France: The Autoworkers of Renault-Cleon caught between the employers hammer and the union anvil

(«Proletarian»; Nr. 10; Winter-Spring 2014)

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For year the automotive industry has been suffering from a crisis of overproduction. Markets are clogged. The entire automotive industry is undergoing a wave of layoffs and massive attacks against the proletariat in France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium and elsewhere.

The PSA (Peugeot - Citroen) group made the headlines last year when it announced the closure of its plant in Aulnay-sous-Bois (in the Paris region). It is now joined by Renault which plans for thousands of jobs losses and is spearheading the «competitiveness shock» desired by capital.




On January 15, 2013, the management of Renault announced its intention to eliminate 7,500 jobs in France by 2016, 15% of its workforce. It is «committed» to not dismiss anyone if and only if the unions sign the «Competitiveness Agreement.»

It provides for:

-questioning the Renault 35 hours agreement, which equates to an increase in annual working time of 4-21 working days per year depending on the plants and statutes);

-owering the overtime pay to 10% instead of 25%;

-increased flexibility: management of working time according to the needs of production and more imposed holiday periods

-wage freeze


After the first signs of anger, Renault has put aside its «mobility» project imposed at two manufacturing concentrations: Northeast (Douai, Maubeuge, Lorraine) and West (Flins, Le Mans, Cleon and Sandouville), but has maintained the rest of the project.

This plan has received support from the government in the person of Minister Montebourg who called on the Renault employees to submit to blackmail employers and unions to sign the agreement. He said: «We must look at the situation in the European automotive industry, laying off people and closing plants. Renault proposes just the opposite: no layoffs, voluntary quits, and increased workload per plant. [...] While working time will increase by 6% this will be for employees who currently work under 35 hours. [...] I invite the social partners to seize all the potentialities in this agreement to negotiate serious compensations, additional elements of protection in relation to effort required. I prefer moderate efforts, efforts certainly, rather than bankruptcies, closures and loss of industrial substance.» (La Voix du Nord, February 1)

With a straight face, the CFDT has judged that the «broadly balanced» agreement «is the gear shift lever for sustainable strategy and industrial activity for Renault in France, beyond the uncertainties of market developments in Europe» (press release of 19 February).

In early March, the CFDT, CGC and FO unions announced they signed the agreement, which will allow it to come into force soon.

This is therefore a management-government-union front which the workers will face. Nothing surprising or new about that!

One important point: unlike at PSA, there is no yellow union (the PSA «Independent Automobile Union» is the old CFT-CSL, the right-wing «union» sadly well-known for its practices of intimidation and brutality [including murder] against workers) at Renault and the CGT («left» union, lead in former times by the Communist Party) is the largest union. This is particularly the case in Cleon (Seine-Maritime).




CGT Cleon calls for struggle against this «social regression» organizing walkouts of one or two hours and a few 24 hour strikes to «make greater still and always the relationship of forces to show management that that opposition to its project is growing». The objective is to build a response «with a series of work stoppages that will restore our confidence» (Leaflet, of January 15).

It may be noted, however, upon reading the leaflets of the CGT that never is it stated that workers have no other weapon than blocking production by the indefinite strike and extension of the struggle to other plants. After the CFDT, FO and CGC have approved the agreement, the Cleon CGT had as its only perspective «to make itself heard, when the enterprise committee is convened for the Directors to present the organization of work» (Leaflet, of March 14).

On the contrary, strikes are presented as a means of putting pressure on ... the most openly collaborationist trade unions (CFDT, FO and CGC) so that they do not sign the «agreement» with the employers, forcing it to postpone the implementation for about fifteen months (Leaflet, 7 February).

