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Wars, Inflation, and Strikes: A Summer of Discontent in Europe?

By Josefina L. Martínez - Left Voice, July 12, 2022

Strikes over wage increases or working conditions are occurring in response to high inflation, aggravated by the aftermath of the war in Ukraine. These labor actions show a change in the mood of the European working class.

Are we heading toward a summer of discontent in Europe? Can we foresee a hot autumn on the Continent? It would be hasty to make such statements, but new strike activity is beginning to unfold among sectors of several countries’ working class. Inflation reached 8.8 percent as a European average in May (with higher rates in countries like the UK and Spain). After years of inflation below 1.5 percent, this is a significant change that is causing a fall in the population’s purchasing power, especially among the working class. Many analysts are already talking about the possibility of stagflation: a combination of recession and inflation.

This is in addition to the political instability of several governments and a widespread dissatisfaction with the traditional parties. The latter was expressed in France in the last elections, with high abstention and the growth of Marine Le Pen’s far-right party and of the center-left coalition grouped around Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Emmanuel Macron lost his absolute majority in the National Assembly and now faces a five-year period of great political uncertainty. Another government in crisis is that of the UK, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is stepping down.

In this context, recent weeks have seen strikes taking place in key sectors, including transport, steel, ports, and public services, as well as in more precarious sectors. Although there are differences among these countries, the strikes are opening a breach in the climate of “national unity” that governments tried to impose a few months ago, when the war in Ukraine began. In this article we review some of these labor conflicts in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and other countries.

War in Ukraine: reflections and proposals for internationalist union action

By Simon Pirani - Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières, March 31, 2022

From the Solidaires Union web site. These notes from the Solidaires Union bureau set out its approach to building solidarity with Ukrainian working-class resistance to Russian military aggression. They are a useful starting point for discussion.

This statement is based on the assessment made during the Solidaires national board meeting in March, the contributions of our member organizations, the work of our international commission, and inter-union exchanges both nationally, through the inter-union CGT/FSU/Solidaires, and internationally, through the International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggles. All of this has also been fuelled by the exchanges and reflections held within larger unitary frameworks in which we take part. [1]

Beyond producing assessments and analyses, union commitment is about action. The following proposals are based on the international work that Solidaires has been doing for years and are expressed in the initiatives, connections and publications of recent days. They aim to respond – on the basis of concrete actions and not useless polemics – to the sectarianism displayed by some statements from other trade union organisations, and especially to the hypocrisy of government and employers’ declarations.

The introductory statement to the debate of the national board the 9th March recalled the position of the Solidaires union from the first day of the war (actually even before the start of this war, since all that follows is part of the tradition and practice of internationalist unionism that we try to implement):

□ The immediate withdrawal of Russian troops – the right of peoples to self-determination – the need for an immediate ceasefire and for building a negotiated peace – supporting people fighting against war, especially in countries at war – the dignified and massive reception of all refugees, regardless of their origin, and the fight against all inequalities and discrimination – taking part, on our own terms, in mobilisations and demonstrations for peace – (joint) participation in the initiatives of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, such as the “union convoy” which aims to provide Ukrainian workers with relief supplies – denouncing nationalism and capitalism as the causes of war – internationalism, as an alternative to nationalism – fighting to end tax havens – the urgency of an ecological transition towards the end of the massive use of fossil fuels.

Blah, Blah, Blah, Yay: Another Epic Fail for the COP, but Seeds of Growth for our Movements

By John Foran - Sierra Club, December 1, 2021

As COP 26 began, Greta Thunberg summed up the whole thing quite succinctly using just one word, three times:  Blah blah blah.

And as it ended two weeks later, she tweeted:

The #COP26 is over. Here’s a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah. But the real work continues outside these halls. And we will never give up, ever [emphasis added].

And indeed, COP 26 was an epic fail, even by the dismal standards of the 25 COPs that preceded it, but at the same time, the global climate justice movement made some much needed forward progress.

