Letter to French workers – “We wish you well: your struggle is our struggle; your struggle is a global struggle.”

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This letter appeared in both France’s L’Humanité and Britain’s Morning Star, in French and English, of course, though the former’s English-language website  will eventually carry it too. Signed by Professor Keith Ewing and John Hendy. QC, it is a powerful antidote to the ill-informed and reactionary nonsense which has characterised the British media’s coverage of the strikes since they began in March:

French workers are now engaged in a historic struggle in defence of their rights.

The struggle is international, as workers and trade unions face the neoliberal onslaught rolling back generations of achievement.

It is to the eternal shame of the French socialists that they have wrapped themselves in the discredited mantle that Tony Blair took from the shoulders of Thatcher. But this is all the fashion in Brussels, as well as the national capitals in Europe and beyond.

If there are French workers who have any doubts about what is at stake, they should look at what has happened in Britain.

We too had a proud social state with trade unions fully integrated. On the eve of the Thatcher-Blair revolution, 60 per cent of British workers were unionised, and 82 per cent were protected by collective agreements. We also had extensive protection for the right to strike.

Under Thatcher that structure was stripped bare as the social state became a neoliberal state, serving the interest of business rather than labour.

Strikes were provoked, the police militarised to crush resistance, and the law changed.

Trade union membership fell and collective bargaining coverage collapsed to about 20 per cent today. Fewer British workers are now protected by a collective agreement than before the first world war.

The result? British workers work longer hours than most of their European counterparts.

Compared to other European workers they generally receive less education and training, and (because of lack of employer investment) their productivity is lower.

They get fewer paid holidays than most European comparators and their pay is so low that a great proportion of them are in poverty, with low wages subsidised by the state. Welcome to our world of deregulation, decentralisation and insecurity.

Read the letter in full on the Morning Star website