Socialist Worker

The French resistance that could take down a government

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2506

Workers marched through Paris last Thursday

Workers marched through Paris last Thursday (Pic: Force Ouvriere)


A wave of strikes and protests to defend workers’ rights is causing a crisis for France’s Labour-type government. President Francois Hollande’s proposed Work Law increases working hours and gives bosses more power to sack workers.

Oil refinery workers have walked out against the law. Only violent police attacks on roadblocks outside fuel depots last week partially defused a severe petrol shortage.

The government is depleting its strategic reserves in an attempt to weaken the strike. But the majority of oil refineries remain on strike.

Bosses at the oil import terminal in Le Havre tried to release supplies for airports on the orders of prime minister Manuel Valls last Friday. So workers walked out there too.

CGT union rep Fabian Bourdoulous said, “Since they opened the valves, we pulled all our members out on strike.

“They’re not exactly going to restart the economy with what’s left in those tanks.”

Nuclear workers at the Nogent-sur-Seine are also hitting bosses hard. The plant functioned at less than half capacity, with production down by over 1,000 megawatts.

CGT rep Olivier Michard said, “We didn’t quite know what mood the police would be in, so we came in early to set up our barricades in peace.”

Stormed

Meanwhile, thousands of workers stormed into the departure hall of Marseille’s airport. It was part of a day of protest in solidarity with Air France workers.

Five Air France workers are on trial accused of violence towards bosses. Bosses had their shirts ripped off last year after job losses were announced. Their cases were postponed.

The government and police are waging a war of attrition on the sectors leading the strikes.

But hundreds of thousands of people marched last week—and more sectors are joining the fray.

Bus workers in Paris were set to begin an indefinite strike on Thursday, while dockers were set to walk out for a day.

A three-day aviation strike was set to begin on Friday. Next week rail unions plan to escalate their action in time to disrupt the Euro 2016 football tournament, which starts on Friday of next week.

And unions have called a national demonstration in Paris for Tuesday 14 June. Activists in workplaces that aren’t yet striking are using this as focus for spreading the strikes.

The government has laid into the unions as a “minority” holding the country “hostage”.

But the CGT alone has far more members than all the major parties put together. Polls repeatedly show a majority of people blame the government for the disruption and want it to withdraw the law.

It has tried to draw union leaders into talks because its only hope lies in

getting them to back off from intensifying the resistance.


Support grows for barricades

Strikers blockade the road in Besancon in eastern France

Strikers blockade the road in Besancon in eastern France (Pic: Force Ouvriere)


As well as strikes, activists in France have been carrying out roadblocks and occupations.

Sandra Cormier, a teacher in Nantes, told Socialist Worker, “Here we’ve blockaded the motorway and tramlines.

“We get up early, assemble somewhere, then go together to our target. We then occupy it, sometimes building a barricade and lighting fires.

“It causes a lot of disruption, and the aim is to ‘blockade the economy’.

“Since it’s a relatively small number of workers who are on strike most days, this is a way for others to join in.

“But the key thing will be to broaden and deepen the strikes to involve more of the working class.”


How the Work Law would eliminate crucial rights

The French government’s proposed Work Law blows a hole in workers’ hard-won rights. It’s a bosses’ charter for cheaper layoffs, longer hours and lower wages.

Firms could lay off workers they no longer see as profitable. All firms will be able to start restructuring programmes currently restricted to those firms in financial crisis.

The law’s central measure is Article 2. It allows workplace agreements to undercut national or sector-wide agreements.

This effectively ends national bargaining and allows a race to the bottom.

Bosses long to roll back French workers’ rights. The European Union’s leadership recently issued recommendations encouraging the French government in its attack.

The government has demobilised some sectors of resistance by offering concessions.

This has also given others more incentive to fight, and pushed the powerful bosses’ union and hypocritical Tory opposition to come out against the law.

Between this and a backbench rebellion, the government lost parliamentary support for its reform. It has used a part of the French constitution which allows it to suspend parliamentary debate.

But this further inflamed anger and gave the movement new life. It raises the possibility of a vote of no confidence toppling the government.


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