Friday, September 23, 2016

France: Thousands protest against regressive labour laws

Lisbeth Latham

More than 170,000 workers and students joined more than 110 protests across France on September 15 against new labour laws that dramatically deregulate France’s labour code.

The protests, called by four of France’s union confederations and three national student groups, continued the campaign of mobilisations against the anti-worker laws that began in March. They were the first mass protests since the laws were enacted in August.

Angering opponents of the laws, the government of Prime Minister Manuel Valls forced the bill through parliament in July without a vote, invoking the undemocratic clause 49.3 of the French Constitution.

The new laws provide for a wide range of changes to working conditions and a significant weakening of the authority of unions in the workplace. Some of the most significant include greater ability for companies to increase working hours beyond the standard 35-hour week while cutting overtime rates.
Other changes make it easier for companies to sack workers and terminate collective agreements. The laws make it harder for unions to veto collective agreements.

As well as opposing the new laws, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT, France’s largest union confederation) has raised extra demands. The CGT is calling for cutting the working week to 32-hours to combat mass unemployment; restoring the retirement age to 60 and raising the minimum wage to €1800, up from €1466.

The September 15 protests mark a clear decline in the movement against the laws, which peaked with mobilisations of more than 1 million people on March 31 and July 14. The drop in size of the protests is linked to a sense of defeat now that the laws have passed, even though polls show about 70% of the population oppose the laws. Another factor is the growing levels of police repression against protests.

The September 15 demonstrations were met with large numbers of riot police, and the use of tear gas and other crowd control weapons. The most serious violence occurred in Paris, where Laurent Theron, an activist with the hospital federation of the militant Solidaires union, was hit in the face by a grenade and blinded in one eye.

In a statement, Solidaires said: “We strongly denounce the disproportionate use of sting ball grenades, tear gas and flash ball launchers that have left hundreds injured, sometimes very seriously. The General Inspectorate of the National Police has received complaints regarding many cases, especially by activists of Solidaires injured while they were demonstrating peacefully.

“To date, no sanction has been imposed and the main responsibility for this situation, the interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, is still in office”.

No new mobilisations have been called in the campaign, but the CGT is refusing to concede defeat. In a September 15 statement, the CGT stated that, like the laws aimed at young workers passed in 2006 but which were defeated shortly after they were passed, “nothing is set in stone. What has been passed can be annulled.”

However, the campaign is expected to shift into a new phase of legal challenges to the laws’ implementation. Mobilisations of workers in local enterprises are also expected, with the aim of using these struggles to give the movement new impetus.

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This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly issue 1112

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Victorian gender recognition legislation an important step for equality

Lisbeth Latham

The Victorian government announced new legislation on August 18 aimed at simplifying the process for trans and gender diverse (TGD) people's to change the sex marker on their birth certificates and records. This has rightfully been welcomed as an important step forward for TGD people rights.
The new legislation, which follows similar legislation in the ACT and 2013 changes to policies regarding sex markers on Commonwealth documents, is a start towards eliminating medical gatekeeping on the lives of TGD people.

The Victorian government announced new legislation on August 18 aimed at simplifying the process for trans and gender diverse (TGD) people's to change the sex marker on their birth certificates and records. This has rightfully been welcomed as an important step forward for TGD people rights.

The new legislation, which follows similar legislation in the ACT and 2013 changes to policies regarding sex markers on Commonwealth documents, is a start towards eliminating medical gatekeeping on the lives of TGD people.

However, significant steps remain in overcoming all of the formal legal and medical barriers that confront TGD people.

The new changes will remove two key barriers that have been a feature of gender recognition processes. With the exception of those living in the ACT, individuals seeking to change their sex marker have been required to undertake at least some form of gender reassignment surgery (GRS), and all states and territories require that individuals not be married.

The requirement for individuals to undergo GRS is a significant barrier to many TGD people having their affirmed gender recognised on their birth certificates, both because surgery is very expensive and because many TGD people do not desire to undergo surgery as part of their affirmation of gender.

The need to be single — which is aimed at ensuring that there are no marriages of people of the same sex — has meant that TGD individuals who are married have been forced to divorce to change their gender marker.

The Victorian government is arguing that its proposed change to the marriage requirement does not bring the legislation into conflict with the federal Marriage Act, which stipulates that marriages are between a man and a woman, because this requirement applies only at the time the marriage takes place and not subsequent to the marriage.

The proposed Victorian legislation, like the 2014 ACT legislation, allows TGD people to change their sex marker. The ACT legislation also provided for the introduction of a third sex marker on birth certificates of “X” for “intersex, unspecified, or indeterminate”.

In 2013, the federal government changed its policies for people wishing to amend their sex marker on their passports and with other commonwealth agencies such as Medicare and the Australian Tax Office. The changes removed the need for an individual to have undergone GRS and introduced a sex not specified “X” category.

With both the ACT and federal processes, applications need to be accompanied by a statement from a clinician that the patient is “receiving appropriate treatment or as being intersex”, which acts to pathologise TGD and intersex experiences. It also means that medical practitioners remain as gatekeepers on the lives of TGD people. The requirement for a TGD person's decision to be supported by a medical practitioner is absent from proposed Victorian legislation.

The only role for medical practitioners in the Victorian legislation is to certify that a minor wishing to change their marker is able to make an informed decision and that it is, in the medical practitioner's view, in the minor's interests to make the change. For those over the age of 16, it is assumed that they can make a decision for themselves.

An additional feature of the Victorian legislation is that it will enable individuals to have their birth certificates state that they are non-binary or list an alternative descriptor, with the only limitation being that the descriptor cannot be deemed to be offensive. This change is important as it allows a recognition of sexes and genders outside of the male-female/man-woman binary and reflects an individuals' actual identity.

The proposed Victorian legislation is important to the lives of TGD people, particularly trans women. Although trans people are protected by the Victorian Equal Opportunities Act from transphobic discrimination, under the Act and similar legislation across Australia, you cannot require a person to treat you as your affirmed gender unless your birth certificate states that it is your gender.

There are several circumstances under these acts where it is lawful to exclude individuals who are not of a specific gender, such as access to toilets, and the ability to play in sporting codes based on your affirmed gender or take up a position that is designated based on a specific gender. While this situation does not mean that organisations and companies have to discriminate in these circumstances, it does mean that they can lawfully do so.

While these changes represent significant advances in allowing TGD individuals the ability to determine their own lives, there are significant steps that need to be taken around the formal rights of transgender people.

Beyond pushing for all states and territories to adopt legislation similar to the proposed Victorian legislation, there is a continued need to decrease the gatekeeper role of doctors in determining if and when a TGD person can access medical technology to assist their gender affirmation.

Provision of hormones and other medical technology in Australia is guided by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care, which operates within a framework that pathologises TGD lives and ties access to medically-assisting affirmation technologies, such as hormones and surgery, to TGD people meeting doctors' expectations of what it is to be a particular gender.

TGD advocate organisations argue for an alternative model based on informed consent where individuals are able to access the medical technology they feel is appropriate to them, based on being informed of the possible impacts of that technology and consenting to use the technology based on them.

This model is at the centre of Argentina's 2012 Gender Identity Law which states “all persons older than eighteen (18) years ... will be able to access total and partial surgical interventions and/or comprehensive hormonal treatments to adjust their bodies, including their genitalia, to their self-perceived gender identity, without requiring any judicial or administrative authorisation”. This law also makes access to these technologies part of a Compulsory Medical Plan that covers all workers in formal employment.

An additional change that also needs to be made is ending the requirement for families of TGD children who wish to access Stage Two Hormones (the hormones associated with their affirmed gender) having to go to the Family Court to demonstrate that the child is able to give informed consent, a process which is both potentially traumatic and very expensive. Australia is the only jurisdiction in the world that has such a legal requirement.

There is still a long way to go to eliminate the legal and medical barriers that confront TGD people in Australia, and even more to addressing the high levels of social stigma and discrimination faced by TGD people.

However, the proposed changes in Victoria reflect the significant and rapid advances that are being made in Australia to make it easier and safer for TGD people to live their authentic lives.
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This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly #1108

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Sexist burkini ban based on Islamophobia, not secularism

Lisbeth Latham

Since the announcement of an ordinance banning the wearing of burkinis on the beaches of the French Mediterranean city of Cannes in late July, France has been swept up in a new wave of Islamophobia.

