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France

Billions for shareholders, crumbs for workers

Dividend payouts in France increased seven fold over the past two decades, new figures show, underlining widening inequality of wealth in Europe’s second largest economy.

Over the same period workers got very little of this wealth that they had created, with wages rising by around a third.

An astonishing 550 billion euros was handed out to shareholders between 1991 and 2011. The peak payout was in 2008, when owners of stock, mostly in the largest companies, took away 58 billion euros just as the global economy was going into meltdown. By 2011, dividend pay outs had fallen, but were still an outrageous 43 billion euros.

It may be significant that smaller companies slashed the sums dished out to shareholders over the past two decades.

Pointing to falling sales, ‘competition’ and other common excuses, like an ‘ageing population’, French companies complain today that they can’t afford to maintain jobs, pay, pensions or labour rights. The Government, European Commission and IMF, among other international neo-liberal bodies, back them up.

But – and notwithstanding the particularly deep and long recession of today caused by European governments’ singular obsession with austerity – any half competent capitalist should know that capitalism is cyclical. Couldn’t they have saved for that rainy day?

No, not only did they deny their hard-working employees their rightful share of the fruits of their labour, they gave it away to the idle rich.

That is, people who, aided by private banks, tend to hide their money in tax havens, denying government revenues needed to fund public services or stimulate growth, and who like to speculate, destabilising the world economy, leading to recessions and generalised misery.

There is, of course, nothing particularly French about this story. Nor very new.

But it reminds us this system based on the greed of the very few is badly broke – and needs a radical fix.

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope

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