Socialist Worker

Revolt in France: ‘The strikes are growing’

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2501

Students and striking rail workers marched through Austerlitz station in Paris on Tuesday

Students and striking rail workers marched through Austerlitz station in Paris on Tuesday (Pic: New Anticapitalist Party Youth)


Strikes and protests intensified in France this week in the run-up to a coordinated day of action against the government’s proposed Work Law on Thursday.

This was expected to see over a million workers strike as well as student mobilisations.

Entertainment workers led an occupation of the Odeon theatre in Paris last Sunday night, along with students and unemployed people.

Their demand was “the separation of the bosses and the state”.

The entertainment workers have a special unemployment scheme since they are mostly in short term jobs and frequently out of work. The Labour-type government is trying to cut this.

But TV worker Sophie Tissier told Socialist Worker, “It’s the powerful bosses’ union Medef that’s directing the negotiations, imposing the bosses’ demands and the bosses’ timetable.

“So we’re occupying the Odeon and holding general assemblies with all unemployed people—because this is about defending unemployment insurance for everyone.”

Up to 1,000 people rallied outside on Monday evening.

During the mass strikes of May 1968 students hung a banner there saying, “When the National Assembly becomes a bourgeois theatre,

all the bourgeois theatres should be turned into national assemblies.”

Tuesday saw the latest in a series of national rail strikes against an attack on workers’ terms and conditions to make way for privatisation. Paris rail worker Axel Persson told Socialist Worker, “The strikes are growing, and this one’s bigger than the last.

“Workers are talking about going from one-day strikes to rolling strikes—and bringing more sectors onboard.

“In May we want the oil refineries and the dockers out with us, and that’s a real possibility.”

The pressure for more action shaped the conference of France’s biggest union federation, the CGT.

Last week delegates backed a proposal from entertainment workers to make Thursday’s strikes the start of continuous action, renewed by mass meetings every evening.

Blockading

The union leadership was booed for watering this down. One delegate argued, “We need to shut the country down, notably by blockading the petrol depots.”

Students continue to hold regular walkouts and sit-ins across the country.

And the “Night on our feet” (Nuit Debout) movement of square occupations centred on Paris’ Place de la Republique has become a hub of the broader resistance.

Occupiers defied repression by soldiers as well as cops last week. And some of the initiatives and debates in the square seek to

break down longstanding divides in the French working class.

A new commission on fighting Islamophobia and state racism held an assembly in the square last week.

And a call for a “Suburbs on our feet” movement has seen assemblies in Paris’ often poor and marginalised outlying areas.

There is an international gathering in the square on Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 May. This is to be followed by a global “Night on our feet” on Sunday 15 May.

The mass resistance has pushed president Francois Hollande and prime minister Manuel Valls onto the defensive.

They have tried to divide the movement by stirring up Islamophobia and by offering minor concessions to different groups. But if the struggle deepens and spreads it could become impossible to contain.


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