Union Struggles Against Climate Change

The ZAD: between utopian radicalism and negotiated pragmatism

By Fareen Parvez and Stellan Vinthagen - ROAR, September 11, 2021

The global coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp relief the many failures of contemporary capitalist states around the globe. These include the failure to ensure social and economic justice and to provide basic protections for the most vulnerable individuals and communities, from refugees to the houseless. Consequently, it has also made clear the need for social movements to not only resist the violence of the state and its facilitation of global capitalism, but to simultaneously and actively build a prefigurative politics toward an alternative society. Carving out autonomous spaces for mutual aid and radical politics is more important than ever.

Among the multitude of ways movements engage in prefigurative politics, land occupation struggles have long been central — from the historic Maroon communities formed by fugitive slaves throughout Latin America, the long-standing Acampamentos of the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil to the short-lived Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle in the aftermath of the uprising in response to the murder of George Floyd.

One such movement, relatively unknown outside of Europe, is the Zone à Défendre (Zone to Defend), the ZAD, in western France. Located in the commune of Notre-Dame-des-Landes outside the city of Nantes, the ZAD is the largest of dozens of occupation zones in France. It originated as an anti-development project opposing the construction of an international airport and it survives to this day despite repeated efforts by the state to crush it.

The struggles of la ZAD illustrate both the potential and the many challenges faced by today’s radical occupation movements. History shows that when radical movements push the limits of global capitalist hegemony, states will respond with brutal repression. Examples, among many, include the Bloody Week that ended the 1871 Paris Commune, Turkey’s military attacks on autonomous Kurdish towns and repeated massacres of Landless Workers’ Movement activists by police or private militias in Brazil.

In addition to the use of all-out force, however, contemporary states have also increasingly turned to other tactics. As public opinion and human rights regimes pressure states to use “legitimate and proportional” means, they utilize legal-bureaucratic and ideological repression, to seduce, manipulate and forcibly incorporate movements into the system. We have seen this at work against urban squatters and rural land occupations around the world, where states employ a broad repertoire of tactics — from co-opting leaders to promoting gentrification. Ultimately, though, it is the threat of violence that makes such legal-bureaucratic strategies viable. The story of the ZAD repeats many of these patterns.

The ZAD also raises questions about the role of unity in radical struggle, as well as the effectiveness of specific land occupation strategies. Is it enough to share a common enemy — in this case an airport development project — or must members share the same vision of prefigurative politics? As the French state attempts to incorporate the remains of the ZAD into a vision of rural capitalist development — as always, with the backing of police violence — how do members continue their struggle? Where are the cracks within the repressive state-capitalist system that radical activists can use to their advantage and for their survival?

To seek some answers to these questions, we made several visits to the ZAD over a few years, the last one being in early 2020. As sociologists and activists with a long interest in resistance and prefigurative politics, we shared sympathies with the movement and developed a more intimate understanding of the struggle by talking with residents and taking a closer look on the ground. What we saw indeed diverged from the dominant narrative, which had declared the end and defeat of la ZAD.

Ranking G7 Green Recovery Plans and Jobs: Can the UK boost its climate action and green job creation in line with its G7 peers?

By staff - Trades Union Caucus (TUC)May 2021

This report ranks G7 countries’ green recovery and job creation plans. It shows how the UK is lagging behind its G7 peers, and the potential to do much more to expand green jobs and accelerate climate action.

The TUC’s ranking of all G7 countries’ green recovery and jobs investments shows that the UK comes sixth. Only Japan scores worse per person.

The UK’s green recovery plans remain only a tiny fraction of that in other G7 countries, despite the government’s flagship Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution which purports to support the UK’s climate targets and establish UK world leadership in some areas of green technology. Scaled by population, the UK green investment plans are only 26% of France’s, 21% of Canada, 13% of Italy’s and 6% of the USA’s.

This means that the UK Prime Minister would need five Ten Point Plans to match Prime Minister Trudeau in Canada, eight Ten Point Plans to match Prime Minister Draghi in Italy, and sixteen Ten Point Plans to match President Biden’s in the US.

