Accelerated liberalization of the country and the world of work forced to pay for the crisis… In order to counter the strategy of “shock therapy”, to construct a new model and hope, Fabien Roussel, national secretary of the PCF, calls for the widest possible mobilization. For “unity in action”.

L’Humanité, Thursday, 28th May 2020

Fabien Roussel has gone back to the factory. On 25th May he was at Renault in Choisy-le-Roi (Val-de-Marne), in order to denounce the site closures planned by the manufacturer and propose another future for the industry. An initiative which illustrates the communists’ call for action. For the national secretary of the PCF, the way out of the crisis, which promises to be brutal if alternatives do not emerge quickly, lies in popular mobilization.

What lessons do you draw from this crisis period?

This pandemic reveals the consequences of capitalism on our societies. Europe, the most badly-affected continent, is also where austerity policies and the privatisation of entire sections of public services have been imposed, and where free trade has been developed at all costs. Because of these policies, all of the reports by the WHO, the UN and NGOs calling on States to anticipate the risk of a pandemic have been dismissed out of hand in recent years. We must attack the roots of this crisis, this economic system and, as a matter of urgency, build another model that will make it possible to face up to pandemics of this kind, while also preserving humanity and the planet.

The health crisis is calling liberal policies into question but, at the same time, the government is destroying new areas of labour law and social rights. Is there really an opportunity to break with these policies?

In fact, it is an emergency. This pandemic is reshuffling all the cards. The Liberals want to take advantage of the situation in order to speed up their plan, make workers work harder, abandon the ecological transition and make the world of work pay their debt. The thousands of billions of euros injected into the economy should be aimed at eradicating unemployment and poverty and building a new economic model. We need a real ORSEC plan [French official emergency measures] for employment, for our SMEs, VSEs and our industry, which brings economic activity back to France, extends public services, completely rethinks the organisation of working time, and vastly increases investment in the ecological transition.

Is there not a temptation to close the debate as quickly as possible on the government side?

The President of the Republic intends to speed up the liberalization of the country, while hiding behind fine words. For example, the Ségur plan [plan for reform of the French health service currently under discussion], holds the prospect of privatization of our public hospitals in order to transform them into private non-profit hospitals, on the pretext of making them more efficient. Yet, it was in the name of the public service that health workers found the means to face up to the epidemic, when they were already made vulnerable by the drastic austerity cures. Together with health workers, we want to defend and reconquer a vast public hospital service with an emergency plan including salary increases, but also massive recruitment of staff for our public hospitals, our Ehpad retirement homes and our emergency services, in order to measure up to requirements throughout the country, in Metropolitan France as well as in French Overseas Departments and Territories.

This winter, despite historic protests and strikes, the executive forced through the pension reform and now the health situation is preventing demonstrations. How can the necessary struggle be engaged?

This power struggle will be built in action with employees, students, hospital workers, teachers and trade unions in the factories. For this reason, the Communist Party is calling for very concrete campaigns such as those for public hospitals, schools and industrial employment. We are also mobilising campaigns for the free provision of masks and for purchasing power. That is why I call upon all Communists to come out of confinement! It is time to go into action with the people, on all of these questions that affect the daily lives of our fellow citizens, such as the free provision of masks for example, which must become a very widely-shared battle, bringing together all Republicans, because it will soon become a problem for millions of families. A problem of 200 euros a month for a family of 4 people. Finally, this issue points to the need for new conquests in terms of social protection… and therefore new funding for Social Security.

The mechanism of distrust of the government fuelling opposition no longer seem to work…

The President of the Republic and the government are discredited. This is very serious, it is a real problem of democracy. Rather than resigning ourselves to this situation, complaining in isolation, let us engage in struggles, together, to obtain changes. They will not come from above, so we must exert pressure from below. The only way to restore hope is to build it. Otherwise, anger alone will express itself. Throughout our 100-year history, we have always been a Party that has been able, during various crises, to call for mobilizations, for uniting the widest movements, in the diversity of different opinions. It is in our DNA, in the call of the Popular Front and of the French Resistance. Let us call to everyone, regardless of where they come from. I am thinking of those who have for too long abandoned the idea of voting, and even of workers who have let themselves be deceived by the far right. To overcome anger and resignation, hope and prospects are needed! Let us propose to them to fight together for the freezing of prices, for free masks, for the prevention of the closure of factories, for a school of success for all and as quickly as possible! Unity in action, such is the call we are launching today.

The effects of the economic crisis are liable to have a massive impact, and redundancy plans are being prepared. What are your proposals for employment, particularly in industry?

Our economic fabric of VSEs, SMEs and our industry must be treated and protected as public goods in the same way as our public services. They are major sources of employment, making it possible to meet our fellow citizens’ needs. Hence the vast requirements to be met in terms of training and investment. Bringing industry back to France begins by not closing down existing factories, in the pharmaceutical industry (such as Famar in Lyon), at Renault, Air France and General Electric in Belfort. And it also requires a real investment plan, supporting a strategy of reconquest of industry in sectors that are decisive for the independence of the country, such as energy, steel, chemicals and the much awaited ecological transition.

