Jan 13, 2020 10:11 UTC

Nurses, lawyers, and sanitation workers marched alongside railway and other public sector workers in massive demonstrations across France. At least 24 people were arrested at protests in Paris, and protesters clashed with police across the country.

With new groups of workers joining the fight, including some in the private sector, there is increasing potential for an expansion of the strike. The workers have shown yet again that, contrary to Macron’s claims, his proposed pension reforms will hurt almost every sector of workers, and they are willing to fight until he scraps all the reforms.

In this regard, we have prepared an article for you written by Madeleine Freeman, political activist under the heading: France Enters Second Month of National Strike. This article has been published in the Truthout website.

Caught in a faceoff with Macron and the French government, France’s railway and other public sector workers remain on strike for the fifth week in a row.

The national strike, which began December 5 of last year, is the longest transportation strike in France’s history and the longest general strike since May 1968, when the entire economy was ground to a halt by students and workers in an all-out revolt against the government.

As the strike continues, union leaders are attempting to negotiate with the government, but France’s workers are determined to continue the strike until Macron scraps his plans to restructure the pension system.

January 9 marked the third official day of coordinated national action since the strike began. Unsatisfied by a day of negotiation with the government on January 7, the country’s major transportation unions, SNCF and RATP, took to the streets once again. They were joined by other major unions, including the CGT and CFDT, France’s two largest unions, and thousands of supporters and Yellow Vests.

Workers in the healthcare, education, energy, and communications sectors also participated, and in a new development in the movement, private sector workers entered the struggle, including sanitation workers. This opens the possibility for cross-industry participation that could reinvigorate the strike effort, significantly disrupt France’s economy, and finally pressure Macron to cave.

Macron’s retirement reform would completely overhaul the current system, consolidating France’s 42 industry-specific plans to a single, universal plan. Such changes would demolish the hard-won retirement benefits that many workers rely on.

It would also raise the retirement age and decrease pension income, meaning that individuals would have to work longer for less pay and security. Such reforms would particularly affect workers who are employed in dangerous or physically-demanding jobs, like train operators, who have the advantage of an early retirement age. Under the new plan, some sectors of workers would be forced to work up to ten extra years before they could retire.

France’s people remain disillusioned with Macron and the ruling elite he represents, and the announcement was met with immediate and intense backlash from France’s working class, particularly from workers in the public sector who will be hardest hit by the reform. On December 5, workers in transportation, communications, oil, and education began a nationwide strike. Trains across the country were ground to a halt.

Paris’s metro system was paralyzed. Schools were closed and students protested alongside their teachers. Flights were grounded and1.5 million people took to the streets across France to protest Macron’s austerity measures.

Since then, different sectors of workers have carried out intermittent strikes for the past month, with sectors of the railway industry remaining on strike for the entire month of December into January. Some actions have been confined to single-day walk-outs in specific industries, while others have coordinated work stoppages across multiple industries for short periods of time. General assemblies of workers have also met periodically to organize future strike actions and discuss the direction of the movement.

These activities culminated in a second day of national action on December 17th. According to the CGT’s estimates, 1.8 million people filled the streets in demonstrations across the country.

Teachers and other education workers came out in massive numbers, with some estimates reporting that nearly 50% of primary schools and 60% of colleges and high schools were closed due to the strike. Students of every age came out to support their teachers and voice their own opposition to a pension reform which endangers their futures.

The open-ended nature of the strikes and demonstrations show that the movement against the pension reform is in some way a continuation of the year of Yellow Vest protests that preceded it.

France’s striking workers have not only adopted the anger of the Yellow Vests, but also their combative methods—workers and supporters have taken to the streets, blocking roads and shutting down tourist sites to show the government that they will not accept its mandates.

Many of the demonstrators have come into direct conflict with France’s riot police, who are not afraid to use tear-gas and rubber bullets to break up demonstrations and blockades.