Read the text (PDF).

Only 18% of global Recovery spending in 2020 was green

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 10, 2021

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released Are We Building Back Better? Evidence from 2020 and Pathways for Inclusive Green Recovery Spending, on March 10. It estimates that in 2020, the world’s fifty largest economies announced USD14.6tn in fiscal measures to address the pandemic economic crisis, and states: …. “Excluding currently uncertain packages from the European Commission, 18.0% of recovery spending, and only 2.5% of total spending, is expected to enhance sustainability. The vast majority of green spending has come from a small set of high-income nations” with France, Germany and South Korea highlighted for their relatively high percentage of green recovery spending. Canada’s spending is small, with only brief references which state that we have focused on “cleaning dirty energy assets”, and have made fossil fuel investment. (no details or examples given). It is notable that the report covers 2020, so that U.S. spending is also low, though hope is expressed for the Biden/Harris administration. Notably, the report looks to the future: “….. the largest window for green spending is only now opening, as nations shift attention from short-term rescue measures to recovery. Using examples from 2020 spending, we highlight five major green investment opportunities to be prioritised in 2021: green energy, green transport, green building upgrades & energy efficiency, natural capital, and green research and development.”

Each of those topics is analyzed, with some exemplary policies highlighted. Some overarching issues: “Of particular note, despite continuing high global unemployment and widespread damage to human capital, spending on worker retraining in 2020 was small and almost exclusively non-green. Nations transitioning to a low-carbon economy must invest in human capital to enable and match future growth priorities. Structural changes in major sectors, including energy, agriculture, transport, and construction, require shifts in the structure and capabilities of the domestic labour force.”

Also, regarding “green strings”: “Although some dirty rescue-type expenditure may have been necessary to ensure that lives and livelihoods were saved, many of the largest of these policies could have included positive green attributes. For instance, airline bailouts in nations all over the world, including South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States could have included green conditions. Green conditions tied to liquidity support, like requirements to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or mandates to increase sustainable fuel use, can ensure short term relief while also promoting investment in long-term technological development and acting as a strong guide in national efforts to meet climate targets.”

The report is supported by the United Nations UNEP, the International Monetary Fund and GIZ through the Green Fiscal Policy Network (GFPN). The data was collected by the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project and is now available through the Global Recovery Observatory, a new database which will be updated regularly (most recently at the end of February).

The report cites many other studies and reports, notably: “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” by Cameron Hepburn, Brian O’Callaghan, Nicholas Stern, Joseph Stiglitz, and Dimitri Zenghelis, which appeared in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy in May 2020.

French Energy Union FNME-CGT Endorses TUED Call for Public Energy in Texas

By Staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, March 8, 2021

In a March 8 Press Release, FNME-CGT — the energy and mining division of French trade union confederation CGT — has republished a TUED briefing paper on the recent power sector crisis in Texas. TUED’s briefing paper argued that the recent catastrophic power sector failures in Texas “serve as a stark warning that unregulated, privatized and marketized electricity systems pose a serious threat to human life.”

As we have previously reported in TUED Bulletins 104 and 105, FNME is currently involved in a major struggle by striking French electricity and gas workers in defense of the country’s publicly owned energy company, EDF. The target of the strikes is a set of proposals being advanced by the French government, at the heart of which is a plan to “restructure” the country’s major national power utility, EDF. According to the unions, the proposed changes would undermine EDF’s ability to continue to operate as an integrated public utility, would jeopardize energy security and jobs, and would be against the general public interest.

Over the recent December holiday period, 33 union bodies from 20 countries and regions signed a statement of solidarity with the striking unions and workers.

In support of the striking workers’ defense of EDF, FNME-CGT republished the TUED briefing document with the following additional remarks:

Texas, an extreme example demonstrating that we must say “STOP” to market logics in dealing with the vital common good that energy represents. These same logics, combined with a desire for regional autonomy, have created an anti-citizen cocktail that is becoming a deadly poison!

