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First European Summer University of ATTAC, Saarbrucken, august 2008

Unemployment, precarity, flexibility : an alternative, the guaranteed revenue for all

Seminar Flexicurity and social dismantling in Europe

Unemployment remains high and precarity keeps growing in France, since successive governments apply the neo-libéral recipies of « Lisbon Strategy », adopted in march 2000, in order to « fluidify » the labor market and dictate for workers a flexibility tightly ajusted to the needs of businesses.

Confronted with recent attacks (laws of june 12th of « modernisation of labor market » and july 23th of penalties against unemployed), it is more than ever necessary to fight in order to gain a professional and social life statute for all, i.e a guarantee of decent revenue and continuity of social rights for all, with or without a job, as claim 15 organisations.

Unemployment and precarity become the rule

If the official number of unemployed seems to decline, a Collective for another measure of unemployment estimates the real number of unemployed in France to 4,5 millions, with non inscribed, unemployed from DOM-TOM and those exempted from looking for a job. The main cause of entering unemployment is no more the dismissals, but the end of short term contracts and interim. If the proportion of atypic contracts (short term, subsidized jobs, interim) remains about 13 % of jobs in France, precarious contracts become the share of new entrants on the labor market : more than 70 % of engagements were in 2005 short term contracts of an average length of a month and a half. Young people are particularly hit by this precarity, since it takes more time for them to obtain a long term contract. The most qualified are often sweated without being paid in probation periods (800 000 a year). To this adds a severe discrimination on the labor market against populations originating from ex-colonies. Up to women, they know salaires inférieurs, temps partiel imposé élevé.

To face such a situation, social protection against unemployment, created in 1958 in order to secure all the persons who loose a job, has continuously decreased, with successive set-backs ratifyed by the trade unions which co-manage the system of social benefits for the unemployed (excepted for CGT). Today, more than a half of inscribed unemployed are not compensated. Those who still receive allocations are paid in average 57 % of their ancient salary, for periods more and more short. So, more and more unemployed fall in assistance system paid by the state, specific allocation of solidarity or minimum insertion revenue (for persons aged more than 25), the amount of which, about 400 euros, is not sufficient to live.

The result is the growth of pauperism for persons looking for a job, and a lowering down of the quality of jobs, and spread of under-employment, whereas profits have never been so high. This situation is created by neo-liberal policies, which brutishly dismantle what has made the force of Providence-States, create competition of all against all (employees between different countries, employees against unemployed). This competition is set up as the norm by European Union (Cf. last 4 decisions of the European Justice Court).

Last attacks against employees and unemployed

In 2008, french government had had voted two laws which create an increased flexibility and are very severe moves back in employees and unemployed rights. The first law, so called of « modernisation of the labor market », voted in june the 12th, has confirmed an agreement signed under the government pressure between the employers associations and the trade unions (excepted CGT) on january the 11th. Both agreement and law create :

-  a possibility for the employer to put "amicable" end to a contract, without claim for the employee after…15 days ( !) ;

-  a short term contract between 18 and 36 months, loinked to the period of the project ;

-  a double length of probation periods untill 8 months for qualified workers ! (This is almost the return of the "CPE" (first engagement contract), retired in 2006 under the pressure of the street, and of the "CNE", retired in 2008 after its condemnation by jurisprudence and by the International Labor Organisation).

-  Lastly, to refer to labor courts est will be more difficult, and the employer will be able to change main elemnts of the labor contract.

On the other side, gains in security for the employees are weak and conditional to further negotiations.

Unsatisfied with such cuts in employees labor security, and even before the opening of the negotiation about the unemployed benefits, the government has proposed a new law, so called « Rights and duties of unemployed », voted on july the 23th. This law assigns new penalties (striking off the benefits) to unemployed who would refuse two "reasonable" job offers, even far away, and, after one year of unemployment, paid just above the amount of the social benefit. As to the gains in rights for unemployed, nothing !

Lastly, the fusion of UNEDIC (the private system of payment of social benefits managed by employers associations and trade unions) and ANPE (public employment service), effective in 2009, means the control in fact of the employers upon unemployed support and control service and upon their rights to benefits.

Faced with such heavy attacks, we must admit that trade unions didn’t inform the workers, keeped aside the bargain, either with or without job ; and that we scarcely heard parlementary left, except for Communist Party and the Green. It was only a front of organisations of unemployed and precarious workers with the radical new trade union Solidaires which tried to inform and mobilize, without the help of the medias.

The alternative : a guaranteed revenue for all

To bar this growing flexibility, we must develop a struggle for a professional social security for workers, with or without a job, as a 5th branch of social security . Since 2006, unemployed associations (AC !, APEIS, MNCP) have put on a united front with Solidaires, enlarged up to 15 organisations : Collectif National Droits des Femmes (Women Rights), Stop Précarité et Génération Précaire (probatory workers), la Coordination des Intermittents et Précaires d’Ile de France (Intermittent coordination), le DAL (Housing Right), No Vox, le réseau OUPS (Observatoire Unitaire des Politiques Sociales), la Fondation Copernic, la Confédération Paysanne (Peasant left confederation), les Marches Européennes…. This network has taken into consideration the existing claims for a worker statute, or professional security, built by trade unions like CGT, CFTC and Solidaires. Then, this network has elaborated a claim for a professional and social statute and the continuity of social rights for workers, with or without job.  : unemployed, forced part times, peasants, training workers…Such a guaranteed revenue should be of 80 to 100 % of the minimum wage – the amount is in debate - . It should be paid by a interprofessional national fund, supplied by social contribution paid by employees and employers, with some state fiscal complements. Such a fund should be managed by trade unions, employers associations, unemployed associations and the state.

ATTAC France, informed of this platform, considers that it is interesting, though it has not yet subscribed to it. Presented at the European Summer University of ATTAC in august 2008, it has raised up some interest, since some european ATTAC are working upon similar prospects, especially in Belgium (Cf. contributions of Henri Houben and Sophie Heine in the flexisecurity workshop). The ESU has kept in its final recommandations to extend social security, but has remained hazy upon the claim of a guaranteed revenue. This point will have to be discussed and we hope put on the european elections agenda during next months, if we want to reinforce a social Europe. This should be the matter of coordinate campaigns of ATTAC trough different countries.

As a matter of fact, such a claim for a professional and social life statute FOR ALL, with or without job, is already a claim of three trade unions in France, and of 15 unemployed ans precarious organisations. In each country, either at different rythms, ths same draws back are in process, and we should have alternative offensive proposals, common for the social movment. It will be very important to hold on such alternative proposals in the context of European elections of 2009, since we have to fight against coordinate European strategy.

Radical ecology must take into account the growth of poverty and precarity, and engage into the battle for a social protection against the risks of unemployment and precarity, which touch every lox or middle class familiy. It is not the purpose to induce more consumption and productivism. It is the question of more solidarity. Of course, the question of everybody contribution to the society remains open to debate. But the right to a suitable job should be claimed for, or either to a decent revenue. Only a strong policy to develop job creation through a strong worktime reduction will meet this goal. By evidence, such policies have to be enforced at a European level.

Evelyne PERRIN (AC !, Stop Précarité, ATTAC Champigny, France))