Air France workers reject latest proposal to end strikes

Air France workers on May 4 rejected a wage increase proposed by the company’s CEO.

After the rejection, the workers’ unions announced that a series of two-day strikes that have been going on since February will continue, and Air France’s CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac resigned.

Janaillac had hoped to end the strikes by proposing a 7 percent wage increase that would be phased in over four years.

The unions have been demanding an immediate 5 percent increase because wages at Air France have frozen for the last five years.

Janaillac bypassed the unions, which had been in negotiations with Air France, and took his proposal directly to the workers, who voted online on whether to accept or reject his offer.

Workers were told that if they didn’t accept the proposal, the very existence of Air France would be at stake.

Despite the warnings, 55 percent of Air France’s pilots, cabin crew, and ground staff voted to reject Janaillac’s proposal.

Janaillac had staked his reputation on being able to end the strikes, and the workers’ rejection of his proposal clearly left him shaken and frustrated, which led to his resignation.

“The vote is the victory, not (Janaillac’s) resignation,” said Laurent Le Gall, a representative of CFTC, one of the unions whose members work at Air France to Bloomberg News. “(He) attempted to bypass the negotiation framework with this move, and it comes back at him like a boomerang.”

After rejecting Janaillac’s wage proposal, Air France workers on Monday went on another two-day strike.

It was the 14th time since February that Air France flights have disrupted by strikes, costing the company 400 million euros.

Prior to the strikes, Air France had been reaping record profits, and its workers thought it was time that the sacrifices that they have been making since the company restructured in 2012 should be rewarded.

Since 2012, Air France’s workers have endured layoffs and wage freezes, and the unions representing them proposed an immediate 5 percent wage increase to offset some of the workers losses.

Janaillac and the French government, which owns a 12 percent share in the company thought otherwise.

They preferred that investors rather than workers should be the ones rewarded for the company’s successful recovery.

The workers’ demands for a decent pay raise have irritated the government of President Emmanuel Macron, but when they rejected Janaillac’s wage proposal, the government’s irritation morphed into imperious contempt.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire fumed that the workers rejection could lead to the “disappearance” of Air France, a not-so veiled threat that unless workers buckled under, Air France would go out of business.

Le Maire’s over-the-top remarks about the dangers posed to Air France by a 5 percent wage increase is not particularly out of character for a government official appointed by President Emmanuel Macron.

Since he took office a year ago, Macron’s government  has taken measures suggesting that he and his government think that workers have it too good and need be taken down a peg or two.

One of the first things that he did after becoming president was to ram through changes to the country’s labor code that made work more precarious and made it easier for businesses to fire workers and to ignore pattern-setting, industry-wide labor contracts negotiated by unions.

He told Parliament that if his proposals bogged down in debate, he would unilaterally implement them through a directive of his own.

This year, he decided that workers for the country’s public rail service SNCF had it too good, and decided to eliminate job security for new hires, reduce pension benefits, and pave the way for privatizing SCNF.

That decision has led to ongoing railway strikes. The day after Air France workers began their 14th two-day strike, rail workers began their seventh two-day strike since the beginning of April.

If that weren’t enough, Macron has proposed cutting pensions and unemployment benefits.

Macron said that the worker pain he is proposing is needed to make France more business friendly and competitive.

But workers have another view.

The New York Times reports that “many workers worry that the financing of the country’s cherished safety net will be plucked away and transferred to business for the profit of shareholders.”

In many ways that is the same feeling that Air France workers have about the company’s reluctance to share their profits with them.

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May Day demonstrations in France denounce proposed labor law changes

Five hundred thousand workers and students in France took part in 300 May Day rallies, marches, and demonstrations protesting so-called labor reforms that the country’s Socialist government has proposed.

Parliament on Tuesday will begin debate on the proposed changes.

The government says that labor law reforms are needed to reduce the county’s 9.2 percent unemployment rate.

But the proposals are widely unpopular, especially among young people who fear that the new laws will make their jobs more precarious.

The proposals have sparked a mass uprising of young people, whose nascent movement is called Nuit Debout (Standing Together Through the Night). It resembles the global Occupy movement of 2011.

The changes proposed by the government are designed to make the country’s labor market more flexible.

But according to Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “labor market flexibility” is just another way of saying that “it should be easier to fire employees” and “lower wages.”

France’s hard-won labor laws help protect workers’ wages, working conditions, and job security.

Many see them as a strong buttress against the insecurities inherent in a capitalist economy. Recent polls show that 58 percent of respondents opposed the government’s proposed changes.

The government is proposing changes that would make it easier for employers to avoid paying overtime for work in excess of 35 hours a week, weaken unions’ bargaining power, and weaken employment contracts that provide a modicum of job security.

The government’s labor reforms are in line with the conventional wisdom that labor laws that actually protect labor are bad for business and are thus the cause of high unemployment.

But according to Weisbrot, “the available economic research provides little or no evidence for this argument.”

“For example, there is no relationship between the amount of employment protection in different countries and their unemployment rate,” writes Weisbrot. . .  There are “a number of countries with high levels of labor market protections and low levels of unemployment: Austria (5.2 percent), Denmark (4.4 percent), Ireland (4.3 percent), the Netherlands (4.6 percent), and Norway (4.5 percent).”

Perhaps one of the most contentious pieces of the government’s proposal would make it easier to fire workers, especially those 26 years of age and younger.

The government argues that if it were easier to fire young workers, then employers will be more likely to hire more young workers.

This logic confounds many of the young people who have taken to the streets to protest the reforms.

 

On March 31, 1.2 million workers and students marched and rallied to protest the government’s proposals.

Since then, demonstrations have been taking place on a weekly basis.

In some of these demonstrations, rage against the proposals resulted in conflicts between youthful demonstrators and the police.

That rage has also manifested itself in other ways, most notably the rise of Nuit Debout, an activist movement of young people who gather in city squares at night to stand in unity with each other.

At these gatherings, people discuss and debate strategies and tactics for fighting the government’s labor reform proposals, but these debates and discussions are also more wide ranging.

Topics include a number of social justice issues such as the treatment of immigrants, inequality, a guaranteed minimum income, and more.

While the government tries to justify its labor reforms as a way to help young people enter the labor market, youth in Nuit Debout want more than low paying, precarious work.

As Adam Nossiter of the New York Times writes, the youth of Nuit Debout “want what (their) parents have, and then some.”

The youth of Nuit Debout showed up at the May Day demonstrations ready to fight to maintain labor rights guaranteed by the law and for more.

CGT, France’s largest labor confederation and one of the organizers of the May Day demonstrations, echoed this sentiment.

May Day is just the start of a month of struggle against the labor reforms and for a more just society, said CGT in its May Day statement. It also will be a month when young people, wage earners, and others  intensify the fight “for social progress” and to improve “the lives of each and everyone.”