A further 17 municipalities have announced their own ordinances banning the burkini — the full-body swimsuit worn by some Islamic women. These bans have been endorsed not only by France's far right, but by the Socialist Party Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

On August 27, France's highest administrative court suspended the bans after they were challenged by rights groups. However, the ruling still gives local authorities the ability to impose the bans if they can show a “proven risk” to public order. Those supporting the bans have sought to justify them in terms of defending women's rights, France's secular society and social order. But in reality, they are sexist and anti-secular — and promote the further marginalisation of France's Islamic community. The July 28 ordinance in Cannes prohibiting the burkini states: “Access to beaches and swimming in Cannes is prohibited … until August 31, to any person not properly dressed, in a way which is respectful of morality and secularism and that respects the rules for hygienic and safe swimming.” David Lisnard, Cannes's Mayor and a member of Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing Les Republicains party, has defended the city's ordinance on the basis that only radicals would be upset by it. Lisnard described the burkini as “the uniform of extremist Islamism, not of the Muslim religion”. Lisnard has also argued that the ordinance is needed to maintain public order against a background of terror threats. But Lisnard's argument only makes sense if you accept the motivations that he projects onto women who choose to wear a burkini. France's Human Rights League and the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, on the other hand, have challenged the bans as an illegal restriction on the religious rights of individuals. However, the Nice administrative tribunal's ruling, that upheld the ban in Nice, said: “The state of emergency context and recent Islamist attacks in particular in Nice … wearing a distinctive dress, other than a usual swimwear, can indeed be interpreted as not being, in this context, a simple sign of religiosity.” Supporting the bans, Valls said the burkini represents “the enslavement of women” and reflects an “archaic vision” of feminine modesty “not compatible with the values of France”. Valls also endorsed the idea that banning the wearing of burkinis could contribute to public safety by saying “in the face of provocation, the nation must defend itself”. Although Valls has avoided supporting the idea of a France-wide ban of the burkini, this should not be seen as opposition on Valls's part to France-wide attempts at controlling the clothes of Muslim women. In April, he publicly called for a ban on wearing hijabs at France's universities. The bans on burkinis are not the first time that women's rights have been mobilised in France to justify bans on the clothes of Muslim women. Similar arguments were made in support of the 2004 law on secularism and conspicuous religious symbols in public schools, which banned the wearing of hijabs in public schools. There was also controversy in 2010 around the decision by the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) to stand Ilham Mousaid, a member of the far-left party who chose to wear a hijab, as a candidate in regional elections, and to support the 2010 law banning the wearing of face coverings in public. This was effectively a ban on the niqab, although popularly referred to as the burqa ban. This mobilisation of public concern over the rights of women is problematic on a number of levels. First, as University of Toulouse academic Rim-Sarah Aloune suggests, it creates the idea that the struggle of women over the right to choose how they dress only operates to reduce the amount of clothing that women are required to wear. But, as Aloune says, “women's rights imply the right for a woman to cover up”. Indeed, women workers in a number of Western countries have struggled to desexualise the clothes they have been required to wear — for example, in the airline industry. Secondly, it creates a false dichotomy between “archaic” and “misogynistic” Islamic cultures and “progressive” Western cultures. This dichotomy ignores the sexism that exists in Western societies. Finally, these bans in the name of protecting the rights of Muslim women in France have all worked to exclude Muslim women from French social life — whether it is from schools; standing for election to public office; going out in public or swimming at the beach. This alone demonstrates the thoroughly sexist character and effect of such bans. Defence of France's secular society may seem an easy argument to support bans against “religious clothing” but it isn't. This is particularly the case with efforts to justify bans on the burkini — its advocates and defenders are also arguing that the burkini is not religious dress. This sleight of hand is primarily aimed to cover the idea that the bans are themselves Islamophobic. However, arguments justifying attacks on Muslims in the name of defending secularism (which are not limited to France) are clearly hypocritical. They are overwhelming concerned with the actions of marginalised Muslims, with little concern over the influence of Christianity on Western states. But they also reflect an extremely one-sided understanding of secularism. Secularism is not simply a question of religion not influencing the state. Secularism is also about freedom for people to practice their religions without interference from the state. Part of the problem with the debates around the clothes of Muslim women in France is that decisions by individual Muslims regarding the clothes that they choose to wear is perceived as being influenced by religion in a way that clothing decisions — and other actions — by non-Muslims are not. This results in Muslims, particularly Muslim women, being seen as having less agency in their actions, particularly their choice of dress. It results in the most mundane actions being perceived as being religious when performed by Muslim women. An example of this can be seen with the 2004 ban on hijabs in public schools. In response to this ban, some Muslim students began wearing bandanas — which other people in French society also wore. In some schools, the wearing of bandanas by Muslim girls was then policed by schools and if a bandana was deemed “too modest” then the wearer was liable to be excluded from school. This position was upheld by the French Council of State — France's highest court — in 2006 on the basis that the bandana was deemed by the court to have been worn for a religious reason. The wave of bans against the burkini is also motivated on the basis of promoting “public order”. Instead, it will achieve the opposite. As NPA member Ugo Paleta points out, linking the wearing of particular clothes associated with Muslims, such as the burkini, with support for terrorism creates an image of all Muslims as potential threats to French society. It works to strengthen the discourse within France regarding the alleged “incompatibility of Islam with the French Republic”. The effect is that Muslims come to be seen as a “foreign body” within French society. This language serves to not only justify the draconian actions of French police in fining and excluding Muslim women from the beach for wearing burkinis and other covering clothing. It also legitimises the rising levels of Islamophobic violence against France's Islamic community — and places responsibility for this violence at the feet of the community rather with the perpetrators of that violence. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly #1108

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

France: "Employment" Bill - After the government coup, the inter-union coordiation call for the amplification of mobilisations

Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Humanite.fr
CGT, FO, FSU, Solidaires, UNEF, UNL, FIDL call workers, youth, and students to strikes and demonstrations on May 17 and 19.

Draft Employment Law: Amplify the mobilization against the denial of democracy! Communique of the inter-union coordination.

While wage earners, young people, private sector employees, and retirees mobilised for more than two months for the withdrawal of the labor bill and to obtain new rights, and while public opinion remains overwhelmingly opposed to the text of the bill, the government decided to force it through using Clause 49.3[1]. Unacceptable!

These mobilisations forced the government to propose amendments[2] to the bill that would minimise its impacts. But this is not enough!

A labour code for business which undermines the "hierarchy of norms" which provides protection and equality, endures in the bill. Scandalous!

Several professional sectors continue to develop actions and strikes (railway, road transport, energy, chemicals, construction, Paris airport, etc.), which are supported by dynamic elements in pursuit of amplifying and expanding the balance of forces.

This reinforces the need to amplify the mobilisations already planned throughout the country for May 12.

From all this, the trade unions CGT, FO, FSU, Solidaires and youth organisations, UNEF, UNL and FIDL invite their structures to hold general meetings with the wage earners to discuss the forms of actions and strikes and for their renewal.

They call their organisations to build two new days of strikes and demonstrations for Tuesday, May 17 and Thursday, 19 May.

In addition, they do not depart from any initiatives for the coming weeks, including a national demonstration.

To assert their proposals they decide to go together to the President of the Republic to be received urgently.

A new meeting of trade unions will be held early next week to decide on new mobilisations.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1 Refers to Article 49-3 of the French Constitution, "commitment of responsibility" it allows the government to pass a bill without a vote unless a vote of no confidence is successful against the government with 48 hours of bill being pushed through.
2 More than 5000 amendments were made to the bill when it was introduced into parliament, the text of the bill had also undergone significant changes during the process of it being accepted by the council of ministers - these changes had been aimed at splitting more conservative forces away from the more militant unions and to undermine mobilisations.

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Monday, May 9, 2016

France: Facing the provocations of a beleaguered government, continue for the withdrawal of the El Khomri law

Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste
Originally published May 3, 2016

The parliamentary debate on the law began Tuesday, May 3 with 5000 amendments were tabled, which will require either a long negotiation, or for the government to impose its will by the using Article 49-3[1].The media say that the government short 40 votes it needs to pass its legislation. Hollande and Valls are very low in the polls. All this shows the political weakness of the government.

Violence is on the government side and the police
We understand better, then, why they use large-scale violence to try to stop the movement. On April 28, as on May 1, it was Cazeneuve[2] and Valls and who were responsible for violence that took place on the sidelines of events. It is the behavior of the prefects and police who provoked the violence. Who instructs the CRS[3] to be permanently in contact with the protesters? Who sends in plain clothes police, causing the disruption in the demonstrations? The Minister of the Interior obviously. Fifty students were even summoned by the Police and put in custody in the Department 92 [4] on Monday, May 2!

The right and the extreme right go even further, claiming the ban on demonstrations and the standing night. The FN prime demand is the for dissolution of groups of the "extreme left."

All these people, defenders of the rich, Medef [France's largest employer organisation], and the banks are afraid. They see that the movement that has risen rejects their unjust and inhuman system where a privileged few get rich without limits at the expense of the majority of the population.

Legitimacy is on our side
They fear, provoke and repress because they know full well that their policy does not serve the interests of the people but the banks and multinationals. They know their stories of recovery, it's phony: unemployment is not declining, while the number of unemployment benefit recipients fell but the number experiencing precarity increased!

They know that if "it gets better" as claimed by Hollande, it is only for profits and paychecks but not for employees, not for young people.

That is why their policy of intimidation should not set us back quite the contrary. We are in process of demonstrating to the government, right, and FN that legitimacy of the demands of the movement is complete. Yes, we must impose the withdrawal of the El Khomri law must begin to impose another power struggle.

If we come together, we will have the strength to win
To achieve victory, it is necessary that all employees stop working at the same time, for not one but for several days, stopping the country and production! This would show that the power of all the wealthy comes only from our work! Let us ensure the changing of which camp is confident!

This is what passes through the minds of many employees, of all those who mobilized against the closure of their business against layoffs or against job cuts in the public service. Often we fought isolated from each other and often we have experienced losses. Today we finally see the opportunity to join forces and bring a halt to the government and employers.

We know that to force the government to cede, we can not content ourselves to isolated strike days.We need to build a global movement that paralyzes the economy, a general strike.

The railway workers, nor all workers and young people have not said their last word. We can win, confident in our own strength.

Employees, youth, private sector employees and pensioners, together!
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1 Refers to Article 49-3 of the French Constitution, "commitment of responsibility" it allows the government to pass a bill without a vote unless a vote of no confidence is successful against the government with 48 hours of bill being pushed through.
2 Bernard Cazeneuve is the current French Minister of the Interior. The Minister of the Interior is responsible for internal security within France including the French National Police and the French Gendarmerie.
3 Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (Republican Security Companies) are the riot control force of the French police.
4 France's Department 92, of Hauts-de-Seine covering the Western inner suburbs of Paris. Fortyseven students involved in protests were summoned questioning with 13 taken into custody over a blocade of a high school being set on fire and damaging the school.