Who knows what France’s industrial strategy is? Nobody! This reconquest must in the first place be based on the world of work and be built with it, with industrialists as well as trade unions. Real powers must be given to the workers, including within companies! Look at how employees have responded to the pandemic! We should be proud of the working class, of these employees who have taken on France’s problems. They are the ones that we must trust to rebuild the country, rather than the forces of capital that have placed the planet and our country in this situation!

You mention your proposals for hospitals, education, employment and the fight against poverty… How would they be financed?

We want to take power over money and radically break with the logic of immediate profitability. This requires a better distribution of wealth. And for two and a half years, we have been making numerous proposals to go and get resources from the richest citizens: restore the wealth tax, tax dividends, abolish the flat tax [the “prélèvement forfaitaire unique” flat-rate tax on unearned income from moveable assets, which replaced the progressive tax on this category of income in January 2018], tax speculation on the Stock Exchange in order to penalize it… But that will not be enough. We also want better production of this wealth, with different objectives! No longer for the enrichment of shareholders but for the public good, without wearing out men and women, or exhausting natural resources and biodiversity.

We therefore need a far-reaching and profoundly innovative recovery plan! That is to say, with precise criteria. This is what we propose with a fund of 50 billion euros, financed by the ECB. Public money must be used for this and no longer for the financing of redundancy plans at Renault and Air France. On the contrary! Renault has projects such as the V3, a small, inexpensive electric vehicle, which the management does not want to launch! The 5 billion euros in state loans should be made conditional upon investments of this kind or on bringing back to France a part of the production of the Dacia, which is currently produced in Romania but sold in France. There would certainly be less margin for shareholders… but more jobs in France! Let us take back control of the economy and of finance!

What is your view of the European plan presented by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron?

They are already preparing to make the people of Europe pay for the crisis. This 500 billion euro plan is new, because it mutualizes a fund in order to place it at the service of those who need it most. But on the basis of what criteria? Moreover, it remains a debt, even if it is mutualized, and both Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel plan to make the countries and peoples pay for it through cuts in public expenditure and liberal economic reforms… This would be the return of the same solutions as before the crisis and we do not want them any longer! We want to lay hands on the European Central Bank in order to place it at the service of countries and their investments. This question is central for getting out of the crisis.

With the debate on sovereignty, is there not a danger of retreat?

In the history of our Party, we have always defended the progressive conception of the nation, which allows citizens to democratically decide their future. It is within the borders that mark its boundaries that the people can exercise its sovereignty, express its independence and decide on the cooperation it wants to build. Today we are deprived of this sovereignty because the European Commission fixes the States’ budgets and entrusts our debt to the financial markets. Nationalism is on the rise because the French are suffering from this regression of democracy. We must respond to this, but by giving the nation all of its progressive content, in the sense of Jaurès and the revolutionaries of 1789: the Republic which guarantees the same rights to all regardless of their origins, and national independence guaranteed by democratic sovereignty.

Together with our European comrades, with whom we are currently discussing a great deal, we defend this economic and democratic sovereignty, but also cooperation between the European peoples and nations. Cooperation which has been sorely lacking in the face of the pandemic.

In recent weeks, several calls for joint work have emerged on the left, some of them involving communist leaders. How do you view these calls?

In the same way as the Communist Party is calling for action, we take part in all discussions with NGOs, trade union organisations and progressive political forces in order to see what we can share. When a platform denounces finance capital, calls for a tax on capital and calls to break with the European Fiscal Compact, we take part. Our priority, however, is action, to build the hope of a France in common with our fellow citizens.

Can there be concrete outcomes from these joint meetings and appeals for the next elections, and in particular for the presidential election?

If it enables us to win a massive plan for public hospitals, resources for our schools and free masks, we accept! Our attitude is to be practical in order to obtain victories, advances for the people, to be useful. The more numerous we are in action in order to uphold these demands, the more weight they will carry. The presidential election will come in its own time.

For the PCF, this pandemic reveals the failure of capitalism and the need to get out of this model. We are therefore working on a plan for the country, for the people, which we will present during the month of June. These proposals, which will be placed in debate in the country, will support the struggles. They are also intended to be a living force in the national elections, as well as in the municipal elections, which are also very important.

The PCF defends a plan for a society that puts the human being and the preservation of the planet at the heart of all its choices, with concrete proposals to achieve this. We not only want to defend them in national elections, but to implement them in governing the country.

What do you think of the government’s decision to hold the second round of municipal elections on June 28?

We need towns that are in a position to manage, to organise the start of the school year, to launch calls for tenders, to put cultural and sports policies in place… 75% of public investment comes from local authorities. We therefore need, as soon as the health conditions are in place, to be able to organise these elections. If the bars and restaurants are open, if everyone goes to work, we can go to the polls.

The opposite is also true: if we find that the conditions are no longer present, we will have to postpone the elections. Not to mention the fact that, if the pandemic is to last, we must learn how to vote in a time of health crisis. Otherwise, we risk keeping the same majority at the head of the country for a long time!

Interview conducted by Julia Hamlaoui and Cédric Clérin.


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