Socialist Worker

Workers' strike wave offers hope in France

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2409

A joint demonstration of strikers in Paris last week

A joint demonstration of strikers in Paris last week (Pic: Phototheque Rouge / Milo)

Thousands of workers across France protested today, Thursday, against Labour-type Socialist president Francois Hollande’s pact of austerity. The day of protests and strikes was called by the CGT union federation at the centre of the current wave of strikes in France.

In Paris the day is set to end in an anti-racist festival. It was called in response to the success of the fascist Front National in last month’s European elections. Two days earlier Hollande pushed a bill through parliament that would split up state railway company SNCF to allow attacks on workers and prepare for privatisation.

The vote was a test of Hollande’s ability to drive through the bosses’ agenda. He made humiliating retreats in the face of right wing protests last year but has been unable to avoid mass opposition from unions.

But railway workers walked out before the vote. Despite constant hounding by the media and lack of a clear lead from their union, those in the Paris region kept fighting for two weeks.

Axel Persson, a train driver and activist in the New Anticapitalist Party, told Socialist Worker, “The strike was organised through daily mass assemblies in stations and depots, and in Paris they made links with each other independently of the union bureaucracy. That meant more rank and file control, which forced the unions to do things they were hesitant about.”


Hollande won this vote, but he still has other major attacks to push through, some of which have been dragging on for years. And the rail workers’ strike has fed a mood to fight back. Other strikes are beginning this week, and a strike by post workers in Paris is now in its fourth month.

Centre stage are 100,000 artists and technicians in theatre, TV, cinema and concerts. They are striking to defend the unemployment insurance scheme that allows them to survive in an industry rife with short term contracts.

Their long struggle has radicalised in recent months, despite pleas for calm from prime minister Manuel Valls. Strikes threaten to disrupt major summer festivals.

TV worker Sophie Tissier has been a prominent voice in the movement since she interrupted a live broadcast last year to speak out against wage cuts. She told Socialist Worker, “With unemployment rising the government has used us as a scapegoat. They are trying to set the poor against the poor.”

She explained, “The reform will make it easier for bosses to put pressure on workers to accept bad conditions. Our work creates a lot of France’s GDP—so we won’t accept the crumbs the state is prepared to give us. We want the respect we are entitled to as workers.”

Today’s action follows a demonstration last week by strikers in the different disputes. These struggles offer hope for a change in the political situation that has fed the far right in France—though there is still a gap for a direct anti-fascist challenge to the FN.

Axel said, “The fightback is starting to organise in France, slowly but surely. Most of us on the trains think that now we need to bring the struggles together and score a victory against the bosses and the government.”

Sophie added, “It’s important to fight together, because we are all facing the same thing. Workers are never listened to, so we are all angry.”

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.