The CGT denounces the attack constituted by the «competitivity agreement», job losses and the worsening of exploitation. But according to its old reformist habits, the CGT does not find fault with «good» industrialists but only with the shareholders who sacrifice capitalist enterprises for short-term profit: «if Renault is about to assault our lives and pick our pockets, it is exclusively to provide means to fill those of the shareholders. And not to ensure the survival of all French plants.»(Leaflet, February 19). Therefore, on behalf of «another industrial strategy» for this multinational (interview with the Secretary of the Union in Informations Ouvrières, 24 January 2013), with «investment [which] must bear on innovation and development» («an interview with Pascal Morel, Secretary of the CGT of the Renault-Cléon factory, www. action communiste. fr, 18 February), it advances demands linking the fate of the workers to that of the company and its profits (Leaflet, of January 8)


- «rebalance production volumes between Renault plants (France, Romania, Turkey, Slovenia, Spain ...) to allow full use of the capabilities of French production, and not over-using those of other countries» «to reduce the overall cost of manufacturing of other vehicles [as] with more volumes, fixed costs decrease,» that is to say, cut jobs in factories outside of France!

- «French factories must meet the customer demand by manufacturing up to date and on time vehicles sold in the major markets (France, Germany...), including the Logan, Duster, Lodgy» because «sales remain ‘profitable’».

- «the organization of labor must be rethought in depth, with the employees themselves, from the difficulties that they encounter on a daily basis to do their job well» i.e. to involve the proletarians in the organization of their own exploitation!

- «reorganize and give the means (financial and human) to research and development by letting our researchers have full run of their imaginations» (?!)


The Union also resorts to a type of whining nationalism «Renault sells-out its legacy and Carlos Ghosn favors Nissan» («An interview with Pascal Morel»)

Finally, the Union complains that «management continues to ignore the CGT proposals, although they would ensure the future of the company (and its jobs [!]) by linking together social and economic progress»(Leaflet, of February 7). To top it all, it resorts to the magic weapon of nationalization «with participation of workers in deliberations and decisions»! («An interview with Pascal Morel»).

Despite its verbal radicalism, the CGT of Renault Cléon is just as reformist as its accomplices in the CGT Metallurgy Federation who demand «the preservation and redevelopment of a strong automotive industry in France geared towards addressing needs, must be one of the priorities of our country’s industrial policy» («the future of the automobile sector in France», ( most important to the CGT is the defense of the enterprise, the defense of the workers is in parentheses...




The FO («Workers Force») union, a minority in the Cleon plant, plays at one-upmanship. It denounced the agreement and called for walkouts because, it said, «The pressure of all local unions in different plants on their central trade union organization must lead to a non-signing of the agreement, a refusal to negotiate, because there is nothing to negotiate if there is only to be social decline» (Leaflet, FO Cleon of January 28). FO pretended to ask: «In Paris, are the union officials seeking a pretext to go against those they represent?» (Leaflet, FO Cleon of January 28).

This false indignation at the collaborationism of the national trade union directorates is just a posture. This same union denounces the president of Renault as a bad manager: «at no time did anyone criticize the critical choices and the incompetence of a maladroit and blind management which has caused this crisis. […] The real culprit is Carlos Ghosn who openly talks about Renault being in the red since 2005, who has not stopped the enrichment of shareholders, who has tarnished the image of Renault through the counter-espionage case, who did not renew its product range in a timely fashion, who has relocated our production, who put Nissan at the forefront.» (Leaflet, FO Cléon of January 28)

FO places itself completely on the employers’ terrain when it writes that «competitiveness is not a dirty word, but the question is to not change its meaning» (Leaflet, FO Cleon of February 11). Moreover, in the same leaflet, the FO Union also champions chauvinism: for it, «Carlos Ghosn plays the Nissan card at the expense of Renault and its employees».

This is the same nationalist discourse as that of its federation which whines about «The sacrifice of French expertise» (FO Metaux, «Competitiveness of French plants») and the «anti-French strategy» of Ghosn (FO Metaux, «This is not the right strategy»). This is also the same collaborationism which laments that «French workers have always played ball with Renault. Will Renault executives know enough to play ball with French workers who have been its past strength and success?» («Competitiveness of French sites»).

The past strength of Renault lay in the exploitation of its workers; in the current context of increased competition among capitalists, it plays exactly the same card in wanting to strengthen this exploitation: If you want the «success» of Renault, you must accept this increased exploitation!

And indeed, this is what FO wishes when, with the CGC (managers union), it proposes the establishment of «free zones, with much reduced costs and taxation around the French plants of the auto sector, Renault or PSA, but also of the sub-contractors» (Les Echos, February 25), i.e. reduced wages and degraded working conditions for the workers!

