Socialist Worker

French workers take on Sarkozy's cuts

As the economic crisis bites across Europe, France erupted in struggle last week and workers poured onto the streets over pensions, writes Charlie Kimber

Issue No. 2219

Car workers in France march with placards demanding that bankers, not Roma, are thrown out of France.  (Pic: Phototheque Rouge/JMB)

Car workers in France march with placards demanding that bankers, not Roma, are thrown out of France. (Pic: Phototheque Rouge/JMB)

Around three million workers took to the streets of France on Tuesday of last week in a huge day of action over attacks on pensions.

And now unions have called a further day of strikes and protests for next Thursday 23 September.

The CGT union federation said that around 200 demonstrations took place. Around 270,000 marched in Paris, 200,000 in Marseille, 110,000 in Toulouse and 100,000 in Bordeaux.

In both Paris and Marseille the protests were so huge that they had to be reorganised into two routes.

Strikes swept through the public services—with transport, the post, education, health and the civil service all hit hard. And important sections of private sector workers also took part.

Right wing president Nicolas Sarkozy has announced a rise in the minimum retirement age to 62. And to get a full state pension workers will have to stay in employment until they are 67.

Workers’ pension contributions are also rising.

This is the centrepiece of Sarkozy’s attempt to make workers pay for the crisis—and the result is being watched by bosses and bankers across Europe.


It was crucial that French unions also backed the earlier protests against Sarkozy’s racist scapegoating of immigrants and Roma people. This prevented dangerous divisions emerging.

Now French workers are debating how to win. The demonstrations last week were bigger than those that derailed the pension attacks from Alain Juppé in 1995. But in that case more workers struck.

The issue now is how to step up the action.

Sarkozy is weak and mired in scandal. A clamour over illegal party funding worsened this week when the Le Monde newspaper accused France’s intelligence agency of spying on one of its reporters in order to find the source of leaks.

Sarkozy and his government have been under the hammer for weeks over revelations involving secret payments relating to Liliane Bettencourt, France’s richest woman, and a minister who was chief fundraiser for the president’s party.

The right is in turmoil.

In response, Bernard Thibault, the general secretary of the CGT union federation, said last weekend that it was “not unrealistic to aim for victory” and that unions and social movements are “in a strong position today.”

He said that the demonstrations and strikes can, and should, be bigger. But he also warned the movement not to go “too far” and to maintain unity.

Such pronouncements underline the need for workers to keep pressing for escalation and militant action. Stepping up the strikes will not repel workers—it will show that this is a serious struggle to win.

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Tue 14 Sep 2010, 17:14 BST
Issue No. 2219
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