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Friday, April 8, 2016

France: Call of the National Student Coordination of mobilised students

April 3 2016
Originally published by Solidaires

We, students are mobilized against the labour law, national student coordination meeting, mandated by 70 universities and higher education institutions, call for total withdrawal and without negotiation of the labour bill. The day of March 31 was a great success throughout France: nearly 1.2 million people showed their anger at and rejection of this anti-social act. For three weeks now, there are hundreds of thousands of university students with high school students, wage earners and unemployed that are mobilising despite the vain attempts of the state to divide and suppress the movement. Today, while Manuel Valls opts for negotiation with some trade union organizations, we reaffirm that this movement is self-organizing in General Meetings and in Coordination: only the movement can represent himself.

This law is a continuity of pro-management policies implemented by successive governments. It aims to facilitate redundancies, increase working time, and reduce the rights of workers. Only total withdrawal is an acceptable outcome faced with the widespread insecurity provided by this bill.

The government is afraid of this movement that is growing and is trying by all means to silence. Police repression and administrative penalties are unacceptable: on March 31 alone, there were more than 100 arrests and dozens of wounded. We will conduct a campaign against police violence, we will not back down, and we will not stop.

On 5 April we will be back on the street. We call on that date all the wage earners and their unions to build with us the indefinite general strike. To roll back government, an overall movement of university students, high school student, private sector employers and workers will be essential. To build this convergence of struggles, we call for intensifying the rhythm of mobilisation: April 9, we will be on the streets across France alongside wage earners. And in the following weeks, we will continue the movement on 12th, 14th and 20th of April. These dates should be a fulcrum to move towards a renewable strike. To make this prospect a reality, we call on all students to connect with workers and group together in interprofessional meetings.

The government relies on holiday to weaken the student mobilization: on the contrary, we will use this period to strengthen the mobilization and diversify e.g. by intervening in the occupation of places like the approach of the Nuit Debout (Standing Night). With the exams approaching, we demand that universities take steps to not impede the continued mobilization, including postponing the exams.
We are determined and we will fight to the finish to achieve:


  • the total withdrawal, without negotiation, of the Labour Law
  • redistribution and reduction of working time
  • an immediate end to police repression and prosecutions as well as the immediate lifting of the state of emergency

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

France: Movement against labour law swells as hundreds of thousands join protests and strikes

Lisbeth Latham

The hopes of French President Hollande and Prime Minister Valls of easily driving through their new labour law, that will dramatically cut rights from France’s Labour Code (which sets minimum conditions of employment – particularly in companies with no collective agreement – sets the institutional role of France’s union confederations) was dealt a severe blow as hundreds of thousands of people answered the call of worker and student unions for a day of strikes and mobilisations on March 31. These large mobilisations which were double the size of the previous united day of action on March 9. Despite growth, there remain considerable challenges for the movement if it is to force the government to retreat from its assault on worker’s rights.

Growing Movement
The March 31 mobilisations were larger than the earlier March 9 protests in all measures. Protests were held in 250 towns and cities compared to 140 previously. Union estimates put the number of participants at 1.2 million (up from 500, 000 on March 9), while police estimated 390, 000 people up from 250, 000. The largest demonstration was in Paris where 140, 000 people marched despite heavy rain – other large protests occurred in Marseille (120, 000) and Toulouse (100, 000). High School students unions reported 250 high schools were blockaded up from the peak of 200 during the student day of protest on March 17. University and high school student unions estimate that more than 200, 000 students participated in protests across France.

Socialist government’s efforts to demobilise fail
In the face of widespread hostility to the law (opinion polls suggest that 70% of people are opposed to the laws) the PS lead government have hoped to demobilise protests based on both on appearing to listen to protests and in making concessions in amending the proposed legislation. In the wake of March 9 protests, Valls announced that he would meet with student organisations and that he “looked forward to seeing the student proposals” on the laws. The draft legislation that was sent to the Council of Ministers on March 24 was heavily amended compared to the original draft – however it continues to contain major attacks on workers and the unemployed.

While the government was hoping that its concessions would help to divide and demobilisation the movement they have also been hoping that the continued failure of the leadership of “reformist” unions such as the Confédération française démocratique du travail (French Democratic Labour Confederation - CFDT), which after initially attempting wrangling amendments to the bill has acted to supported the bill, would help to undermine the mobilisations. Instead the more militant unions have repeatedly stated that the bill is unamendable and that it needs to be withdrawn in total. As a result there have been reports of members of the reformist unions particularly the CFDT and the Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens (French Confederation of Christian Workers) joining the protests.

A reflection of the impact of the failure of the government’s strategy is reflected in the collapse in popularity of both Hollande and Valls whose approval ratings are down to 15% and 27% respectively, Hollande’s approval rating is the lowest ever for a Socialist president.

Police Repression
As with previous mobilisations March 31 featured clashes between security forces and protesters with more than 100 people arrested and dozens of injuries. This violence has been made easier by the continued state of emergency which was put in place in the wake of the November 15 terror attacks in Paris. Police violence, particularly towards high school students – highlighted by member CRS riot police breaking a 15 year-old student’s nose on March 24 – has caused wide spread anger. The daily left-wing paper Liberation has been calling on witnesses to police violence to send it videos of any violence from protests. A joint statement issued by student organisations on April 4, set an objective of their mobilisations as “an immediate end to police repression and prosecutions as well as the immediate lifting of the state of emergency”.

For a reduced working week
The premise underlying the labour law is the need to tackle France’s growing unemployment problem, which currently stands at more than 10%. However as student and the militant unions are pointing out the proposed laws will do nothing to reduce unemployment but instead are aimed at boosting profits and flexibility for capital. In addition to calling for the bill to be abandoned the radical union confederation Solidaires and student organisations are calling for a further reduction of the working week – with Solidaires arguing that 32 hour week is necessary along with significant increases in the status and financial support for the unemployed.

Movement to come
The combining factors of the massive growth in the movement, the continuing refusal of the government to seriously engage with the opposition to the bill and the police repression has resulted in a speeding up and intensification of the movement. This is reflected in the large numbers of people who occupied public squares across France in the evening of March 31. In the evening of March 31 the leaderships of the worker and student unions that are leading the campaign issued a statement calling for the total withdrawal of the bill and for further mobilisations on April 5 (students) and April 9 (all sectors). On April 1 the general assemblies of students were held at Paris I (Tolbiac and Sorbonne) and at Paris VIII (Saint-Denis) universities both of which issued statements committing to further mobilisation and continuing the work of informing the university community of the campaign. Over April 2 – 3 a national coordinating meeting of university students was held and a joint statement was issued on April 4. This statement endorsed the mobilisations that had already been called for April 5 and April 9 and announced three further student mobilisations for April 12, 14 and 20 – with the objective of linking up with workers to build a renewable (i.e indefinite) general strike. In the statement students warned that the government is relying on the approaching university holidays to help to demobilise students (which occurred in 2006 following the withdrawal of the First Employment Contract law) but that students should instead use the holidays as an opportunity to intensify organising efforts. The statement also called on the university administrations not impede further mobilisations – which necessitates the universities postponing exams.

The continued growth of the movement has the potential to force the government to backdown – just as it was last week on its push to change France’s constitution to allow individuals convicted of terror related offences of their citizenship – however it is important to keep in mind that the current movement is far short of previous mass French worker and student mobilisations (1995, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2010) most of which were unable to generate sufficient pressure to defeat the neo-liberal assaults on the rights of workers by right-wing governments. While the push for increased mobilisations, particularly the proposal of university students, are important steps – there remain important challenges. The student push for a renewable general strike, which if realised would place massive pressure on the government, faces the serious challenge of the limited support within the union movement for such a strike – at this point only Solidaires (which is calling for such a strike and has a long record of advocating for a general strike as a mechanism for defeating government attacks) and Fédération Nationale des Industries Chimiques Confédération générale du travail (National Chemical Industry Federation General Confederation of Labour - FNIC CGT) which has advocated for a renewable strike in the chemical industry and in oil refining (the FNIC CGT lead a month long strike in France’s oil refineries during October 2010 against both attacks on France’s pensions and restructuring in that sector). An danger of the increase pace of the student mobilisations is that if the broader movement does not expand the students risk narrowing and exhausting their own campaign. It is this challenge of negotiating the need to expand the size, strength and pace of mobilisation – whilst avoiding exhausting those are already a part of campaign which faces the militant wing movement and which will be answered in the coming weeks.

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Sunday, April 3, 2016

France: Worker and Student Unions Call for Further Strikes and Protests on April 5 and April 9

CGT, FO, FSU, Solidaires, UNEF, UNL and FIDL
March 31, 2016

The powerful day of strikes and demonstrations involving more than a million people in 260 cities demonstrated the unwavering determination of university and high school students, wage earners, private-employment and retirees to obtain both the withdrawal of the labour bill and to conquer new social rights.

The unions CGT, FO, FSU, Solidaires, UNEF, UNL and FIDL reaffirm that in a context of rising unemployment, explosion of precariousness and poverty, this text will organize a general regression of rights, creating a dumping social between companies of the same territory and the same branch and aggravate inequalities between wage earners.
Contrary to the government, labour bill would create in any case the permanent jobs needed for recovery and investment.

The government must listen to the thousands of university and high school student, wage earners, workers in private companies and retirees who were today in the streets and at the strike calls in many companies. They must hear calls on behalf of the 70% of the population who believe the government must remove the text, it is not amendable as its overall philosophy would remain unchanged.

