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Workers Vanguard No. 1078

13 November 2015

Drop All Charges Against Air France Workers! No Layoffs!

We print below a translation of an October 21 leaflet issued by our comrades of the Ligue Trotskyste de France. A number of Air France workers are facing criminal charges and company discipline after a strike rally on October 5 at Paris Charles de Gaulle (Roissy) airport during which two managers lost their shirts. Five strikers have been charged with “gang assault” and another eleven with “defacement of property.” The company is trying to fire a total of 18 workers. The Air France events have really touched a nerve in France. Some 5,000 workers and their supporters demonstrated in Paris on October 22 to demand that the charges and disciplinary measures be dropped. Union members have been protesting at the disciplinary hearings and are being mobilized for the start of the trials.

The government wasted no time in avenging the humiliation of Air France managers—representatives of French capitalism—who on October 5 fled with their shirts torn off as workers jeered. Prime Minister Manuel Valls had maintenance and cargo workers arrested at their homes at 6 a.m. in front of their families. Five have been charged and face up to three years in jail, with trials set for December 2.

The entire workforce across all job categories must mobilize to demand: Drop all charges! Stop the disciplinary proceedings already targeting some 20 workers! If the government and the Air France bosses succeed in their attacks on the Air France Five, it will directly pave the way for implementing 2,900 job cuts and layoffs. In the name of competitiveness vis-à-vis foreign and low-cost airlines, the bosses will try to wipe out all existing gains, setting a new precedent for attacking workers in other sectors.

The Air France Five are all employed in the industrial divisions of the company. They were targeted not so much for their alleged participation in the events of October 5, but as part of an attempt to re-establish the division between ground workers and flight crews, who, for once, had united against the threat of layoffs faced by both flight and ground personnel. This unity among workers across all job categories has highlighted the formidable power the workers hold. This power must be mobilized in strike action to scuttle the bosses’ “Transform” and “Perform” plans.

While Emmanuel Macron, the government minister responsible for dismantling social gains, called the workers “stupid” (having previously described the women who work in slaughterhouses in Brittany as “illiterate”), Valls labeled them as “thugs,” implicitly evoking the racist image of dark-skinned delinquents in the banlieues [minority and working-class neighborhoods on the outskirts of big cities]. The widespread reliance on surveillance cameras to identify the alleged perpetrators also demonstrates the extent to which the strengthening of the police state in the name of the “war on terror” in reality serves to facilitate repression targeting the working class.

Down With Vigipirate!

That is why we have always opposed the “war on terror,” a political pretext for racist witchhunts against Muslims aimed at gaining acceptance for the use of police-state measures against everyone. In 2006, we vigorously protested the withdrawal by the police of security clearance for 72 baggage handlers at Roissy Airport—tantamount to firing them—simply because they were suspected of being devout Muslims and thus, according to the cops, potential “terrorists.” The influx of this layer of workers of North and West African origin from the 93rd district [a heavily working-class and immigrant region outside Paris] had helped reinvigorate the CGT [General Confederation of Labor] and other unions. As we explained at the time, this was the real reason for the anti-terrorist hysteria (Le Bolchévik No. 178, December 2006). We added:

“The obstacle is not lack of militancy: it is a political question which the trade-union bureaucrats are incapable of seriously addressing. The fight for the undocumented is acceptable to the ‘left-leaning’ bourgeois republicans courted by the reformists, as it is compatible with declarations about France being ‘the country of human rights’ and the ‘land of political asylum.’ But fighting against the oppression of workers and youth from the banlieues, most of whom have French citizenship, requires confronting racial oppression, which is rooted in French capitalism and is aimed against a whole layer of the working class whose parents or grandparents came from North and sub-Saharan Africa.”

Exactly ten years after the revolt of the banlieues and several months after the racist anti-Muslim “I am Charlie” campaign, it is more important than ever to mobilize the working class in defense of its North African and African brothers and children. This is key for ensuring working-class unity against the bosses, especially at the Paris airports where the working class is multiethnic and multiracial.

This perspective cannot emerge spontaneously from the economic struggle of workers against the bosses. It requires the intervention of a revolutionary workers party placing itself at the head of the struggle against all forms of oppression targeting specific layers of the population, whether because of skin color, supposed ethnic origin, gender or sexual orientation. The workers movement must defend the banlieue youth! Down with Vigipirate and Sentinelle! Down with the racist “war on terror!” This position represents a fundamental difference between ourselves and most of the left, notably the French Communist Party (PCF) and Lutte Ouvrière (LO). In 25 years, the latter has barely uttered a single word against Vigipirate! [Vigipirate and Sentinelle are police and military “anti-terrorism” mobilizations, the former to sow terror in minority neighborhoods and to patrol transportation hubs, the latter to guard places of worship, schools and other “sensitive” sites.]

It is necessary to fight racial discrimination in hiring and on the job, and to fight for the direct hiring of subcontracted, temporary and other workers without job security by the large companies where unions still exist. No to working 100 extra unpaid hours! For a reduction in working hours and the sharing of work among all, with no loss in pay! This poses the need to overthrow the whole capitalist system.

For Working-Class Unity! One Industry, One Union!