The unions pose themselves as defenders of the company faced with a bad boss. But with or without Ghosn, the crisis of overproduction of the automobile continues to exist, the capitalists will increase the exploitation of the workers to restore the rate of profit ... and the unions will collaborate!

The workers never have and never will propose to offer the bourgeoisie good management of their factories. They must defend exclusively and determinedly their interests regardless of those of the company or the country.




Since the late 1980s, the Trotskyists of the LCR (Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire/ Revolutionnary Communist League) have been associated with the leadership of the Renault CGT union. In 1991, workers who had voted overwhelmingly to continue the strike could see the leaders of the LCR call, like the CGT, for the end of the strike…

Today, the CGT plant is – in fact – led by a coalition of «far» left groups. For a long time, the secretary and deputy secretary of the union were two LCR and then NPA (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, New Anticapitalist Party, the successor of the LCR) activists. Since 2011, the Secretary is an activist in Action Communiste, a local split from the French CP, and the Deputy Secretary is the regional spokesperson for the Trotskyist party Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle).

Action Communiste is the spearhead of nationalist propaganda in the factory. This group puts forward that «We must stop letting the EU and the bosses decide alone. We will re-nationalize: banks, railways, large companies which liquidates industry in France» («Putting an end to capitalism to put an end to offshore relocation», 9 October 2012). For years, AC has put forward anti-European and protectionist rhetoric while incorporating the old reformist moonshine such as stimulus spending to get out of the crisis. It also asks that the Government and the factory directorship of Renault «boost research and production of small cars, encourage the relocation and sale of cars produced in France» and «diversify its production plants» («Renationalizing Renault» 19 November 2008). Again and again, opportunism puts forward its «realism» in order to resolve the crisis of capitalism!

AC is fully within the galaxy of «Orthodox» debris from the FCP and admit to being «inspired by texts and proposals of our friends and comrades of the Rouges-Vifs, M’Pep (Movement Politique d’Emancipation Populaire), the PRCF (Pôle de Renaissance Communiste en France)» («They make the profits. They destroy our jobs. They invest abroad», March 1, 2013). What a lovely bunch of people! The Popular Political Liberation Movement (M’ Pep) and the Pole of Communist Revival in France (PRCF) are organizing a joint campaign because, – wait for it… «Strengthened and deepened by the achievements of civilization of the Resistance and the Liberation, the one and indivisible Republic established by the French Revolution is in danger of death». Due to its nationalism, M’Pep even supported the very right-wing Gaullist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan in elections to the legislature. For its part, along with Gaullist groups the PRCF constituted a «Republican Arc of Progress» for a «union of the people around the Nation and the Republic» (‘Joint Declaration’, December 2010,

The «Rouges-Vifs» are members of the Rassemblement des Cercles Communistes (Assembly of Communist Circles) – fervent supporter of the Left Front (an electoral alliance around the CP – which in a recent pamphlet celebrates capitalist China which «creates millions of jobs, raises the standard of living of workers, massively promotes education, high-quality instruction of the youth, widespread access to health care of the population through an anti-liberal policy made possible by the nationalization and state ownership of key sectors of the economy» («No to unemployment! No to wage cuts! Nationalization of businesses which close or relocate without compensation to the owners», February 2013). The Chinese proletarian subject to bestial exploitation and who for some time have been waging increasingly massive struggles would appreciate this…

The National-reformists of AC have nothing to offer but a program to provide a 100% bourgeois defense of the national economy and French imperialism against its competitors. Communism is completely foreign to them. The defense of «national sovereignty» and «French republican culture» replaces any real reference to Marxism.

From chauvinism to racism, there is only one small step ... this AC crosses cheerfully. Like any vulgar right-wing group it stands against the «demagoguery of the support for undocumented workers that brings grist to the mill of capitalist exploitation» («Elevator to the fascists» November 17, 2011)




For its part, the NPA doesn’t advance any real perspective for struggle. It intends to build «an immense national demonstration before the vote in Parliament» on the bosses/union agreement hoping «that the unions which have refused to sign henceforth call for a mobilization up to the challenge» (Bulletin, Cleon, January 17, 2013). It calls for a rather vague «unified mobilization against the dictates of the employers and the government» (Bulletin, Cleon, January 31, 2013).