The signatory unions argue again that governments must guarantee the right to demonstrate, to assemble, to organize, while ensuring the safety of protesters.

They confirm their readiness to meet with the government and make new proposals on rights in terms of employment, wages and pensions, working time, social protection, group benefits, working conditions, training and rights union freedoms. Bearing proposals for social progress and corresponding to the reality of work today and for tomorrow.

Already, new days of mobilization with strikes and demonstrations are planned and that on 5 April at the initiative of the youth organizations. The wage earners will mobilize in various forms, including with the interpellation of parliamentarians.

On April 9, they call for the success of a new great action day of strikes and demonstrations.
If the government does not respond, the trade unions CGT, FO, FSU, Solidaires, UNEF, UNL, LDIFs remain determined to continue and mobilization, including demonstrations and general strikes, for the withdrawal from the labour bill and conquer new social rights. They decided to meet again on 6 April.



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Thursday, March 31, 2016

France: As mass protests and strikes loom, the challenges and potential of a movement to defeat the work law

Lisbeth Latham
Today (March 31) workers, students, unemployed and retirees will join the fourth mass mobilisation against the attemps of the Parti Socialiste lead government of Prime Minister Emmanual Valls to pass a new work law. This new legislation if passed will significantly reduce the rights of French workers The, legislation which is popularly referred to as El Khomri, in reference to labour minister Myriam El Khomri, will deepen the efforts of previous efforts by both the current PS government and earlier right-wing government’s to make workers and other popular sections of French society pay for capital’s crisis. Despite the mobilisations against the law, media commentary are seeking to portray these mobilisations as fruitless against the inevitable introduction of the "necessary" liberalisation of France’s labour laws. This dismissal has centred on the relatively small size of the current movement in comparison to previous French mass mobilisations around workers’ rights. This article will explore the proposed bill and the emerging movement against the new laws comparing this movement with previous mass French mobilisations within the world of work and examining the new challenges it faces within current political landscape in France.

The initial proposed bill contained significant attacks on both working conditions and unions, these included:

  • Increased number of consecutive weeks where workers can be required to work overtime – the French working week is 35 hours, however this can currently be increased to 44 hours (with paid overtime) for a period of 12 consecutive weeks. The bill would this to be extended 16 consecutive weeks – where an enterprise agreement had been reached this could be extended to 46 hours over a maximum of 16 weeks;
  • Capping of payments to workers who are unfairly dismissed at 15 months of salary;
  • Making It easier to for employers to force part-time employment – current provision requires that for part-time work to be implemented, the employer must give prior notification to the labor inspectorate in order to avoid abuse. The bill proposed that the employer be able implement part-time work unilaterally;
  • Removal of the legal entitlement to bereavement leave (presently set at two days) with local agreements determine whether workers have access to such leave and its duration;
  • Increase in the maximum duration of night work from 40 hours per week for three months to 40 hours a week for four months;
  • Increased use of "package-days" where work is expressed in days rather than hours – 50% of French managers already are employed on this basis – the change would extend the practice to more workers – with enterprises with less than 50 employees not needing an enterprise agreement to implement. The proposal would also remove responsibility for ensuring workers take minimum hours of rest between work days or days off;
  • Varying of work time over three years. Under France’s 35 hour week it is possible for hours to be averaged over a number of weeks (if the average over this time is not above 35 hours) then no overtime is paid. If there is no enterprise agreement then the maximum span of time that hours can be averaged over is four weeks – with an agreement the maximum is one year. The proposed change is that this be extended to three years. In companies with less than 50 employees were no agreement is in place the four weeks could be extended to sixteen weeks;
  • Increase in the work week for apprentices under the age of 18 – the current maximum working hours are 35 hours per week and eight hours a day – the new maximums would be 40 hours a week and ten hours – this increase would not need to be approved by the labour inspectorate;
  • Making it easier for employers to force through enterprise level agreements – current provisions requires that for an enterprise agreement to be valid it must be agreed to by one or more unions representing 30% of employees (based on votes France’s union representative elections) and that the agreement is not opposed by unions representing more than 50% of workers. The new law would allow a company referendum will validate an agreement even if the unions representing 70% of workers are opposed;
  • Companies would be able to reduce wages or increase working hours (with no increase in wages) even when company is not having financial difficulties. Currently can do this (for a maximum of two years) if they are facing financial difficulties if workers and unions agreed – the proposed change would allow companies to propose the change if they felt it would enable them to meet a business opportunity, to do so they would be able to bypass unions and put a vote to workers – if a majority approved the change any worker who refused to accept the change could be sacked without any redundancy payment;
  • Ending the right to  11 consecutive hours of rest between "package-days" – instead breaks would be able to be broken up with periods of work within these 11 hours. If a worker is on call then on call, the period that they on call and not  engaged in work would count as part of the rest period;
  • Change of mission of occupational physicians – occupational physicians are currently primarily responsible for prevention of workplace injury, and is in place with a focus on the health of workers. Their objective is to maintain of employees to perform their duties - by proposing adaptations to them if necessary. The new bill would give physicians a new mission: to certify "the ability of the employee to exercise any of the existing tasks in the company" and "to ensure the compatibility of the worker's health the position to which he is assigned" – which is an inversion of the current role and significant attack on workplace safety;
  • Leave during natural disaster no longer be legally guaranteed - currently the length of leave for natural disasters is 20 days guaranteed by law. With the bill, it is the branch or company agreement that will define its duration and the conditions for access;
  • The duration and terms of a sabbatical would no longer guaranteed by law - the minimum duration of the sabbatical leave is currently set at a minimum of six months  and a maximum of eleven months. With the bill, any access to a sabbatical, and its duration, would be defined in an enterprise or branch agreement;
  • Weakening of job training programs – currently young workers or older unemployed workers can enter into a "professional contract" which includes on the job training for a recognised qualification while receiving a subsidised wage – the bill would allow these contract to include more limited on the job training that would not result in a recognised qualification;
  • Increased use of three year wage deals – currently there are mandatory annual negotiations on wages. Since 2015, it is possible for an enterprise to hold its negotiations every three years if there is a majority agreement in place in that company. The bill will allow a branch agreement to be negotiated triennially based on 30% support in that branch of industry;
  • Allow for the state to finance private apprenticeship training providers;
  • Facilitate dismissals during the transfer of business - currently, when a company sells all or part of its business, jobs are maintained and work contracts are automatically transferred into the new structure. The bill will provide for a portion of employees to be transferred with the business, but will allow for the dismissal of others;
  • Allow for part-time worker to be paid less for additional hours – currently when part-time workers work hours in addition to their contract they get a differented payment of additional wages – for those hours that constitute upto 1/10 of the contracted hours they receive a loading of 10% on the additional hours worked and a loading of 25% for all hours in addition to this – only a branch agreement can change this arrangement to a flat additional payment of 10%. Under the bill all part-time workers would receive a 10% loading – this change will have a significant impact on gender equality as women workers make up 82% of all part-time workers in France;
  • Reduce notice period for changes in rosters – currently part-time employees must given seven days notice of a change in their work schedule – only a branch or enterprise can reduce this to a shorter period (with a minimum of three days). The bill provides for that the schedule change is possible for all part-time workers with three days notice;
  • Employers able to change paid leave arrangements at short notice - the law currently provides that employers should take into account workers’ family situations when determining dates for paid leave. Within a month scheduled beginning of a workers’ leave the employer has no right to change the start or finish dates of the leave. With the proposed bill, these mandatory measures were transformed into 'supplemental' provisions. They can be challenged by way of enterprise or branch agreement;
  • Under the bill enterprise agreements would have a maximum of 5 years – Current enterprise agreements last indefinitely, unless otherwise provided in the Agreement, or terminated by either party. The agreement can be unilaterally denounced by trade unions signatories or by the employer. In this case, the rights and entitlements within the agreement continue to apply until there is a new agreement. Once terminated there is a three-month notice period before renegotiation begins, allowing trade unions to prepare, inform and mobilize workers ... With the proposed bill, all enterprise agreements have a term of 5 years. The provisions of the agreement are immediately canceled and cease to apply, even if there is no new agreement. There is no notice period prior to the beginning of negotiations;
  • Overpayment: employment centre can draw directly on unemployment benefits - When an employment centre claims to have made a mistake in the payment of unemployment benefits and wishes to recover the overpayment it must get the approval of a judge. This ensures that the overpayment was actually made (sometimes it hasn’t been) and allows the unemployed person to arrange for repayments to be made in instalments. With the proposed bill the judge's approval is no longer mandatory. The employment centre will directly deduct the overpayment from following month’s benefits payment. If the employment centre made a mistake, it unemployed person to go to court to their money repaid. This risks unemployed workers suddenly facing having little or no money one month to another. The spreading of repayments, which has been previously easily accessed, will be much harder to obtain;
  • On call-time may be counted as rest time – in violation of the European Committee on Social Rights requirements that time when works are required to be on call not be counted as mandated rest-time between working time the proposed bill will allow this to occur;
  • Reduced protections for employees who invalidly made redundant - when a court declares a redundancy void the worker is entitled to reinstatement. When this is not possible the current law provides 12 months of salary compensation to a minimum. The new law will limit this to six months, and this will only be for works with at least two years of service with the company;
  • Lower allowances for dismissed sick and injured workers - when a worker is dismissed for incapacity following an industrial accident or an occupational disease and the employer took no steps to find alternative work or arangements – the dismissal is not valid. The current law provides for compensation of a minimum of 12 months of salary. The bill proposes that this be only 6 months salary;
  • Enterprise agreements will be able to reduce overtime payments – the Labour Code provides that the first eight hours of overtime attract a penalty rate of 25% with subsequent hours paid an additional 50%. Under the proposed bill management will be able through an enterprise agreement to reduce the overtime rate to a flat 10% rate.

