The French Labour-type government was threatening to ban unions from demonstrating against its attack on workers’ rights on Tuesday. But it was facing threats of defiance.
The latest day of action against president Francois Hollande’s Work Law saw a million people join a monster march in Paris last Tuesday.
More than 350 buses took people from all over France to the demonstration. Another 300,000 people marched in other towns and cities.
It was also a day of coordinated strikes, where other workers walked out alongside the sectors already on strike.
Trains were disrupted and uncollected litter piled up. The Eiffel Tower and Palace of Versailles, key tourist destinations, were closed.
The government and most of the media seized on the breaking of a window at the Necker children’s hospital in Paris during clashes between police and some protesters.
Prime minister Manuel Valls said this made it a “violent” demonstration and called on unions to stop holding any further protests.
He called on them to cancel the marches planned during the next days of action on Thursday and next Tuesday.
Valls also warned that if they didn’t cancel them he would ban them. The threat provoked fury and defiance.
More than 120,000 people signed an online petition vowing, “I won’t obey the ban on marching”. Prominent intellectuals pledged, “We will continue to demonstrate”.
CGT union leader Philippe Martinez said he had “no reason” to call off the demonstration.
The turnout on last week’s demonstration showed the movement’s resilience.
For all the scaremongering, a new poll this week showed 60 percent of people support the movement—unchanged from before the demonstration.
Workers must defy Hollande and Valls’ blackmail. As the Work Law nears its final stages in parliament it’s crucial to keep up the pressure.
The bigger challenge is building the strikes.
Many workers came out on the day of action. Air France staff have called a new two-day strike next week.
Some workers remain on continuous strike, renewed by mass meetings every few days. It includes some post workers and bin workers.
But these continuous strikes are dwindling when they need to be spreading. Most strikes failed to be renewed over the past two weeks—including in the oil refineries.
Those sectors that were out for the longest faced isolation and hardship.
They received important solidarity donations, but union leaders didn’t give the lead that could have motivated them to keep going.
They didn’t call other workers out either, which would have spread the strikes and is necessary to win.
An even bigger strike wave to defend pensions was defeated in 2010 after union leaders called off action for negotiations.
The French working class has the power to win. But to do that it needs to develop its own independent leadership that can push forward when the union leaders falter