The NPA seeks to lobby the Trade Union bureaucracies who should put «all their energy into the construction of a relationship of forces that could turn the tide», which would serve as lobbying deputies «against the ratification by Parliament of the January MEDEF-CFDT-GSC-CFTC agreement on employment» (Bulletin, NPA Cléon, February 14). The NPA is very far from the class terrain! It wants to make believe that the union leadership – traitors for all these decades – could initiate the struggle and lead the proletariat to victory.

And through its interclassism and just like the Left Front and the CGT, it hides the fact that the agreement was signed not only by the MEDEF (the biggest employer’s association) comprising large enterprises but equally by the exploiters of the PME («Medium Enterprises»), the petty producers grouped in the CGPME and UPA being also signatories to the text. Evidently, for the reformists, the designated enemy is not the capitalist mode of production but only big business.

As usual these «anti-capitalists» defend the «transitional measures» of which the Trotskyists hold the secret: always and forever «prohibition of layoffs and job cuts» (Bulletin, Cleon, February 14) but also the «opening of the account books, expropriation, nationalization under workers control» («Refuse the blackmail and layoffs at Renault», (NPA release, January 16, 2013), clearly wishing to once again be exploited by the boss State like in the good old days of the post-WW2 Nationalization Board! All justified on behalf of a «fair» distribution of wealth under capitalism because «the money is there, the profits of the Stock Exchange show that every day» (Bulletin, Cleon, February 28): no need to overthrow capitalism, just a better share of the cake, thanks no doubt to good laws, and everything will be fine!

Scratch beneath the surface of the «anti-capitalism» displayed by the NPA and you will find the good old reformist who dreams of returning to the era of the welfare state.




For its part, Lutte Ouvrière says nothing specific about Cleon. Articles in Lutte Ouvrière for January 25 and February 1 and 8 content themselves with reportage of the mobilization and trace out no perspective on the struggle.

It is in its «Factory Leaflets» that LO unfolds all its reformism. The one of February 4 – which serves as the weekly editorial («When we fight, we are not sure to win, if we do not fight we are sure to lose») – denounces the bosses attacks which «cause incalculable damage to society as a whole» (bourgeois society!) and pities the «small enterprises[forced] to put the key under the door» and the closing of «modern factories, which could still produce useful goods for many years to come» (useful for whom?). LO feels sorry for the workers, not as the victims of capital, but of «the growing greed of the shareholders of Renault» (Lutte Ouvrière, 14 February)

LO’s response is to integrate the proletarians into the capitalist management of the enterprise with – in order to shed light on business secrets – «control across the whole of economic life [...] exercised by the workers themselves» which would be «a civic duty» because «only the workers can assure an efficacious day by day control and pull the alarm bell before anything bad happens» (Leaflet, Renault Cléon, February 19).

The proletarians can «control» capitalism, as the first step towards its suppression, only when they take power; but the task assigned to them by LO, is only to «warn» when things go wrong: warn who, other than the non-proletarian rulers, still in power, i.e. the bourgeois?

Ah, if the bourgeois followed the judicious advice of the LO leadership, then capitalism would be good for the proletarians!

Like the plant CGT, not a word about the urgent need for a return to classist means and methods. Not a word about the hypocrisy of non-signatory unions from which proletarians have nothing good to expect.

This is not very surprising, coming from an organization that at the head of the CGT at the Aulnay PSA plant for months built a rotten alliance with the SIA (Independent Automobile Union), the pro-management union which has, with the PSA management, signed a draft agreement on the «accompanying social measures» (sic) of the dismissals and which denounces the «strike of shame» and «the climate of terror that reigns in Aulnay and calls the Government to intervene without delay». You get the allies you deserve!


L’Étincelle is the organ of the «Fraction» which was excluded from LO years ago; it has now integrated into the NPA.