  • The government has motivated these changes on the idea that France’s existing labour code deter investment in the French economy and discourage companies from taking advantage of business opportunities (for fear of a subsequent contraction in the business) – the reality is that much of the changes have a significant capacity to undermine job creation – this is particularly the case for the provisions for increasing the work week – even those that supposedly make investment "less risky" they don’t address the key cause of France’s economic woes (the ongoing effect of the GFC) nor do they address the reality that outside of a sharp decline in demand companies have the capacity to adjust employment numbers without recourse to redundancy through mechanisms of natural attrition.

    Blaming the growth on precarious employment in France on "rigid employment laws" is undermined by the reality that more liberalised labour markets, like Australia, have extremely high levels of insecure and precarious employment.

    The proposed bill has caused widespread anger across France – with opinion polls indicating 70% opposition. A change.org petition against the bill launched in February received 200, 000 signitures in the first four hours of being online, the petition has now been signed by more than 1.2 million people.

    March 9 strikes and mobilisations
    Strikes and mobilisations were called in 140 cities and towns across France for March 9. These protests were supported by the three most militant union confederations – the CGT (Confédération générale du travail – General Confederation of Labour), FO (Force Ouvri – Workers Force) and the trade union Solidaires – in addition the call for the mobilisation was supported the large education union the FSU (Fédération syndicale unitaire – United Union Federation)and the university and high school student unions UNEF (Union Nationale des Étudiants de France – National Union of Students of France), FIDL (Fédération indépendante et démocratique lycéenne Independent and Democratic Secondary Student Federation) and UNL (Union Nationale Lycéenne – National Union of Secondary Students). Between 250, 000 and 500, 000 people participated in the protests across France (both the unions and the interior ministry employ official protest counters to count the size of protests – these counters differ in their methodology as to who should be included as a participant in the protests – with police only including those who within the confines of the march on the street – whilst the union counters will tend to include those who are on the edges of protests along the footpaths – which particularly makes sense on big mobilisations).Think this is too long to be in brackets and needs some full stops and that. The largest of these was held in Paris with between 27, 000 and 100, 000 participating in three protests across the day. In addition to the protests a number largest of these was in the SNCF (France’s national rail system) where four main rail unions (including reformist unions such as the Confédération française démocratique du travail (French Democratic Confederation of Labour - CFDT) and the Union nationale des syndicats autonomes (National Union of Autonomous Trade Unions)) had issued a strike notice resulting in significant disruptions to rail services over a range of issues including the ongoing reduction in the SNCF workforce via natural attrition of some 25, 000 workers over the past decade.

    At the Paris union march from the MEDEF (Mouvement des entreprises de France – Movement of the Enterprises of France) to the ministry of labour, CGT general secretary Philippe Martinez told the crowd that in the CGT’s call (reformatting) that the government withdraw the bill that "The message is clear. Mr Hollande and Manuel Valls to stop incorporating the proposals of employers".

    Some of the student slogans at the March 17 and March 24 protests included:
    “On strike until retirement!”
    “Be young and shut up!”
    “Less valls, more tango” - a play on valse (waltz)
    “You do not let us dream, we will not let you sleep!”
    "The night is made for kissing, not for work”

    In the lead up to the March 9 mobilisation the government announced that the presentation of the bill to the council of state would be delayed from the scheduled date of March 9 until March 24 – this was to provide more time for the draft bill to be amended to take on criticisms from both within PS and concerns from the more moderate unions particularly the CFDT - with three aspects expected to be changed. In the wake of the protests El Khomri announced that she would take on board calls. Prime Minister Valls announced he would meet with student organisations to discuss their concerns.

    The bill presented to (and adopted by) the council of ministers on March 24 had undergone considerable changes including:
    • Return to a maximum of 12 consecutive weeks of overtime;
    • The proposal to extend the maximum number of consecutive weeks of overtime will be subject to a consultation period up until October;
    • Proposal to cap unfair dismissal payments has been removed however there has been an indicative scale in place since 2013 for during the conciliation stage of unfair dismissal cases – the government has indicated that it will change this scale by decree (avoiding the need to have the law passed) and extend the scale to apply to awards in cases that move to trial;
    • The provision to remove bereavement leave from the Labour Code has been withdrawn but other forms of leave such as carers leave will be determined in the enterprise agreement;
    • For a company to implement the spreading of overtime over three years an enterprise level agreement would not be sufficient, instead there would need to be branch agreement in place;
    • Increase in the hours for young apprentices was withdrawn (although companies will be able to apply to the labour inspectorate for an increase);
    • proposal to allow unilateral introduction of part-time work dropped;
    • Proposal to extend "package days" was modified to stop employers being able to unilaterally implementing "package days" – any shift would require agreement with union representatives in the enterprise;
    • In the revised bill, the referendum on adopting a contested enterprise agreement is called "consultation". Initially, these "consultations" will not be implemented for determining working hours, however the bill provides for referendum to eventually apply to all sections of the Labour Code including working hours;
    • Removal of the entitlement leave for caring for parent or close family with illness or disability (currently set at three months) and would have to be provided in an enterprise agreement.
    In addition a new change was included removing the minimum payment for wrongful dismissal – at present if a worker is unfairly dismissed they receive a minimum payment of six months if the company has more than ten employees and they have more than two years of experience – the new proposal is to strip this protection entirely meaning a worker who is wrongfully dismissed could receive nothing.

    While MEDEF and other employer groups have been critical of the government for buckling to the movement– the unions leading the mobilisations are clear that they want the bill withdrawn in its entirety.

    A limited Movement?
    Much of the mainstream English language media coverage of March 9 protests (the later student protests have barely rated a mention) have focused on the fact that this mobilisation was smaller than previous mass union mobilisations in France, (new sentence) most notably the 2010 movement against Francois Fillon’s assault on pensions – which featured seven days of mass strikes and protests between September 7 and October 28 of that year involving more than two million people and ongoing strikes in a number of sectors most notably the oil industry.

    While these observations are true, they fail to recognise either the different context in which the current movement is occurring. Much of these conditions act to undermines mobilising capacity of the unions; or that of the big union mobilisations across the last decade only one of these began with truly large union mobilisations, while the others grew into a larger movement from a more modest beginning.

    Looking at the experience of the previous campaigns there arethree distinct experiences for the movements of 2006, 2009 and 2010. In 2009 the movement against the austerity policies that sought to make working people pay for the capital’s crisis began with two mobilisations of more than two million people on January 29 and March 19. By May Day protest numbers were down to 1.2 million people, and the movement dissipated after the summer holidays. By comparison the unsuccessful campaign against pension reforms in 2011 began with mobilisations of around 800, 000 in March of that year (this mobilisation was supported by the entire labour movement). While the campaign against the first employment contract (CPE) in early 2006 initially attracted limited union participation in the protests. Instead the movement was driven by hundreds of thousands of university and high school students whose action during February helped to overcome the resistance of a number of union confederations to participating in the movement (largely to regain control of the movement from the insurgent student). Once the unions came on board the protests and strikes grew rapidly. With 1.5 million and 2.71 million on March 18 and 28 respectively and 3.1 million on April 4, resulting in the scrapping of the law on April 10 (another anti-worker law – the equal opportunity law – remained in place but the movement split and dissipated in the wake of the scrapping of the CPE).

    The last three big national labour movements in France all occurred under governments of the right. The defeat of the 2011 movement saw a shift away from street mobilisation into hopes that change could be achieved through the ballot box – demonstrated by through the PS victory in the 2012 presidential and national assembly elections and the rise of Front de Gauche’s (an alliance of left parties centred around the PCF and the Parti de Gauche) whose presidential candidate Jean Luc Melechon achieved a vote of 11.10% in the presidential election. Since the 2012 election the PS and its governmental allies have been a disappointment to much of its base and the social forces to its left– not only has the PS failed to reverse the pension changes but has also deepened the liberalisation of the labour market in the interests of capital. These actions have resulted in the electoral rise of the Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front Nationale – and electoral decline of the PS and more importantly the parties to its left.

    Unlike the previous mass worker and student mobilisations – the current mobilisations have not been united (with the "reformist" worker and student organisations not supporting the March 9 protest). This division makes it more difficult to build as large protests as in the previous movements. As to bring the members and supporters of the reformist unions (particularly the CFDT - , France’s largest union by membership) into motion, they have to be appealed to over the heads of the leaderships of their unions. However the absence of these forces means that there is a stronger basis for ongoing mobilisation as differences in objectives between the two wings of the union movement (demands for total withdrawal of the bill by the militant class struggle unions vs. calls for consultation and modification of the proposed text of the bill by the reformist forces) are not expressed within the movement itself. This presents a greater opportunity for mobilisations to continue if the legislation is passed, particularly compared to 2011, when the reformist unions who had sought greater consultation by the Fillon government withdrew completely from the movement once the legislation passed – resulting in the almost immediate collapse of the campaign.

    An additional factor impacting on the mobilisations against the El Khomri bill is the continuing state of emergency in France (the state of emergency was initiated in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris on November and has since been extended twice). From its inception the state of emergency has stifled the re-emergence of union mobilisations – with strikes cancelled in the week following November declaration of the state of emergency. The state of emergency has also provided a space in which the state has been able to exercise significant levels of repression particularly directed at students- both at student mobilisations and against student organising. The most notable case of repression was the assault by riot police and BAC undercover police on a 15-year-old high school student who had his jaw broken by police - the video of this violence was shared widely and forced the Minister of Education, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem tweet regret about "shocking violence violence against high school student" (the police officer is now facing criminal charges and is expected to go on trial in May). A number of universities have been closed administratively to stop them being used as organising spaces, whilst there have been reports of CRS riot police actively excluding union activists from university general assemblies to stop them from participating in the deliberation and votes on further actions in the campaign.