Confronted with extreme temperatures, many Texas residents have received bills for staggering amounts, up to $17,000. A peak at $9,000 per MWh was reached when the usual seasonal average is $50: capitalists rub their hands… Texans “put on their sweaters” and rub them too, but to keep warm.

The conclusion is therefore clear and indisputable: energy is a vital asset that can no longer be indexed to the financial markets, to the detriment of both commercial and domestic users.

However, while this example rages on, in France, discussions are well underway (for example, EDF’s Hercule project, which only reaffirms the notion of a market) and we are even seeing a new “miracle” tariff offer with a new operator that would index the bill to the price on wholesale energy markets!

Moreover, it is highly likely that generators incompatible with the energy transition will have a bright future ahead of them … a question of survival!

The FNME-CGT condemns this new tariff system where only consumers will sooner or later lose out and where change will mean an increase in fuel poverty.

With support from global union federation Public Services International (PSI), FNME-CGT and TUED are currently working to convene a Trade Union Task Force on Decarbonisation. The Task Force will produce an interim analytical report to guide the development of a “Trade Union Charter for Public Energy in Europe,” which will be debated at a June meeting being convened by the French trade union confederation, CGT.

The June meeting will also bring together social forces from across and beyond Europe to explore and debate a broad range of issues related to the socio-ecological transformation. Unions interested in participating should email Irene Shen at ireneTUED@gmail.com.

Lithium, Batteries and Climate Change: The transition to green energy does not have to be powered by destructive and poisonous mineral extraction

By Jonathan Neale - Climate and Capitalism, February 11, 2021

I have spent the last year working on a book called Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs. Most of it is about both the politics and the engineering of any possible transition that can avert catastrophic climate breakdown. One thing I had to think about long and hard was lithium and car batteries.

I often hear people say that we can’t cover the world with electric vehicles, because there simply is not enough lithium for batteries. In any case, they add, lithium production is toxic, and the only supplies are in the Global South. Moreover, so the story goes, there are not enough rare earth metals for wind turbines and all the other hardware we will need for renewable energy.

People often smile after they say those things, which is hard for me to understand, because it means eight billion people will go to hell.

So I went and found out about lithium batteries and the uses of rare earth. What I found out is that the transition will be possible, but neither the politics nor the engineering is simple. This article explains why. I start by describing the situation simply, and then add in some of the complexity.

Lithium is a metal used in almost all electric vehicle batteries today. About half of global production of lithium currently goes to electric vehicles. And in future we will need to increase the production of electric vehicles from hundreds or thousands to hundreds of millions. That will require vast amounts of lithium.

There are three ways to mine lithium. It can be extracted from rock. It can be extracted from the brine that is left over when sea water passes through a desalination plant. Or it can be extracted from those brine deposits which are particularly rich in lithium. These brine deposits are the common way of mining lithium currently, because it is by far the cheapest. Most of the known deposits of lithium rich brine are in the arid highlands where Bolivia, Chile and Argentina come together.

Lithium mining is well established in Chile and Argentina. In both countries the local indigenous people have organized against the mining, but so far been unable to stop it. The mining is toxic, because large amounts of acid are used in the processing. But the mining also uses large amounts of water in places that already has little enough moisture. The result is that ancestral homelands become unlivable.

Bolivia may have even richer deposits of lithium than Argentina and Chile, but mining has not begun there. The Bolivian government had been led by the indigenous socialist Evo Morales from 2006 to 2019. Morales had been propelled to power by a mass movement committed to taking back control of Bolivia’s water, gas and oil resources from multinational corporations. Morales was unable to nationalize the corporations, but he did insist on the government getting a much larger share of the oil and gas revenue.[1]

His government planned to go even further with lithium. Morales wanted to mine the lithium in Bolivia, but he wanted to build factories alongside the mines to make batteries. In a world increasingly hungry for batteries, that could have turned Bolivia into an industrial nation, not just a place to exploit resources.

