With the end of the strike at the Feyzin refinery on Tuesday evening, a long mobilization of almost fifty days, which affected a total of seven sites of the giants TotalEnergies and ExxonMobil, came to an end.
The strike was widely publicized, insofar as it disrupted the supply of fuel to motorists, and helped place the question of the distribution of wealth between capital and labor at the center of public debate, at a time when oil companies are accumulating gigantic profits linked to the economic situation. By remembering ” that it was possible and necessary to fight in companies to make demands “, she has “created an electric shocknationally, says in an interview withHumanityEmmanuel Lépine, Secretary General of the National Federation of Chemical Industries CGT, on the front line of the conflict.
After weeks of mobilization, the strike at the refineries is now over. What did the employees earn?
First, they achieved wage action that would not have been possible without this powerful mobilization. The agreements that are validated on paper are of course signed by other trade unions. But it is the situation of the overall balance of power that has determined their level. The employees have also obtained bonuses, which do not solve the problem, but allow them to cope with the consequences of inflation for a few months. In addition to that, there is the pride of having participated in this great strike, which created an electric shock in the country and caused many to open their eyes to the fact that it was possible and necessary to fight in the companies to make demands. Today we see wage mobilization in all sectors, which was far from obvious at the beginning of September. Similarly, the strike forced Emmanuel Macron to postpone the pension reform until the beginning of next year for fear of a social explosion. The results are therefore positive in many respects.
How do you explain that the refinery strike has spilled over into other sectors?
In what I call the electroshock, there is a decisive moment: the requisition of striking workers ordered by the government in mid-October. This is forced labor: workers strike and they are rounded up in front of their families to force them to work. It created legitimate emotions and a lot of anger. We realize that capital is using methods that we thought were obsolete, but are resurfacing. This situation of brutal confrontation, faced with an arrogant capitalism embodied by the oil companies, helped create a sense of belonging to the same working class. The class struggle crystallizes in this conflict and pressures the employees to mobilize.
What do you learn from the position of the employers, TotalEnergies and ExxonMobil, through this conflict?
There was a lot of arrogance and intransigence. On September 28, at the same moment that a meeting of the oil department on salaries was held and when TotalEnergie’s unions went on strike, CEO Patrick Pouyanné publicly communicated the award to shareholders of an extraordinary interim dividend, which mobilized a total of 2.62 billion Euro. This sums up the employers’ attitude, which consisted of a deep contempt for those who create wealth: the workers. The state, which is an instrument of capital, followed suit. We have therefore witnessed a hardening of social relations, which is tangible in this country, and which is due to a real crisis in the system. Furthermore, both TotalEnergies and ExxonMobil have published completely misleading figures in the press about the remuneration of refiners. It was an attempt to manipulate public opinion to turn against the strikers. It was a failure, because there was never a majority of the French against the strike. But the oil workers have held a grudge against their management.
You talked about it: Early next year, the government should release its pension reform project, which particularly affects refinery workers, as they perform physically demanding work that weighs on their life expectancy. Are the refineries ready to mobilize again?
Yes ! With regard to the wage issue, the company management has first of all been made to understand that if there has not been a sufficient response with regard to a general wage increase, it must be expected that there will be new demands in the oil sector. . Without long-term consideration of the situation, we can only predict new major movements in the coming months. Also on pensions the refineries are ready to go on hard strike again, hopefully in consultation with our fellow rail workers, energy companies, ports and public services. Moreover, this strike showed that the CGT could introduce winning offensive strategies, far beyond the issue of wages, which is already extremely important. We could also consider winning battles for the recapture of retirement at 60, the conquest of 32 hours of work per week, the minimum wage of 2,000 euros, the automatic indexation of wages to inflation…