    Despite these difficulties and challenges there are important signs that movement that can challenge and potentially defeat the bill is developing. The most important aspect of this has been both ongoing organisation of students through the holding of general assemblies of students at universities and schools but also the development of joint actions between works and students between the mass days of mobilisations – which was so central to the 2006 campaign against CPE, albeit at lower level than in 2006. Since the lead up to the March 9 protests, student unions have holding general assemblies in which students come together to decide on the course of action at their institution – including whether the institution should be operating. These meetings, particularly at universities involve hundreds of students.

    Where to for the movement

    Today’s protests are an important test for the campaign. The growth in the size of the protests from March 9 will be important to maintaining momentum and in bringing pressure to bare on the government MPs, particularly those from the PS who are divided over the law - with its right-wing objecting to the concessions to the movement, center supporting the amended bill and left-wing opposing it.

    The early signs for a growth in the movement are good with more protests scheduled across both metropolitan France and the overseas territories than on March 9. Equally important a statement by the leadership of Solidaires indicates that their militants are reporting that at the local level at least, it appears likely that members, and possibly some branches, of the CFDT will participate in some of the actions despite that confederation’s leadership not supporting the strikes and protest. However, the experiences of 2006, 2009 and 2010 suggest that the growing may not be enough for the movement to force the defeat of the bill either in parliament or once if it is passed. For the movement to have a strong chance of success it will need to increase in intensity and again in both amongst students and workers there are signs this is possible. Amongst students the general assemblies of students, particularly at university continue to grow – with some meetings involving more than 1000 students on individual campuses. Moreover like in 2006, there are reports of students linking up with striking workers and helping to spread the movement. Amongst workers, in a number of sectors, most notably the SNCF, there are discussions of launching "renewable strikes" where workers meet in the local workplace each day to vote on whether to continue their strike action – with general assemblies of workers being organised for tomorrow (April 1). There has already been a further day of protest called by the "facs in the struggle" – the campuses whose general assemblies have voted to participate in the campaign – for April 5.

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    Sunday, March 13, 2016

    France: Call for joint actions by workers and students on March 31

    Labor Code reform: It is urgent to take action!
    Joint Communiqué

    CGT (Confédération générale du travail – General Confederation of Labour), FO (Force Ouvrière – Workers Force), FSU (Fédération syndicale unitaire – United Union Federation), Solidaires, UNEF (Union Nationale des Étudiants de France – National Union of Students of France), UNL (Union Nationale Lycéenne – National Union of Secondary Students, FIDL (Fédération indépendante et démocratique lycéenne – Independent and Democratic Secondary Student Federation)

    The bill to reform the labor law is a social regression that we do not accept.

    The principles underpinning the Collective Guarantees are challenged, redundancies facilities and the capping of employment tribunal allowances. This bill facilitates creating procedures in companies and institutions that place the wage earners under threat and blackmailed to employment. It seeks to undermine equal rights and treatments by enabling national level negotiations bypassing the unions. It would put in place other regressive provisions around  working time, apprentices, and professional training ...

    Unemployment reached a record level, poverty explodes and, for the first time in the post-war period life expectancy declined. Making work more precarious and workers easier to dismiss does not create jobs as shown by the impact of employment policies pursued for decades.

    We do not accept the society promised to the youth - that of insecurity. Our organizations have other requirements in terms of employment, training, working time, social protection and working conditions.

    Each of our organizations will develop its proposals.

    Today discontent is real and is growing. It is manifested through struggles in business, the public sector and education institutions. It also takes an inter-generational character with the mobilisation of youth engagement and that of retirees.

    In this sense, the mobilizations announced March 9 is an important event that should succeed.
    The social movement is spreading. An overwhelming majority believes that the labor law reform project is a threat to wage earners and will not create jobs. We think so too!

    The first trade union positions and citizens forced the government to first drop. But neither the date change, or the change in title will make this project acceptable.

    On March 31, the wage earners, employees in private companies, youth, and retirees have every reason to rally together, these action take all forms, including strikes and demonstrations throughout the country to obtain the withdrawal of the draft labour code reform law, and to obtain new rights, synonymous with social progress, to also achieve another distribution of wealth based on a society of solidarity.

    The unions CGT, FO, FSU, Trade Union Solidaires, UNEF, UNL, FIDL will meet that day, inviting all the wage earners, the young, the retirees, the private sector workers to register in the mobilizations.


    Montreuil, March 3, 2016



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    Wednesday, March 9, 2016

    France: National mobilisations against proposed changes to the labour law

    Lisbeth Latham
    Today there will be strikes and protests across France today against the proposed changes to the Labour Law. The changes were proposed in November by Myriam El Khomri, Minister for Labour,  and were scheduled to go to cabinet for discussion today - however as opposition has grown this date has been shifted to March 25.

    Map of March 9 Strikes and Protests
    The proposed changes will significantly increase potential work week in France with a standard maximum of 48 hours per week and 60 hours in a week in "exceptional circumstances" (France's 35 hour week would nominally remain in place). The current proposals would also see a reduction in penalty rates and it will be easier for employers to sack workers - with lower compensation in cases of unfair dismissal. The proposed changes are being motivated as a mechanism to combat France's 10.2% unemployment rate.

    Today's mobilisations are important as are likely to be the largest mobilisations in France since the declaration of the state of emergency in November - parliament voted on February 16 to extend the state of emergency until May 26. Today's mobilisations have been endorsed by the largest number of union confederations since the election of PS government in 2011.

    Further mobilisations against the changes to the labour laws have been called for the end of March.

     
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    Tuesday, March 8, 2016

    On Cologne and the problem of hegemonic masculinity

    Lisbeth Latham
    Protest against both sexual violence and racist attacks 
    Over New Year’s Eve, a series of large scale attacks against women took place in Cologne and other German cities. A number of perpetrators were reported as being from refugee communities resulting in an intensification of the debate over how Germany and other Western societies should respond to asylum seekers from non-Western cultures particularly from predominantly Arab and Muslim countries - particularly as far-right forces have sort to use the attacks to build support for their own attacks on migrant communities, especially Muslim communities. Sections of the German left (which is also reflected in the Anglophone left) have sort to respond the right’s use the Cologne attacks, by attempting in various ways to downplay the seriousness of the events of New Year’s Eve and by shifting focus onto sexual violence within German and other Western societies. In doing so the left’s arguments while differing significantly in premise from that of the right, still shares much of the right’s logic regarding the violence in Cologne and refugee policy - albeit the logic is inverted. Much of the left arguments are primarily aimed at proving how racist the right is - and that the right’s supposed concern for women is disingenuous - but ultimately is not useful in either challenging violence against women in our society or the attempted mobilisation of those concerns to attack migrant and refugee communities.  

    What happenedOn New Year’s Eve there were large scale attacks on women at train stations in the German cities of Cologne, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Dortmund, and Bielfeld. The largest of these attacks took place in Cologne where an estimated 1000 men participated in attacks. Groups of men reportedly acted isolated individual women these isolated were then robbed and/or assaulted. These attacks took place despite large scale police presences. Angela Klein reported that 213 local and federal police were deployed at the Cologne station and the adjacent cathedral square. Initial complaints to police were, ignored, but women continued to make complaints and media attention and public awareness around the incident grew, by January 30 to more than 1,000  complaints had been reported to police in Cologne alone (more than 400 involving sexual assault), some of these complaints include complaints against the police for failing to assist women on the night. The other German cities where large numbers of complaints have been made include Hamburg (236 complaints involving 391 victims - with only three of these complaints not involving sexual assault) and Dusseldorf where 113 complaints were made regarding sexual assault and theft.

    Official responseThe initial responses of the German state and media pretended that the attacks had not occurred. A press release from Cologne Police headquarters on January 1 stated, “Shortly before midnight, the station forecourt in the area of the stairway to the cathedral had to be evacuated by uniformed officers in order to prevent a stampede caused by the firing of pyrotechnic munitions by about 1000 revelers. Despite the unplanned break in celebrations, the situation was relaxed, because the police were well placed at critical locations and showed their presence.” ZDF, one of Germany’s state broadcasters did not cover the attacks until January 5, and had made a deliberate decision at least on January 4 to delay reporting on the incidents. They subsequently issued an apology.

    When the nature of the attacks were revealed, Henriette Reker, Mayor of Cologne, suggested that “there’s always the possibility of keeping a certain distance of more than an arm’s length – that is to say to make sure yourself you don’t look to be too close to people who are not known to you, and to whom you don’t have a trusting relationship.” She later stated that women in the city should follow a ‘code of conduct’ including a dress code to prevent further attacks.

    The Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the dominant party in the coalition government, under pressure over the slow public acknowledgement of the violence and criticised by far-right parties over the government’s policy supporting large scale (but inadequate) intakes of refugees announced that it will look at quicker mechanisms to deport migrants and asylum seekers guilty of crimes, the government has also made threats that it will reduce its refugee intake.

    Thomas de Maizière, the CDU interior minister has called for a review of Germany’s laws around deportation to make it easier to deport individuals (including refugees) convicted of crimes. Currently only attracting prison sentences in excess of three years impact on refugee status.