In another Renault factory in the Rouen area – that of Grand-Couronne – the Fraction publishes a «Factory newsletter».

Despite the resounding subtitle of its publication «For the Construction of a Revolutionary Communist Workers Party», l’Étincelle defends a basically reformist line.

Their leaflet of January 28 speaks of the overcapacity of the automakers «Who is to blame?» The response of the Fraction is simple: «The wallets [of workers] emptied by austerity and layoffs everywhere in Europe»: in other words the «short-sighted cure» of the capitalists who are attacking wages and jobs to increase profits («the crisis is a pretext!» they write stupidly) prevents workers from buying cars.

For L’Étincelle as for all the reformists the crisis comes from the under-consumption of the masses: increase wages and multiply jobs, and the crisis will vanish!

The Marxist explanation is quite different: «In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilization, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce.»(Communist Manifesto). The bourgeois solution of crises is the liquidation of redundant productive forces (from plant closures, firing of workers, right up to the gigantic destruction in wars) to restore the rate of profit of surviving enterprises who can recommence a production cycle ... until the next crisis, as long as the proletariat lacks the strength to destroy this mode of production.

L’Étincelle also provides purely reformist objectives in the fight against the «competitiveness agreement» and doesn’t put forward classist methods of struggle. It calls (on the workers) to «converge their struggles to oppose layoffs, to impose emergency measures that will make those who are responsible and, besides, who have the means pay for the toll of the crisis: the capitalist class» («the social partners have decided to tie the hands of the workers in order to pick their pockets», Convergences révolutionnaires, January-February 2013) and «break the isolation and attempt to finally create the conditions for a global response which would make sense to measures such as the prohibition of layoffs, the sharing of work among all, by imposing on the whole bourgeoisie the burden of paying for those of them who are failing»Provisional or temporary Nationalizations, or guaranteed jobs and salaries for the workersConvergences révolutionnaires, January-February 2013)

In the end, L’Étincelle advance a reformist explanation of the crisis coupled with such «emergency measures» as the adjusted development of the capitalist system and shenanigans such as «work sharing» and «prohibition of layoffs» by the bourgeois State!




Matter and Revolution (M & R) derived from the L’Étincelle Fraction which it left rather than integrate into the NPA. The Group distributes La Voix des travailleurs (The Voice of the Workers) newsletter, especially at the Renault Technical Centre at Lardy.

Unlike other Trotskyist groups, M & R denounces cleanly and clearly collaborationism whether of the left or «far» left. It defends the correct idea that the union apparatuses are enemies of the proletarians in the same way as the State, the bosses and the owners. It severely criticizes unions which «negotiate» and, in particular, the LO leadership of the Aulnay PSA CGT who refused to rapidly launch a strike after the announcement of layoffs, who have formed an alliance with the company union and who imprison the struggle in the localist scenario of «No to the Closure of the Aulnay Plant» instead of extending it to other plants affected by the management plan.

However, its denunciation of collaborationism does not translate into classist demands. M & R recycles various old purely reformist rantings.

For M & R, capitalism isn’t in crisis and the plant closures are the consequence of its «financialization»; they write: «it also suggests that the whole of industrial activity is in overcapacity and must therefore be reduced. This is also wrong. The cause of deindustrialization lies elsewhere: in the massive withdrawal of private capital from its industrial and commercial investments and its massive investment in the banking and finance sphere» (Bulletin, November 14, 2012). It’s the classical reformist lamentations made regularly by LO: «the capitalists disinvest in order to speculate» (Bulletin, January 11, 2013). In fact the more the capitalist invest the more the situation of the proletariat deteriorates!

Lenin demonstrated, already a century ago, that because of capitalist development the banks – as finance capital – become the real actors in the centralization of capital, increasing the power of giant monopolies. In the imperialist stage of capitalism, it is finance capital that dominates markets, companies, society, and this domination itself leads to financial concentration to the point where «Finance capital, concentrated in a few hands and exercising a virtual monopoly, exacts enormous and ever-increasing profits from the floating of companies, issue of stock, state loans, etc., strengthens the domination of the financial oligarchy and levies tribute upon the whole of society for the benefit of monopolists. Finance capital, concentrated in a few hands and exercising a virtual monopoly, exacts enormous and ever-increasing profits from the floating of companies, issue of stock, state loans, etc., strengthens the domination of the financial oligarchy and levies tribute upon the whole of society for the benefit of monopolists» (Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism [MIA]).

