France workers have taken a potentially very powerful move to escalate their action against attacks on pensions.
Next Tuesday (12 October) millions of workers will take part in the fourth mass strike of the campaign. But very significantly two powerful groups are discussing continuous strikes afterwards. Rail workers and energy workers could stay out for weeks if necessary.
'Everybody looks to us. Other workers say that if railroad workers don’t act then nobody will. It would be a heavy responsibility if we did not start renewed strikes because all of France is watching,' said Bruno Duchemin, a spokesman for the CFDT-Fgaac union, one of the main unions at the SNCF state rail company along with the CGT.
Strikes at the electricity companies EDF and GDF-Suez would lead to power cuts.
Continuous strikes sunk the Juppé plan in 1995. This was an earlier assault on pension rights. General strikes showed the mass mood against the government, but it was the addition of action by rail workers for several weeks that kept up the pressure and forced a humiliating climbdown.
If the rail and energy strikes now go ahead they could equally derail President Sarkozy’s plans. 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’ contributions are also rising.
However, the latest move relies on local strength and initiative. The rolling strikes are organised by serving notice of 24-hour stoppages and are renewed each day before they expire.
Members of the union would need to be balloted at the end of the strike day on Tuesday.
It’s unclear just how much support will come from union leaders to encourage and sustain indefinite strikes.
They need to throw the full weight of the unions behind these strikes.
Victory would energise the fightback across Europe.
British workers, also facing assaults on pensions, should learn the lessons from France. We need action, and strikes can be very popular.
Over 70 percent of French people interviewed in the latest polls backed the strikes and protests.