The Morales government, however, was unable to raise the necessary investment funds. Global capital, Tesla, the big banks and the World Bank had no intention of supporting such a project. And if they had, they would not have done so in conjunction with a socialist like Morales. Then, in 2019, a coup led by Bolivian capitalists, and supported by the United States, removed Morales. Widespread popular unrest forced a new election in October. Morales’ party, the Movement for Socialism won, though Morales himself was out of the running. It is unclear what will happen to the lithium.

That’s one level of complexity. The local indigenous people did not want the lithium mined. The socialist government did not want extractavism, but they did want industrial development.

Those are not the only choices.

For one thing, there are other, more expensive ways of mining lithium. It can be mined from hard rock in China or the United States. More important, batteries do not have to be made out of lithium. Cars had used batteries for almost a century before Sony developed a commercial lithium-ion battery in 1991. Engineers in many universities are experimenting with a range of other materials for building batteries. But even without looking to the future, it would be possible to build batteries in the ways they used to be built. Indeed, in January 2020, the US Geological Service listed the metals that could be substituted for lithium in battery anodes as calcium, magnesium, mercury and zinc.[2]

The reason all manufacturers currently use lithium is that it provides a lighter battery that lasts longer. That gives the car greater range without recharging, and it make possible a much lighter car. In other words, lithium batteries are cheaper.

Defending Public Energy, French Energy Unions Build International Support

By Staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, January 17, 2021

As we reported in TUED Bulletin 104, in recent weeks French electricity and gas workers have been striking in defense of the country’s publicly owned energy. These actions have been led by French energy union federations FNME-CGT, CFE-CGC Énergies, FO Energie et Mines and FCE-CFDT.

Over the holiday period, 33 union bodies from 20 countries and regions signed a statement of solidarity with the striking unions and workers.

The target of the strikes is a set of proposals being advanced by the French government, at the heart of which is a plan to “restructure” the country’s major national power utility, EDF. According to the unions, the proposed changes would undermine EDF’s ability to continue to operate as an integrated public utility, would jeopardize energy security and jobs, and would be against the general public interest.

During the week of January 11, 2021, TUED received a letter from the leadership of FNME-CGT, which welcomed the international support that has been expressed, and reaffirmed the union’s commitment to the struggle underway. Jointly signed by Sébastien Menesplier, General Secretary for International Affairs, and Muriel Marcilloux, Federal Secretary for European Affairs, the letter reads, in part:

We are taking action in France for energy: a basic common good and not a commodity that must remain at the service of the general interest. At a time when the challenge of climate change is global, in order to gain the 2°C of the COP 21 in Paris, we will need to switch to electric power, with low- carbon electricity. This will require a commitment from each country. This challenge for the future cannot be met in a market logic where the priority is financial return.

This issue of energy under public control is essential for the future of future generations.

For France, the fight is being waged now. We must lead the fight until the withdrawal of these harmful projects and show that another way other than finance is possible.

Your international support clearly shows that we are not alone in fighting for a quality public energy service accessible to all. Trade unions and their allies know that a just transition cannot be achieved by relying solely on the privatisation, liberalisation and commodification of energy, which is vital for just and sustainable human and economic development.

The letter also stated FNME-CGT’s intention to develop the international dimension of the struggle for public energy, noting in particular the upcoming UN COP26 climate talks scheduled for November of this year. The full letter is available in English here, and in French here.For additional background information, you can read the recent Letter from CGT EDF Directors (in French; English translation available here).

As a next step, the unions will hold a “Day of Action” on Tuesday, January 19th, in a continuing display of opposition to the government’s proposals. On Twitter, you can follow developments directly (in French) via @FNMECGT.

IndustriALL Global Union has also expressed solidarity with the striking workers as part of its ongoing reporting on this crucial struggle over many months.

We encourage unions to share news of this important ongoing struggle in the fight for climate protection and a sustainable future with their members and networks.

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