So if capitalism is not experiencing a crisis of overproduction, the situation at Renault – according to M & R – is the result of the poor strategy of its company directors: «no new model, production line not ready when customers are ready to buy new cars, no incentive to buy with customer discounts as before, no facilitation of credit. We can say that Renault has divested itself from automobiles to keep its cash and play at the casino of the stock-market and sovereign debt...» (Bulletin, February 12, 2013). Yet Marx explained extensively that the goal of any capitalist enterprise was the production of profits and not the production of this or that particular commodity...

But M & R lectures Renault for making poor capitalist choices: «Choosing not to lower prices, choice to not produce in advance of sales, significant delivery delays, for example for the new Clio» (Bulletin, January 11, 2013).

Just like LO, of which it is a pale copy, M & R offers its best advice to the bourgeoisie on how to better manage its business!

All the responses to capitalist attacks as proposed M & R are also reformist: «Requisition enterprises that fold, block the trust when they throw away a plant. Smash their banks since they have transformed all into banks, call on customers to withdraw their money from these institutions, if necessary cause panics against banks that support our liquidators»: appeal to customers, to the State (to «requisition»), anything rather than class struggle!

 And it cites as an example the Lip watch factory in the 1970s and its self-management utopia which «was not afraid to seize the capital (money, watches and plans) and refuse to respect the legitimacy of the ownership, and then requisition the enterprise to run it for the sole benefit of the employees!» (Bulletin, January 11, 2013). Do we have to, one more time, denounce the purely bourgeois nature of self-management which obliges the proletarians to auto-exploit themselves to run the company, which remains fully capitalist?

Behind a radical and combative discourse Matter and Revolution hides a deeply reformist nature it inherited from Lutte Ouvrière: same anti-Marxist analysis of the crisis, same reformist demands.




At Cleon as well as everywhere else, it is necessary for the proletarians to take their struggles in hands, to organize independently on a class basis, to not leave the movement in the hands of Union apparatuses even if led by «revolutionaries» who do not have a word in their newspapers, leaflets or press releases to warn workers against the orientation of the trade unions, to seek solidarity not with «customers», but with their class brothers and sisters.

Decades of democratic, pacifist and inter-classist poison distilled by the reformists have crippled the proletarians. However, the role of the Communists remains to encourage any step towards the re-appropriation of classist methods and means, which requires working to break with political and trade union collaborationism.

The weaknesses of current struggles are inevitable, as they are the result of many years of class collaboration and social pacifism; the difficult and complex process of the classist reorganization of the proletariat really will be long, difficult and complex. But these weaknesses must be clearly highlighted, understood and combated, in particular demonstrating clearly what the factors of defeat in the class struggle are: corporatism, localism, legalism, divisions of all kinds,...

The criticism which must be made of the activity of the Trotskyists at Renault is not one of not engaging in struggle: they actually tried to build a strike, in an unfavorable context, faced with the bosses’ blackmail.

The betrayal of the Trotskyists is that they do not allow the proletarians to avoid the pitfalls of the enemy, but contribute to imprison them in a «combative» collaborationism which ties their interests to those of the company and puts them not on the terrain of open class confrontation, but within the legalistic framework of the «negotiation» – albeit under pressure of the struggle – between «social partners». Workers and employers are not «partners», they are class enemies!


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It is necessary for the proletarians to engage in all the immediate economic struggles – even if they do not exceed the purely defensive goal of resistance to the aggravation of their exploitation – because they can represent a step forward in the direction of the awakening of proletarian initiative and the reacquisition of the methods of the class struggle. If they are conducted with these classist means and methods, they become not only inevitable but also necessary steps towards the future resumption of the class war, the revolutionary struggle against capitalism, since, as Marx, said «By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement» (Wages, Price and Profit, 1865 [Progress Publishers, Moscow]).



International Communist Party


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