The second general strike in two months brought France to a standstill on Thursday. Millions demonstrated in 200 cities and towns around the country.
While many unions and workplaces brought specific slogans and demands onto the streets, the overarching message of the day was one directed against the policies of the Sarkozy government and its handling of the economic crisis.
Sarkozy wants to push through a wide ranging attack on pensions, and huge cuts in the public sector jobs. On the eve of the strike the French president offered a series of concessions on redundancy payments and some tax breaks for low paid workers.
The unions are demanding a rise in the minimum wage.
Sarkozy’s government has presided over 'rescue packages' that have thrown large sums of money at the banks, and a stimulus package for the economy. Yet these measures have have not delivered what ordinary people were hoping for. Over two million are now unemployed, and the prospect of more factory closures and job losses has driven anger onto the streets.
A huge, militant demonstration snaked its way through Paris from the Place de la Republique. A continual surge of protesters poured out of the metro stations and from the side streets to join the crowds well after the demonstration's official start time.
Delegations on the demonstration varied from the massive and highly organised contingents of the major trade unions, down to the workers of the Holiday Inn on Place de la Republique out on strike in solidarity and for better wages. Many placards, posters and stickers emphasised the need to replicate the success in Guadeloupe and Martinique in the French West Indies, where a 44 day general strike achieved all 170 of its demands, including a 200 Euro per month increase in salary for the lowest paid.
Activists from the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) were out in force. After all, this was the week which a major national poll showed that leading figure in the NPA, Olivier Besancenot, is now as popular as the French President.
Besancenot told Socialist Worker, 'In a period of economic crisis sometimes it's everybody for themselves... but here, that's not the case. There is a collective force being born and it must lead to a real general strike'.
Amongst other issues, NPA actvists were raising awareness about the demonstration in Strasbourg against the Nato 60th anniversary summit next month, an issue all the more pertinent after the French parliament endorsed Sarkozy's plan for France to rejoin the Nato high command on Wednesday.