburban ghettos who have hatred (la haine) of the system must band together on the basis of a class-struggle program and under a genuinely communist leadership to prepare workers revolution.

The insistence of Prime Minister de Villepin on the CPE is not “incomprehensible stubbornness,” nor was the proclamation of a state of emergency by President Chirac during the revolt by ghetto youth last November, nor the brutal curfew (in reality, lockdown) imposed by Interior Minister Sarkozy which turned housing projects outside Paris, Lyon and Toulouse into concentration camps. The postal worker trade-unionist who was beaten and kicked by the murderous CRS3 riot police, and who today lies in a coma, hovering between life and death, is not the victim of a “blunder,” as the bourgeois media claim in unison. What’s going on is that the government, this executive committee for managing the affairs of the ruling class, has declared war on “immigrants,” youth and working people. And in order to win this class war, what’s needed is to mobilize a superior force, that of the working class, and not just in well-mannered parades to celebrate springtime.

A Transitional Program Leading to the Struggle for Power

This mobilization must be undertaken for transitional objectives which lead from the present struggles toward the taking of power by the working people. While the large majority of organizations of the left simply call for withdrawing the “equal opportunity” law, the present status quo doesn’t give anything to millions of youth condemned to long-term unemployment under capitalism. We have already experienced innumerable “reforms” promising to provide jobs for those unable to find work, with no success. Full employment laws have become a dead letter during periods of recession. Others, like the Aubry Law instituting the 35-hour workweek4, have even been used by the bosses to “restructure” their workforce and lay off employees. It is not enough to talk of an “anti-capitalist” movement – it’s necessary to go further in the struggle for jobs and against racial exclusion to directly attack the system of production for profit.

Contingent of CFDT truckers union at March 28 protest in Paris against youth employment law.
(Internationalist photo)

In the Transitional Program, Leon Trotsky raised among his main demands the call for a sliding scale of working hours, to provide jobs for all. This embodies the principle of a socialist planned economy of dividing up the available work among those who seek it. A sliding scale of working hours must be accompanied by workers action to stop mass layoffs, such as those now threatening the jobs of tens of thousands of workers at Renault auto plants and France Télécom. Striking the affected plants will have little impact, so the struggle must be waged at the level of the entire industry, even Europe-wide. At the same time, in order to avoid abuse by the employers, which is inevitable with any youth jobs plan in the present framework, it is necessary to struggle for workers control of hiring. Impossible? It once existed in the printing industry, with the CGT Printers Union Federation. What is true, however, is that we can’t achieve these goals by the good graces of the (capitalist) state, it must be extracted from the bosses by the action of the workers movement, and such measures necessarily point toward workers revolution.

To combat the racist discrimination faced by the youth of the suburban ghettos, it is not enough to fight for demands that are common to all. While right-wing pro-business elements sometimes talk of “positive discrimination” against exclusion, they seek to divide the working people. But rejecting any special measures against ethnic discrimination smacks of “republican” color-blindness. That is why we fight for trade-union training and hiring programs for sectors of the youth that have historically faced discrimination and deprivation. This can be quite concrete: for example, there are Citröen and Renault auto plants, SNCF railway yards, the Roissy airport and other large establishments right near towns in the Seine-Saint-Denis district outside Paris that were the scene of riots last fall. A determined effort by workers in these sectors to attract youth from the near-by housing projects, to provide them with professional training and permanent jobs, not just temporary contract work with no outlook for stable employment, would go far in advancing the fight against racism and preparing a struggle of the whole of the working class against capital.

The struggle against racism also has a lot to do with the division between public and private sector workers, which has long bedeviled the French workers movement. The weakness of the unions in the private sector is directly linked to the fact that there are millions of immigrant workers there who constitute a strategic sector of the proletariat but who lack the rights of their co-workers who have French citizenship. This fact played a big role in the defeat of past struggles, in the auto sector and elsewhere, and is also the result of the abandonment of whole layers of the working people by the trade-union bureaucracy with its labor-aristocratic mentality. This is even more the case for the hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers who are forced to work “off the books.” And yet they represent an important part of the workforce which the capitalists depend on to supply the labor necessary for their system of production. Thus the demand for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, whether their papers are in order or they are undocumented, would lay the basis for a struggle uniting the working class against its common enemy, and would restore a vigor to the union movement that it has lost in recent decades.