    While this call has been met with opposition from some within the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), the minority partner in the German government. Ralph Stegner, SPD deputy chief, accused de Maizière of knee-jerk opportunism. “We don’t need to change either the basic right to asylum or the Geneva refugee convention to deal with organized criminality by whoever in Germany”. However, other sections of the SPD have engaged in their own anti-refugee rhetoric. Heiko Mass, the SPD justice minister, has stated that those who are applying for asylum can be deported for crimes attracting a one-year prison sentence, while three local chapters of the SPD in Essen have called for blockades against the establishment of refugee centres in the city. The SPD Essen city organisation has distanced itself from these calls.

    In the wake of the attacks there have been a raft of changes in Germany. The governing coalition has Bundestag approved new laws providing for the creation identity cards for refugees linked to a centralised data system - these cards will include country of origin and fingerprints and will be accessible by all government agencies. On February 26, passed of new refugee measures including a two year suspension of family reunions for refugees and reducing payments to refugees by €10 and provision for quick asylum decisions for refugees from an expanded list of “safe countries” which now includes Algeria, Morroco, and Tunisia.

    Far-Right responseDuring 2014, Germany had seen the emergence and strengthening of a number of hard right and neo-nazi organisations, most notably Pegida (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes - Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West), a Far-Right organisation established in Dresden in October 2014, which were able to mobilise large regular anti-Muslim protests in a number German cities. These actions peaked with a march of 25,000 in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January 2015. These organisations have seized upon the New Year’s Eve attacks as “proof” of the “existential threat” posed by refugees - particularly Muslim, Arab and North African refugees, to German culture and society.

    It is important to note that while some of those who are alleged to attacked women have been identified as coming from North African and Arab backgrounds (including some of whom are refugees) others have been German and US citizens. The Far-Right organisations have sought to pose as the “true” protectors of German women. These organisations accuse the local, state and federal governments along with the media and police of engaging in cover up to conceal the “threat posed” by refugees and Islam to German society.

    Since New Year’s Eve, in a number of German cities there has been a series of anti-refugee protests and an escalation of physical violence against refugee and migrant communities – including a protest of 2000 people in Leipzig on January 11, which included hundreds of Far-Right activists torching cars and smashing windows and resulted in the arrest of 211 people. On February 6, Pegida, with other European far-right organisations, organised Europe-wide anti-Muslim protests, which they have dubbed “Day of European Patriots”, with the largest protest in Dresden involving between 8000 and 15000 people. Pegida has also sought to use outrage over Cologne to attempt to establish Pegida franchises in a number of countries including Ireland and the Netherlands.
    In response to the attempts to use violence of New Year’s Eve to promote anti-refugee and broader islamophobia as mechanisms to “protect women” Laurie Penny argues that the right is seeking to “steal feminism” - however the right are not only not interested in “stealing feminism” they are generally hostile to feminism and it’s liberatory project. Instead they are motivated to mobilise racism - the extent to which the right has a concern for women it is primarily regarding who controls women in society.

    Far-Left responseThe German Far-Left has attempted to mobilise around two core issues - opposition to sexism and to anti-refugee sentiments. This has notably occurred at protests organised by feminists, Left and anti-fascist forces in Cologne on January 6 and January 16. These protests have expressed anger both at victim blaming calls for women to modify their behaviour – attempting instead to focus on sexual violence as a problem, and rejecting the Far-Right’s’ claims of caring about women as cynical hypocrisy to cover their racist attacks on refugees and Muslims. The importance of these dual themes have also been a feature of articles published in Australia and England.
    While I agree with a need to reject both sexism and anti-refugee racism, many of the articles from the Left have a tendency to give more weight to their anti-racist arguments by downplaying the seriousness of the attacks - reflecting the tendency of sections of the Left towards a cynical hypocrisy when it comes to taking violence towards women seriously. Indeed Angela Klein argues that significant sections of the German left failed to take the attacks on New Year’s Eve seriously. This downplaying is a consequence of the poor understanding of why violence towards women occurs (and a lack of real concern when said violence is an inconvenience when addressing other priorities). Also, much of the Left shares with Far-Right and mainstream political forces an orientalist understanding of non-Western cultures, particularly Islam.

    Silke Stockle and Marion Wegscheidher, in an article for the German website Marx 21 (which has been republished by a number of Left-wing Anglophone publications and websites), argue that the mainstream discourse fails to discuss the systematic character of violence against women in Germany and state that the “hundred police officers present at the scene who did nothing to intervene in order to protect the women victims, despite the fact that there was even an undercover policewoman among them, is speaking volumes”. It is undoubtedly the case that the police response to the attacks exacerbated the situation. Angela Klein argues that the police response was deeply flawed in the following ways:
    • Despite being aware that something was occurring as early as 9.30 pm, the police failed to seek additional support and, feeling overwhelmed, reportedly departed the square at 11.35 pm, when attacks were still happening and continued through until the early hours of the morning;
    • The police responded, if at all, above all to acts of theft. Women reported that the police in case of sexual harassment were merely “watched”. Even a female officer who had been sexually harassed in the crowd got no help from her fellow officers. Angela Klein argues this is consistent with the general behaviour of police and legal authorities in Germany towards sexual harassment, which in Germany is still regarded as a “peccadillo” that is not punished under criminal law;
    • There are also reports of women attempting to escape the square being pushed back into it by police.

    However, the failure of the police response, which has seen the Cologne Chief of Police take early retirement - while undoubtedly influenced by misogyny and victim blaming attitudes - does not negate or reduce the responsibility of the perpetrators.

    Much of the discourse of the Left has positioned the gendered violence in Cologne within the context of the pervasive gendered violence in German and other Western cultures. At one level, this is an extremely important point, combating a tendency to focus on the violence and problems of the “other” to minimise and erase the violence within one’s own culture.

    However, in seeking to highlight the problems of sexism within Germany, and Western cultures more broadly, there is a tendency to minimise what occurred in Cologne and other cities. This is done in a number of ways, including:
    • Failing to acknowledge that the number of reported attacks have risen and continuing to comment based on the very early figure of 100 complaints to police;
    • Making a false distinction between rape and sexual assault and then focusing on the number of reported rapes, effectively ignoring the hundreds of sexual assaults that occurred;
    • Making false comparisons to other violence against women in German society, such as at Oktoberfest, to suggest that anger and concern is purely motivated by xenophobia. I argue that these comparisons are false because they do not acknowledge that while sexual violence is a feature of both the Cologne attacks and Oktoberfest, the scale and scope of both the violence and the events are very different. Each year the estimated number of sexual assaults at Oktoberfest is several hundred (of these just 10 to 12 are reported to the police!), at a 16-18 day festival attended by millions of people, which is less than half the number of reported assaults in one square on New Year’s Eve in Cologne);
    • Arguing that the violence either did not occur or was perpetrated by other groups of people;
    These strategies are problematic for a number of reasons. Most importantly because they demonstrate a clear lack of empathy for the women attacked, whose experiences are being erased. This is also the case for women attacked at events like Oktoberfest, whose experiences are being mobilised to erase the experiences of the women assaulted in Cologne.

    Kate Davison writing in Overland, and Ulrich Rippert writing on the World Socialist Website argue the small number of arrests to call into question whether attacks occurred at all. The Huffington Post’s German edition ran an article suggesting that the allegations of violence in Cologne were false rape allegations either consciously or unconsciously prompted by the racist atmosphere in Germany. More recently The Idependent ran an article headlined “Cologne: Three out of 58 men arrested over mass sex attack on New Year's Eve were refugees from Syria or Iraq”.

    These arguments are seriously flawed. Whilst it is true that only a small proportion of alleged perpetrators have been charged - this speaks to the difficulty in identifying people in the circumstances of the New Year’s Eve attacks - to suggest that it reflects a broad conspiracy by the German state does not fit the early response of the German state. Tobias Lill in arguing that the allegations reflect false rape allegations - relies on a number of examples women reportedly making false allegations against refugees- however only one of which was associated with the Cologne attacks - out more than 400 allegations (which is consistent with experiences around the world that very few allegations of rape are false). Lill misses the right’s argument - they are not only opposed to refugees but Muslms particularly from North Africa and the Middle East - of whom the refugees fleeing persecution and war are a subset - so arguing that those perpetrating violence were not refugees (which is questionable) will is not sufficient counter the racist fear campaigns being mounted by the right, particularly when they can shout that a significant proportion of those individuals who have been charged from the Cologne attacks (albeit primarily for theft) were from North Africa (25 Algerians, three Tunisians and 21 Moroccans), Syria, Iraq and Iran.

    Underlying all of these minimising arguments, is an assumption that if refugees were responsible for violence then it calls into the question the legitimacy of the right to asylum for other refugees. Rather than reject this logic these arguments simply attempt to negate the facts on which the right makes its arguments. Downplaying the seriousness of attacks is a flawed strategy as it not only doesn’t negate the racist arguments - but instead risks alienating anyone who has a genuine concern about the violence and leaves the left in a weakened position in dissuading them from accepting the xenophobic arguments of the right. A far more effective and honest argument is simply to deny the relevance of the actions of some individual refugees when it comes to answering the question of what Germany’s (or any other Western country’s) response should be to address the needs of millions of people currently in need of refuge globally.

