Three and a half million people marched on over 200 demonstrations across France according to the CGT union federation. This is a new high for the present campaign. It shows how crucial the battle taking place in France is—one with implications for the whole continent.
The strike and protests— the fourth day of mass strikes and demonstrations since June—are against attacks on pensions. The scale of the mobilisations was impressive:
- The Eiffel Tower in Paris had to close
- 330,000 marched in Paris
- 230,000 on Marseille
- 140,000 in Toulouse
- 75,000 in Rouen
- 40,000 in Caen
- 75,000 in Grenoble
- 60,000 in Rennes
- 45,000 in Lyon
The CFDT federation declared that the day saw “15 to 20 percent more on the march compared to previous days of action”.
And in most parts of industry the number of strikers was significantly higher than on previous days of action.
“Faced with the anti-democratic obstinacy of the government that remains deaf to the hopes of the country, we must step up the pressure and give ourselves the means to paralyse the country,' said the postal workers’ section of the Sud-PTT unions.
'The demonstrations have been massive. The movement has grown and is broadening. It's the biggest wave of demonstrations our country has known for a long time,' said Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry.
But it wasn’t just the size of the involvement that made this strike day different.
Many groups resolved to continue striking after Tuesday—including sections of rail workers, energy workers, metal workers, dockers and refinery workers.
Another new move was the decision by students and some school students to join in.
This escalation, if carried through systematically, can lay the basis for continuous mass action—and victory.
Right wing president Nicolas Sarkozy announced a rise in the minimum retirement age to 62. And to get a full state pension, workers will have to work until they are 67. Workers’ pension contributions are also rising.
This “reform”, now going through its final parliamentary stages, is the symbol of France’s rulers attempt to make workers pay for the bosses’ and bankers’ crisis.
Opinion polls show that some 70 percent of the population back the strikes and protests. But the government has so far offered only minor concessions. Now there is strong pressure from below for the strikes to escalate to become an unstoppable wave.
Jean-Pierre Delannoy, a metal workers’ rep in the CGT union federation, said his union’s members were “fed up with simply strolling through the streets”.
He attacked the CGT’s leaders for placing the responsibility on local branches to choose whether to strike after Tuesday.
“The strategy of episodic sheep-like protests is wrong and will fail unless we step up our movement and listen to the grassroots, who want us to take real action,” he said.
“Trade unionism will suffer if we fail. The solution is continuous action.”
A report in La Voix du Nord newspaper records a recent union meeting where a motion was put for a continuous general strike. “For? All hands went up. Against? No movement in the room. Abstentions? Same.”
In some areas continuous strikes have already broken out.
The port of Marseille has been a battleground throughout the summer. Crane operators, terminal workers and dockers are striking against privatisation and the pension changes.
The world’s third biggest oil terminal at Fos-Lavera has been hit hard by the action, with petrol supplies running short in Corsica and in some areas of France and shipping disrupted in significant areas of the Mediterranean.
Pierre Brossat, a dockers’ union representative at the port, told Socialist Worker, “We are not prepared to see our livelihoods taken away for profit. We do a hard and physical job and are not going to work until we drop.
“The initiative for this strike came from union members. They want action to win. That means continuous strikes, and a general strike that closes down the economy and hits the bosses.”
The mood for strikes has spread across Marseille. Monoprix supermarket workers have struck since 17 September for a living wage.
They led the recent pension demonstrations chanting “We’re not tired!” to show they want to keep fighting.
Thousands of school canteen workers have been striking for over a fortnight over pay and the pension reforms.
Everywhere local issues and the pension battle combine to make a potent mix.
Continuous strikes sunk previous attacks on pensions by prime minister Alain Juppé in 1995.
General strikes showed the mass mood, but it was weeks of action by rail workers that kept up the pressure and forced a climbdown.
A similar victory now would energise the fightback across Europe, and show that workers can impose their own solution to the crisis—one that makes the bosses pay and points towards a system where people come before profit.
See www.socialistworker.co.uk for more updates on the strike