This isn’t the first time that there has been a large-scale struggle over a program purporting to solve youth unemployment. Remember the 1994 battle over the “youth minimum wage,” the so-called “introductory professional contract,” proposed by conservative prime minister Edouard Balladur, who was forced by mass mobilizations of the youth and the unions to withdraw it after the law had been passed by the National Assembly. Nevertheless, in the current struggle against the CPE, in the face of the determination of the government and the bosses, it is unlikely that victory can be won simply by a few big demonstrations. The logic of the struggle is heading toward a general strike – not a holiday with a parade, which is how the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy conceives of it, but a real test of strength between the proletariat to determine who is the master of the house. Yet at present there are no ongoing strikes. To advance in this direction, what’s called for is to undertake strike movements in sectors linked to the fight against the CPE, beginning with education and enterprises affected by the government’s privatization offensive.

Teachers have had a strong presence in the recent mobilizations, but as was the case in the student struggle last year, although most of the universities and many lycées are on strike or “disrupted,” the teachers have so far not struck themselves. They should do so. It’s necessary to fight in the teachers unions (FSU, SNESup and others) for a national education strike, even if this begins with walkouts in traditionally “hot” sectors, as is always the case, for example, in the 93rd département (Seine-Saint-Denis). Workers at Gaz de France and the Suez water workers, whose jobs are threatened due to a fusion announced by the government in the name of “economic patriotism,” have already made connections between their struggle and that of the youth. But it is necessary to go over to action, and that requires a fight against the bureaucracy, which much prefers tête-a-tête discussions in the offices of the ministries to hard struggles in the plants. But the real stakes in the battle over the CPE are political.

Not A New Popular Front – For Workers Revolution!

The reformists look to the formation of a new “popular front,” a new class-collaborationist alliance with the bourgeoisie, whether it’s called the Union of the Left or something else, in order to chain the workers to their class enemy. Of course, they have their differences. The Communist Party (PCF), in a family reunion of left-wing organizations held in the Mutualité meeting hall on February, is trying to cobble together a bloc which would extend to the Socialist Party (PS) and Left Radicals (PRG)5. That would mean overcoming – or rather, ignoring – major differences, for example over the 29 May 2005 referendum on the European Union constitution. There the PS leadership voted “yes” while the rest of the left (and much of the Socialists’ ranks) said “no.”

Social workers on March 28 in Paris protest against youth labor law that would create a disposable generation whose jobs can be thrown away like Kleenex.  (Internationalist photo)

The Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), on the other hand, is asking for an “antiliberal and anticapitalist bloc” (letter to the PCF, published in Rouge, 16 March) which would exclude the PS. But to pretend that an alliance with the PCF, the PRG and the Citizens’ Movement (MDC) of Jean Pierre Chevènement6 would be somehow “anticapitalist” is a lie, pure and simple. One way or another, these proposed alliances represent the scourge of the popular front, whose aim is to prevent independent action by the working class and to oblige it to respect the rules of capitalism.

The LCR says what’s needed is to “beat this government,” because “this power is illegitimate” (Rouge, 23 March). Now Alain Krivine and his comrades discover the illegitimacy of the regime, but back in 2002 the LCR encouraged voting for Chirac on the second round of the presidential election, in the name of beating Le Pen – as did the vast majority of the left, either openly or with a benevolent wink of the eye. For the LCR, this wasn’t entirely a novelty, since it had already given its backing to Chirac’s foreign policy during the war against Serbia in 1999, when it called on the European imperialists to watch over human rights in Yugoslavia. Today, the government that Krivine & Co. helped put in power, and for which they therefore bear their share of responsibility, is attacking the youth.

If the pseudo-Trotskyist LCR is seeking a repeat of the political bloc over the “no” vote on the European constitution, other groups which lay claim to the mantle of Trotskyism take refuge in reformist economism. Lutte Ouvrière (LO) calls for withdrawing the CPE/CNE because they are laws that aggravate job instability. Its solution: “The only way to really reduce unemployment is to ban layoffs and force large enterprises to devote their profits to financing job maintenance, rather than distributing them to shareholders” (editorial by Arlette Laguiller7 in Lutte Ouvrière, 24 February). With whose army, one is tempted to ask, does LO think it can require the state to “ban” layoffs and the capitalists to finance jobs instead of profits? Behind this demand is a dangerous social-democratic illusion in the “neutrality” of the bourgeois state, which in reality is the armed fist of the ruling class. Worse yet, during the revolt by ghetto youth last year, LO repeatedly condemned “violence” in general, using Sarkozy’s language about “thugs” and expressing its solicitude for the police on duty in the suburbs:

“The daily violence in these neighborhoods is perhaps the product of thugs and drug traffickers. But these thugs have always been around, so why do they today have the support of a large part of the youth? Why do the explosions of violence bring many more youth up against the police than just the petty neighborhood gang leaders?”