The airline industry in France is a sector in which the divisions among workers fostered by the bosses and their reformist agents have been pushed to the limit, in direct proportion to the social power these workers have. Not only are there racial divisions between white male pilots and dark-skinned workers, with flight attendants somewhere in between, but the unions are also divided according to political tendency (SUD, CGT, FO, etc.), and along craft lines (unions reserved for pilots or for flight attendants, sometimes within the same union federation, as in the case of SUD Aérien and Alter, “the pilot union”).

Among the flight crews, some have also been threatened for allegedly opening the door through which the Air France workers entered the October 5 meeting. While they have been spared prosecution for the time being, this is only in order to pit ground workers against flight crews, while browbeating the latter into accepting 100 extra hours of work per year, to the absolute detriment of passenger safety.

With the help of the trade-union bureaucracy, Air France has turned the fomenting of these divisions into an art form, trying to convince ground personnel that their misfortunes are due to the exorbitant privileges flight crews are supposedly clinging to. For their part, many flight personnel think they are strong because they have their own craft unions based upon their specific interests. In reality, this thinking opens them up to all kinds of maneuvers by management to isolate them from other workers, thus allowing for them to be defeated separately instead of winning together.

The struggle against the threat of layoffs requires a struggle for working-class unity in a single industrial union, encompassing all Air France workers, along with baggage handlers and runway personnel at the Paris airports, as well as their co-workers at EasyJet, Lufthansa or Qatar Airways. Such a union cannot be forged through high-level negotiations between the bureaucratic apparatuses of the different unions, who line up separately at the feeding trough offered by the bosses. What is necessary is a struggle to oust all these bureaucrats and forge a class-struggle leadership in the unions!

An industrial union with such a leadership would be a powerful counterweight to the “company spirit” at Air France, where workers are supposed to be sincerely concerned about the health of the company—meaning its profitability for shareholders! It would also counter the propaganda condemning the government for giving priority to sales of weapons and Airbus aircraft to Persian Gulf countries in exchange for additional landing slots for airlines based in the Arabian Peninsula at the expense of Air France. This is a sort of protectionism that weakens the workers here by undermining the possibilities for international solidarity action by workers in other countries.

Air transportation is by definition an international activity. The true ally of the workers is not the “Air France” banner, but the pilots, baggage handlers and maintenance workers in other companies and other countries. Workers of all countries, unite! For Air France workers, solidarity with Lufthansa workers (whose latest strike against similar attacks earlier this year was simply banned by Germany’s capitalist courts), or with Qatar Airways workers (whom [Air France-KLM CEO Alexandre] de Juniac is only too happy to see imprisoned for the most minor offenses), would be the best preparation for a victorious strike at Air France.

Down With the European Union! For a Socialist United States of Europe!

Before [President François] Hollande and Valls, it was another “left” capitalist government, with a PCF minister of transportation (Jean-Claude Gayssot), which initiated the privatization of Air France at the end of the 1990s. The government is currently allowing market competition to penetrate France, not because it is following orders from Berlin, but because in the name of the [European Union’s] “Brussels Directives,” the bosses here seek to increase the overall pressure on all workers in this country. They want to extend the anti-union regime of the low-cost airlines to everyone (e.g. the Transavia project at Air France) and thus increase the rate of capitalist profit.

The European Union (EU) is an unstable alliance of imperialist powers (of which France is second behind Germany) and of weaker countries. This alliance is directed against these countries’ own working classes, against the U.S. and Japan, and against immigrants trying to enter “Fortress Europe.” We have always opposed the European Union on an internationalist basis. The support of LO, the PCF and the New Anti-Capitalist Party for the EU and the euro merely reflects the current pro-EU position of their own bourgeoisie. It also gives the fascists of the National Front an opening to expand their influence among the most backward sectors of the working class by posing as the only major party that opposes the single currency currently choking European economies. Down with the capitalist EU and its financial instrument, the euro! For a Socialist United States of Europe!

These days, airports are highly militarized areas. Any serious class struggle immediately comes up against the armed gangs of the capitalist government. In 1993, under [Socialist president François] Mitterrand, Air France workers defied the law and order of the government of [conservative Edouard] Balladur (the spiritual father of [right-wing president Nicolas] Sarkozy) and won on the battlefield by occupying the runways. A few strikebreakers may even have lost their shirts there. But the workers’ victory was betrayed by the union bureaucrats, who subsequently handed everything back to the bosses at the negotiating table.

The profound irrationality of the capitalist system is especially glaring when it comes to the airline industry. To put an end to capitalist competition and the laws of profit requires nothing less than a socialist revolution to establish a workers government that will overthrow the entire capitalist system and expropriate the bourgeoisie. The extension of the revolution throughout Europe will enable a socialist reconstruction of society based on rational, international planning of production according to what is needed, including for transportation.

In order to score a decisive victory over the capitalists, their cops and judges, their media propagandists and their agents within the workers movement itself, the working class needs a revolutionary workers party. The Russian Revolution of October 1917, in which the workers conquered power for the first time, showed the way. Following the model of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party, we fight to build the French section of a reforged Fourth International, the party of world socialist revolution.


Workers Vanguard No. 1078

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