Blockades, strikes and protests against the French government’s attack on workers’ rights caused huge disruption this week. Workers and activists are out to shut down the economy—and the government is determined to stop them.
The week’s second nationwide day of strikes and protests yesterday, Thursday, saw some of the largest protests yet. Some 100,000 people marched in the capital, Paris. In the western port town of Le Havre dockers led a march of 20,000.
This turnout was despite many activists staying at picket lines or roadblocks, which have been multiplying across France since Monday night. Fadila Dela, an activist in the southern city of Marseille, joined a blockade of the main road to the region’s oil refinery.
She told Socialist Worker, “There were two roadblocks, with about 60 people on each. This one started at 6am and went on until 2pm. The other blocked off access to a major industrial estate from 4:30am to 8am, then ended to join the demonstration in town.”
Barricades of burning tyres and several rows of parked cars blocked the road.
These actions have begun to bite, particularly in the West of France. Energy firm Total revealed that by Thursday one in five of its petrol stations in the three western regions of Normandy, Brittany and Pays de la Loire were empty.
Strikes have also intensified in the oil refineries, the postal service and the railways among other key sectors. In Paris striking rail workers and protesters briefly blocked the rails into the Saint-Lazare train station on Wednesday.
Panicked by the shutdown, centre left prime minister Manuel Valls threatened to send the police in and break up the road blocks.
That’s exactly what right wing president Nicolas Sarkozy did to break a revolt over pensions in 2010. Then the union leaderships weren’t prepared to escalate the confrontation with the state.
Activists have called more demonstrations tomorrow. Gael Pasquier, a trade unionist in Le Havre, told Socialist Worker, “We’ve reinforced our blockades of the refinery and the port, day and night, in view of Valls’ declarations.
“Riot police reinforcements are arriving tonight, so the next 24 hours could be very tense. But the dockers are ready to react, and they made it known this morning.”
Police repression has been central to the state’s response. As well as over 1,000 arrests and violence that has led to serious injuries, the authorities have begun to ban demonstrations.
MPs voted to renew the state of emergency this week.
The state has tried to shift the focus of media coverage away from the movement’s demands to protesters’ “violence”. And cops even gave a helping hand with a demonstration of their own, against “anti-police hatred” on Wednesday.
Fewer than 1,000 people turned up—among them leading figures of the fascist Front National.
But union leaders don’t always know how to respond to the police. The most important union federation CGT even supported their protest, calling for a “coming together of the police and the population”.
Far from a coming together, what’s looming is a test of strength between the movement and the state.
Responding to Valls’ threat of increased repression, Fadila said “This has only reinforced us in our convictions and we’re multiplying the actions and roadblocks.”