Nevertheless, the strike has shown incredible staying power, lasting throughout the winter holidays—though participation in the strike declined in late December, this was a huge milestone for the movement. Cynically appealing to tradition and respect for the French family, Macron begged workers to submit to a “Christmas truce” and cease the mobilizations through the end of the year.

In one of the busiest travel times of the year, over 40% of France’s high-speed trains were cancelled and 20% of regional rail services were suspended. With Paris’s metro system similarly disrupted, many travelers were stranded or forced to use private vehicles to travel during the holidays.

Though Macron tried to pin this disruption on striking workers, blaming them for keeping families apart during an important time of the year, public support for the strike remained above 60%. After the new year, the striking railway workers redoubled their efforts, increasing cancellations and delays.

In Lille, Lyon, and Bordeaux, electrical workers in the EDF (electrical workers’ union) and CGT went on strike on   New Years Eve, causing power outages across those regions.

In an act of solidarity—one that shows how much power workers have to control the daily functioning of society—these workers restored power to poor and other residential neighborhoods at drastically reduced rates, saying that electricity and gas are “essential goods” and not commodities.

Instead, they targeted company headquarters, shopping centers, government buildings, and police stations, leaving these sites without power and halting operations in key sectors of capitalist operations.

Now workers in France’s major unions are launching a new offensive against the pension reform. From January 7 to January 10, oil workers in the CGT illegally blockaded petrol facilities, including refineries, petrol terminals, and depots; they stopped products from entering or leaving these locations, disrupting the transportation of fuel throughout the country.

A strategic sector of the workforce, France’s oil workers are in a prime position to put a dent in profits for this industry and to disrupt other sectors, including transportation. To keep up this pressure, it is imperative that the workers in the refineries join the workers in the blockades outside in order to shut down a crucial sector of France’s economy.

The January 9 demonstrations occurred alongside the 96-hour blockade. Though participation by certain sectors is down since the last nation-wide day of action on December 17, in other sectors, participation has increased. More than a hundred schools were closed and a third of France’s teachers were again on strike. In addition, union-led demonstrations in the streets are more well-attended than ever in some regions. In Marseilles alone, 222,000 people demonstrated against Macron and the pension reform plan.

Nurses, lawyers, and sanitation workers marched alongside railway and other public sector workers in massive demonstrations across the country. At least 24 people were arrested at protests in Paris, and protesters clashed with police across the country.

With new groups of workers joining the fight, including some in the private sector, there is increasing potential for an expansion of the strike. The workers have shown yet again that, contrary to Macron’s claims, his proposed pension reforms will hurt almost every sector of workers, and they are willing to fight until he scraps all the reforms.

Winning this struggle requires generalizing the strike, bringing all sectors into coordinated action until Macron scraps the restructuring of the retirement system.

Concretely, this means an open-ended strike composed of workers across many industries, from healthcare to energy, in tandem with the force of France’s student and social movements. Only then can France’s working class force the government’s hand to give up its plans to impose further neoliberal austerity.

As Macron and politicians attempt to divide workers along as many lines as possible—by young and old, private sector and public sector—it is crucial that striking workers prepare to organize new sectors and bring them into their shared fight.

It is particularly important that the private sector enter the struggle in order to broaden the influence and power of the strike in key sectors of the economy.

To do this, workers must expand the organization of general assemblies to discuss the strike’s direction across industries; they must also continue to organize within their unions and push for indefinite strike action.

The CGT, undoubtedly the most combative union participating in the strikes, has taken the lead in coordinating specific actions, but it must be pushed to call for more than symbolic days of activity. National days of action must turn into weeks of sustained stoppages and demonstrations.

Such a level of joint activity would not only ensure the preservation of retirement benefits, but it could also motivate workers to push for more of what they deserve. The contempt for Macron and the political order he represents that was so ingrained in the Yellow Vest movement has not gone away. The calls of “Macron, resign” can still be heard in the echoes of railway workers’ demands for an end to the pension reform. With an open-ended strike composed of many different sectors, France’s working class could oust Macron completely and take its fate into its own hands.

AE/MG

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags

Comments