France: Turning the tables on the bosses

Submitted by Newcastle on 30 July, 2009 - 5:45 Author: Ira Berkovic

The mainstream press has reported French workers’ adoption of radical tactics (such as “boss-napping”) in recent struggles with a note of amused disdain, as if the issues were unserious and the whole thing was an ostentatious piece of Gallic theatrics.

But workers at the New Fabris car-parts factory near Poitiers, who recently threatened to destroy their bankrupt employer’s industrial machinery if they were not granted decent redundancy pay, are not playing games.

Workers are used to threats from management — “come in five minutes late one more time, and you’re fired.” “Meet these targets or you’re not getting your Christmas bonus.” “Attend the union meeting and we’ll make life very unpleasant for you.”…

All New Fabris workers have done is turn the tables on their bosses — “guarantee us decent redundancy pay, or lose your machinery”. Given that it’s the New Fabris workers themselves — and not their bosses — who have sweated and toiled to make that machinery function, is it so outrageous that they should stake a claim in deciding its fate? No!

New Fabris workers have occupied the plant and have given bosses a 31 July deadline to come up with the goods. As with Visteon, where a 24-hour rolling picket was maintained to prevent management from sneaking machinery out of the plant, the New Fabris workers know that maintaining physical control of the machinery inside the plant is central to successful struggle.

Yvan Lemaitre, of the revolutionary New Anti-Capitalist Party, provides a passionate critique of the hypocritical bourgeois hue-and-cry against the workers’ “violent” threats, entitled “Legitimate defence!”, in which he argues that the real perpetrators of social violence are the bosses and their government who have forced the workers into such a desperate position in the first place. (www.npa2009.org).

An appeal written by New Fabris workers calls on “all workers who, like us, are facing the closure of their workplace and redundancies […] to contact us to coordinate our struggles and form a collective against the bosses.”

Like so many of the workers’ struggles around the world, the New Fabris dispute directly and immediately poses the question of who really makes a workplace function. As Leon Trotsky put it, “every sit-down strike [i.e. occupation] poses in a practical manner the question of who is the boss in the factory: the capitalist or the workers?”

The job of revolutionary socialists in workplaces like New Fabris, Visteon and Vestas (and those supporting them) is to make sure that seizing control of machinery is a step in a wider struggle for workers’ control of the whole of society.

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