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The Global Economy Threat Moves to France



It was, as French trade unions have said in no uncertain terms, blackmail. In mid-July the 820 workers at the Robert Bosch plant voted to accept a new contract that increases their work week by one hour – with no increase in pay – cuts bonuses and freezes their salaries for three years. The company, Bosch France, a subsidiary of the German Bosch parent, had placed an ultimatum to the employees: accept the proposal or a slated new production line will be relocated in the Czech Republic. The move came quickly on the heels of a similarly coerced decision by 41,000 workers at a Chrysler-Daimler plant at Sindelfingen, Germany to give up $620 million in wages and unpaid hours or see 6,000 of their jobs moved to factories in Bremen, in northern Germany, where the hours worked per year is 72 hours longer than at Sindelfingen, or to South Africa.


The previous month in Germany, Siemens AG put a take- it-or-leave-it demand to phone factory workers: five more hours a week with no additional pay or the jobs go to Hungary. ‘They chose to keep their jobs,’ the Associated Press reported. Surprise.


The drive by the bosses of Europe to extract more hours work for less pay per hour, to compel employees to give up break times and accept shorter vacations, is spreading and the capitalists conducting it are united in their determination to see it through. It is, in essence, a move to suddenly wipe out the gains workers have made in pay, benefits and available leisure time over the past half century. The aim is to maintain profits, not by raising prices (they make Mercedes at Sindelfingen and put together fancy phones at


Venissieux) but by making production workers toil more hours for no more pay. The BBC recently reported on ‘new research’ that revealed that 93 percent of corporate heads surveyed said they would like to do away with the mandated 35-hour workweek that became law in 1999.


Incidentally, the plant at Venissieux is reported to have turned in 1.1 billion euros last year.


As I mentioned in an earlier column, this is all being carried out under the banner of ‘the reality of the global economy.’* It comes in the context of the larger process of economic globalization and the situation created by the enlargement of the European Union. ‘Most of the 10 new member nations in the European Union trade bloc – including the Czech Republic – are in Eastern Europe, where the work force is hungry for employment,’ reported the BBC July 20. ‘If France does not move quickly, the jobs could move east in droves.’


Across the continent, European workers are being unfavorably compared to those in the U.S. where we work longer hours with less time off. Another surprise.


You’d hardly know it by the media reporting, particularly in this country, where the illogic of the employers’ arguments shapes the story line, but there is major resistance to the longer hours drive on the part of the workers affected and their labor organizations. “This has to end – us competing with the last country that joins Europe,’ said Rene Fraresso, an official of the General Confederation of Workers (CGT) at Bosch. ‘If this is what they made Europe for, it’s not worth it.”


In France, the move to lengthen time on the job through hard-nosed contract demands and threats to move production to low-wage areas abroad is being combined with a more general assault on the 35-hour workweek law enacted in 1999. French President Jacques Chirac says the law should be relaxed, but so far has not suggested reversing it. French observers are predicting that such a move would evoke massive protests and a major political conflict.


“When the school year starts in September, we are going to organize union actions to win back our rights,” CGT union official Serge Trucello told Reuters. “It [the vote at Venissieux] must not in any case be applied to other Bosch plants in France,” said Jacques Le Bars, a leader of the other union at Bosch, CFE-CGC.


The Communist daily l’Humanite has termed the longer workweek drive ‘part of a project lowering the collective guarantees of the workers,’ noting that ‘in the thirties the Comité des Forges, a manufacturers association, vilified the 40 hour work week and the paid vacations.’


‘Today right wing politicians, business leaders and neoliberal thinkers condemn ‘libertarian hedonism,’”


the paper went on, ‘They want to change completely the labor code, take away guaranteed jobs, claiming to defend the ‘work ethic.’ These big strategies against all the social rights have Europe as a battlefield.


‘The blackmail is the same in France and Germany; the response of the working people will be strong on both sides of the Rhine River, and well beyond!’


Carl Bloice is freelance journalist in San Francisco, California


 

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