Socialist Worker

French workers and students stand strong against the state

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2225

Workers and students in Cherbourg blockade a train after a protest of over 24,000  (Pic:Photothèque Rouge/Franck Houlgatte)

Workers and students in Cherbourg blockade a train after a protest of over 24,000 (Pic:Photothèque Rouge/Franck Houlgatte)

France's right wing government is trying harsh state repression to break the huge movement of strikes and street protests against the attacks on pensions.

President Nicolas Sarkozy unleashed his attack dogs—the riot police—last week to carry out physical assaults on pickets at oil refineries.

They were backed up by the threat of long periods in jail for those who dared defy them.

He has also used the army to break some of the strikes.

The same method was used against striking refuse workers in Marseille and school students.

But this state terror will not succeed if the strikes and demonstrations escalate.

It is up to the union leaders to call much bigger strikes in the face of the state’s assault—not to wind them down.

Millions of workers were set to take part in strikes and demonstrations on Thursday this week and to take to the streets again on Saturday 6 November.

The pensions law is nearing the end of its parliamentary stage. It would raise the minimum pension age to 62—it will be 67 for many workers—as well as to increase the amount workers have to pay in.


Sarkozy hopes the protesters will become weary and demoralised. There is a danger that can happen, but it is by no means inevitable.

On Tuesday school and university students took to the streets across France in a day of protest. The government calculates that half term holidays will blunt the students’ fightback. But there is little sign of that.

“In 2006 the holidays did not stop the revolution against the CPE ‘first job’ contract which targeted young people—and protest went on to win then,” Djamila, a school student from Paris, told Socialist Worker.

“We’re all going on the streets this week.

“It’s about pensions, it’s about young people not getting jobs because workers are kept on into their old age, it’s about Sarkozy’s dirty government. We have a slogan—‘Unemployed at 25, exploited at 67. No! No! No!’”

Some ten universities remain wholly or partially closed by blockades, as well as many schools.

Strikes continue on the railways, and in the docks—particularly in Marseille, where on Monday workers’ action had left 73 vessels stranded.

This includes 37 tankers carrying crude oil, 19 with refined petrol products and ten with natural gas.

In Paris workers occupied the TIRU incincerator plant last week and were still in at the start of this week.

Marseille is a city in revolt. Around 10,000 tonnes of rubbish is piled up after a three-week bin workers’ dispute—although the government has now sent in troops and threatened strikers with jail.

Thousands of school canteen and nursery workers maintain their strikes.

French workers can win if the movement develops through solidarity with the continuing strike—and pressure for an open-ended general strike.

‘Our actions can still beat Nicolas Sarkozy’

One of the storm centres of the revolt is the giant Grandpuits oil refinery near Paris. A CGT union member told Socialist Worker about the attacks they have faced—and their determination to keep fighting.

His name is withheld because of the threats from mangement and the police.

He said, “Early in the morning on Friday of last week the police came to clear away our blockade at Grandpuits.

“We have been on strike, and occupying the site, since 11 October as part of the revolt against Sarkozy.

“We know we are in the frontline, that our pressure is the biggest one on the government.

“Over the last fortnight we have built up a list of other workers and local residents that we can call on in an emergency.

“So when the cops came we quickly had nearly 100 people defending our blockade. It was fantastic, real solidarity.

“For a while the police withdrew. But then they came back in greater numbers. Eventually they broke our blockade—using the strongest violence.

“They injured three of our members, one of them seriously.

“All this was backed up by a court order to ‘requisition’ workers. This says you could be jailed for up to five years if you don’t go back to work.

“It’s said to be about ‘defending the national interest’. It’s about class power. Under this threat we had to resume loading some oil supplies.

“But we’re not giving up. Now we’ve moved a little away from the plant and are trying to block roads. We’ve had some success.

“There are still big petrol shortages. Really we need everyone out. The government should not be allowed to get away with taking away our right to strike.

“I hope the strikes and protests that are planned can beat Sarkozy.”

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Tue 26 Oct 2010, 17:31 BST
Issue No. 2225
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