–“Suburbs: Who is really responsible for the violence,” Lutte Ouvrière, 4 November 2005

What a disgrace! Even if LO puts the ultimate responsibility on the government, it is playing the game of racist reaction, just as LO has done in the past toward the fascists of Le Pen’s National Front (which it denies is fascist), toward the cops (who it wrongly considers part of the working class), and with its support to the racist exclusionary law against headscarves.

The current mobilizations against the CPE have taken up where the October-November 2005 revolts in the suburban ghettos subjected to racist and social segregation left off. If that revolt remained isolated, this was above all the fault of the reformist left, which didn’t lift its little finger to go to the aid of the youth in the projects besieged by Sarkozy’s cops. When the government whipped up a xenophobic and racist hysteria about an invasion of “Arab” and black youth descending on the elegant Champs-Elysées in downtown Paris, the LCR, LO and the rest of the “far left” of yesteryear preferred to hold small, belated demonstrations in the Tuileries gardens and in the Latin Quarter instead of intervening in the unions to march on the housing projects and liberate the residents encircled by the police. As for the PCF and PS mayors and elected representatives in the former “red belt” around Paris, they called for police reinforcements even as they criticized the state of emergency as useless. No left group, to our knowledge, put forward the elementary demand at that time of cops out of the projects! That was also the case of the left-centrist Ligue Trotskyste de France (LTF), although it did raise the correct slogans of “French troops out of Africa” and “Cops out of the unions.” Nor did the LTF call for workers mobilizations in defense of the ghetto population, or for union measures to combat the racist exclusion of youth of immigrant origins from obtaining jobs.

A frontal clash is looming between the workers and the bourgeoisie, unless Chirac and the deputies of the “presidential majority” decide to dump the unelected prime minister, this ambitious would-be Napoleonic figure, and drop the CPE in order to save their own skins in the next electoral round. The presence in the streets of hundreds of thousands of youth and working people is an important asset in the resistance against the government’s attacks. De Villepin is openly playing for time, hoping the situation will deteriorate, but without success. So far, his tough talk hasn’t succeeded in breaking the movement or weakening the mobilizations. Yet the union bureaucrats are ever-ready to seize offers for “dialogue,” and we have already seen them weaken when invited to join the prime minister in his office at Hôtel Matignon. These labor lieutenants of the bourgeoisie, whose function is to grease the gears of the bourgeois state machinery, fear class conflict and hate revolution “like the plague.”

While the newspapers insist on the fact that this is not “another 1968,” that the struggle of the youth is above all defensive for now, it is obvious that only a revolutionary outcome, “a May ’68 that goes all the way,” can wrench out the right to jobs for all and sweep away racism, which is inherent in capitalism. Even as they refuse to say the words, the union tops of the CGT, FO and CFDT labor federations are well aware, as is the government, that things are heading toward a general class confrontation. They barely avoided this in 1995 in the battle over Alain Juppé’s pension “reform” (when de Villepin, then Chirac’s presidential chief of staff, reportedly urged the prime minister “not to give in to the street”), sacrificing the struggle in favor of a prospective popular-front government under the baton of Lionel Jospin. They are trying to do the same today. Thus in order to take this class battle forward to a successful outcome, it is necessary above all to fight for a revolutionary policy and leadership which rejects class collaboration and popular-frontism on principle, and which poses the task of forging a revolutionary and internationalist, Leninist-Trotskyist, workers party, to lead the struggle for international socialist revolution. This is the program of the League for the Fourth International. n

1 In contrast to the United States, where “inner city” has become a code word for ghetto, in France the poor are concentrated in working-class suburbs (the banlieues) around the major cities, where immigrant laborers were housed during economic boom times. There the young and old are isolated and, since the 1980s, condemned to high rates of long-term unemployment. The ghetto youth who revolted last fall are largely of immigrant origin, but usually second and third generation.

2 After the 1968 youth and worker revolt in France, semi-anarchist groups protesting police repression often lashed out in frustration, leading to a hysterical media campaign against “smashers” and a draconian “anti-casseur” law that jailed hundreds for the “crime” of being in the vicinity of a smashed store or car window.

3 Compagnie Républicaine de Sécurité, special paramilitary police units that operate out of barracks and have been used to break up protests for decades.

4 Named after Martine Aubry, Socialist Party minister of employment in the popular front Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, the loi Aubry was passed in 1997, calling for the standard workweek to be reduced to 35 hours by the year 2000.

5 The Radical Party was the mainstay bourgeois party of the French Third (1870-1940) and Fourth (1945-1958) Republics, consisting mainly of government employees. The Left Radical PRG is a minor bourgeois “progressive” formation which has been part of just about every popular-front coalition for the last 35-years, where it plays the role of guarantor for the bourgeoisie.

6 The MDC is a small populist group whose hallmark is French imperialist chauvinism.

7 LO’s perennial presidential candidate.

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