    Orientalist approach of both the right and far-left
    A major factor underlying the attempt to erase and downplay the extent and seriousness of the violence on New Year’s Eve is that much of the Left discourse accepts the racist logic and assumptions of the Far-Right, Right and centrist parties - i.e. that non-Western cultures are homogenous - but the Left reject the Right’s argument that these cultures are universally misogynist and instead argue the opposite: that they are universally unproblematic. In order to sustain this position it is necessary for responsibility for violence to be shifted onto causes other than “culture”:
    • Sexual violence that is inherent with capitalism;
    • Marginalisation and alienation experienced by refugees;
    • The violence being a consequence of the perpetrator’s gender rather than their culture.
    All of these perspectives, while making some valid points, are flawed in their own way. It is undoubtedly the case that late capitalism promotes cultural products which objectify women and promote violence against them. However, it is odd to think that a brief exposure to the violence and sexism of German culture would be able to quickly overcome a cultural background that contained no attitudes and values that normalise and legitimise violence against women.

    Similarly, while alienation can be an important factor in triggering acts of violence, why would gendered violence manifest in the scale and organised fashion it did on New Year’s Eve? Alienation and disempowerment only make sense if the violence is seen as an antidote to those feelings; or if the targets of the violence are perceived somehow to be responsible for this alienation and thus deserving of punishment.


    While gender is undoubtedly a factor in the violence, gender is not culture-free. Indeed, masculinity and femininity - or what it means to be a “man” or a “woman” - are generally viewed as being culturally constructed and not universal characteristics.

    Viewing non-Western cultures as homogeneous is a reflection of what Edward Said described as Orientalism. Said also argued that orientalist views of culture see Westerners as being less bound or influenced by their culture than non-Western people. While we may view the right’s orientalist views as being more problematic (as they legitimise violence and war), the left’s Orientalism is also problematic as it erases:
    • The agency of women in North Africa and the Middle East, and their supporters, in seeking to transform their society’s attitude towards women;
    • The extent to which attitudes towards women within Western cultures are a consequence of feminist struggles;
    • The extent to which misogyny and sexism towards women within non-Western countries has been actively promoted by the West.
    There are long histories of struggle against sexism within North Africa and the Middle East and the involvement of women in broader liberation struggles. The most notable current example is the contribution and leadership of Kurdish women in the struggle against ISIS in Syria, particularly in the Women’s Protection Units. However, the struggle in the region for women’s rights has deep roots. The Turkish and Egyptian feminist movements date back to the nineteenth century, Turkish women achieved full suffrage in 1934 (this is earlier than in France and prior to the elimination limits to suffrage based on race based exclusions in Australia and the US), with 18 women elected to parliament in the Turkish elections that year (there were not that many women elected to Australian federal parliaments until the mid 1990s). It is also important to note that there were refugees in Cologne’s cathedral square who sought to stop attacks on women, and there have been the protests by refugee communities in Germany against the violence on New Year’s Eve - both of which have received little attention outside of Germany.

    Central to arguments that refugees pose a threat to Western societies is the idea that the West has a benevolent attitude towards women, or what Klein refers to as a thin “varnish of a civilized behaviour towards women”. Of course to sustain this position distance must be created between the gendered violence that exists in Western and non-Western cultures themselves. Those who seek to justify the exclusion of refugees based on the “inherently violent” cultures that refugees come from, ignore that Western cultures are themselves highly violent and misogynist. This is reflected in the already too-high level of violence against women in Germany (which at 1 in 7 of German women is lower than the 1 in 5 Australian women who have experienced sexual violence) but also other forms of violence in German society, such as the Far-Right’s recent spate of assassination attempts against politicians, including the attempt on Henriette Reker’s life the day prior to her election as Mayor of Cologne.

    White Germans (and white Australians) create distance between themselves and violence which occurs in Western societies. The perpetrators of violence are “othered” so it can be more easily argued that they do not represent the culture of that society. So pick-up artists and neomasculinists who advocate and teach rape tactics are not indictments against Western culture - but instead simply “sad losers” who live in their mother’s basement. Even the violence within institutions such as the police and armed forces are argued away as instances of bad apples or at worst problems with the internal culture of those institutions rather than a reflection of broader problems with western culture.

    Whilst most people in Australia (and for that matter Germany) would not publicly agree with the attitudes towards women articulated by MRAs - the National Community Attitudes Towards Violence Against Women Survey suggests that the vast majority of Australians understand that violence is a crime (96%), and that violence against women is a serious issue (95%). However below this general opposition to violence, lie widespread attitudes and beliefs that justify and legitimate violence, including sexual violence, against women: 1 in 5 Australians think that domestic violence is excusable if a person gets angry or later regrets it; only 59% of surveyed Australians “believe that women rarely make false claims of rape” - meaning that 41% believe that women often make false rape allegations (they don’t). These seemingly contradictory attitudes reflect the existence of both a view, which has been achieved through struggle, that violence towards women is wrong existing along side widespread attitudes that justify and legitimise such violence.

    The right’s cynical use of the New Year’s Eve attacks are premised on the idea that “Western attitudes towards women” are somehow more “enlightened” than the supposed “misogynist and patriarchal views” of non-Western countries - and that these attitudes are inherent to the respective cultures. However we should remember that the West’s “enlightenment” is not only superficial (as indicated above, but the gains for women that the idea of enlightenment is premised on, have only relatively recently been achieved through changes in laws (and not necessarily in cultural beliefs). Some of the rights for women, which women in Australia have achieved formally (but are not always able to access due to class and other oppressions) as a result of campaigns over the last 120 years include:
    • Ending women’s status as the legal property of their fathers and husbands;
    • The right to attend university;
    • The right to divorce and gain custody of children (in particular the introduction of no-fault divorce);
    • An end to compulsorily dismissal from government jobs upon marriage;
    • Criminalising domestic violence and marital rape;
    • Increased control of fertility [albeit limited and constantly under legal  threat - particularly for women experiencing additional intersections of oppression];
    • Some legal limits on mobilisation of victim blaming in rape prosecutions [most notably shield laws which formally limit the ability of a defence from raising a survivor’s sexual history, but sexist judges may still allow such defences];
    • Some restriction in the application of provocation defences which allow men to justify assault and murder on the basis “that their partner provoked them”;
    • Legal protections against discrimination in employment.
    Western imperialism has played a central role in supporting reactionary misogynist political movements in the Middle East that have undermined the political status of women. The Taliban in Afghanistan emerged as a part of a reactionary counter-revolutionary movement (led primarily by landlords) hostile to the land reforms of the government of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. The Taliban sought to mobilise a broader opposition to the government by harnessing anger at advances in the rights of women. The success of the mujahedeen (from which the Taliban emerged) was made possible by the large scale military and financial support from the West, particularly the US government.

    Similarly, the US and other Western government have been hostile to other governments in Arab and predominantly Muslim countries that have advanced the rights of women - as these governments challenged Western interests - whilst propping up thoroughly misogynist regimes such as the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia. The impact of the Western imperialism’s support for misogyny can be seen in the decline in formal and practical rights between the Ba’athist regime in Iraq and the subsequent US protectorates in Iraq (women’s rights had been under assault in Iraq in the decade between the first and second gulf wars).

    Hegemonic masculinity
    If we recognise that all cultures contain progressive and reactionary characteristics, how can we account for violently misogynist attitudes that permeate society? Hegemonic masculinity is a concept coined by Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell in her 1993 work Masculinities. Rooted in Gramsci’s concept of hegemony, hegemonic masculinities are those masculinities that base themselves on the subordinate position of women in relation to men. Like other hegemonies these masculinities primarily rely on ideas of the superiority to maintain the stability of this dominance. Behind these ideas of superiority is a capacity and willingness to mobilise violence to defend the domination of men.

    Implicit in this, is that there is not a singular hegemonic masculinity, but multiple masculinities which have their own concerns regarding threats to their hegemony and how best to respond to these threats.

    Anne Summers in her 2003 work The End of Equality argued that the emergence in Australia in the 1990s of various father’s rights groups was a response to gains of women in the Family Court associated with child custody. These groups sought and were successful in weakening the legal gains by women. Summers argued that part of the push back was associated with escalating violence by men towards women - violence which was most clearly articulated in the emergence of the Black Shirt father’s rights group. These developments in Australia continued, and has been seen in other Western countries, with the emergence of Men’s Rights Activism. These ‘activists’ are implacably hostile to feminism and advocate violence against women, asserting such violence exists in the ‘natural order’ of relations between men and women. MRAs simultaneously paint men as experiencing a uniquely ignored victimhood in order to undermine positive action to eradicate violence against women.

    The concept of hegemonic masculinity does not explain all violence by men towards women - nor does it deny the existence of gendered violence which is not perpetrated by men against women - however, it argues that much gendered violence can be explained within a framework where men’s violence towards women seeks to maintain, justify and legitimise men’s dominance over women.

    The existence of Western hegemonic masculinities supports the logic of the slogans of sections of the German Left which claim that violence against women is not an import into German society - at the same time, German hegemonic masculinity is not the primary cause of the New Year’s Eve attacks and the misogynist aftermath. At the same time there is no escaping that this misogyny (particularly by police and other state agents) did play a driving role in the series of events that followed.

    Across the West, we are seeing concerted attacks on refugees, asylum seekers and Muslim communities. These attacks, and the attempts by the Right to justify them based on the individual criminal individual acts by members of these communities, should be rejected totally as a cynical and racist attempts at collective punishment. It is important to fight against the marginalisation of refugees and any policies that seek to limit the rights of refugees to be united with their families. If violence within within our society is to be overcome the actions of the state actions needs to be directed by marginalised sections of the community - particularly the women in these communities. At the same time it is necessary to confront misogyny and violence against women and recognise that gendered violence is a problem in all communities. If we are to live in societies free of gendered violence then the attitudes and values that legitimise and justify that violence must be challenged with a focus on the many hegemonic masculinities in our communities as a priority.

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      Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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