Around a million French public sector workers struck and hundreds of thousands joined over 150 demonstrations nationwide on Thursday. They are battling 120,000 job losses announced by President Emmanuel Macron.
In addition Macron wants much wider use of temporary contracts and agency workers, and “merit pay” that individualises workers and links their wages to “results”. Having been elected as the great new “centrist” hope last year he is enthusiastically tearing into workers, boosting military spending and making racist laws even harsher.
Thursday was also the beginning of the fightback by rail workers against a frontal assault on their conditions and jobs. They are regarded as the best-organised section of French workers, and have inflicted bitter defeats on previous governments.
Macron wants to humble them in the hope that it will demoralise everyone else.
The main CGT-Cheminots rail union did not call a national strike on Thursday, but smaller rail unions did, and some CGT branches struck anyway without a national call.
SNCF bosses admitted a third of the workforce struck, the unions put it higher.
Over 65 percent of high speed trains and at least half of local train services were cancelled.
From 3 April to 28 June all the rail unions have announced two days out of every five will be strikes—a total of 36 strike days.
It’s a major confrontation.
Health assistant Elisa Horvat told Socialist Worker from the Paris demonstration, “It’s great to be on the streets together. We can beat Macron if we are all as one. There are teachers here and admin workers and health workers and electricity workers and gas workers—and students and school students.
“There are people who are retired but still angry about what Macron is doing to all sectors of society.
“And there are the rail workers. We all have to stand with them.
“They are not privileged as the media says, they have rights everyone should have. If they lose we all lose.”
A rail demonstration of tens of thousands wound through the north of Paris to meet up with an even bigger one of public sector workers.
Students and school students also walked out. At least 15 Paris schools, and 50 nationwide, were closed after they were barricaded by school students protesting about new restrictions on who goes to college.
Several universities were shut.
Unemployed workers’ groups joined the marches in protest at Macron’s new schemes of monitoring and sanctions—modelled on those in Britain.
On the eve of the 50 year anniversary of the great revolt of May 1968, one or the most popular themes of many activists today is that “the best way to remember '68 is to do it again”.
This is a great opportunity to stop Macron in his tracks, and to smash his neoliberal assault.
The bosses know this.
“If Mr Macron wins this battle, it will be easier to implement more reforms. If he loses this battle he will be another head of state that pushed too far too soon and has to stop,” Thomas Guénolé, a French political scientist, told the Financial Times newspaper.
Nicolas Bouzou, head of Asterès, an economic research centre, said, “For Mr Macron this is his credibility for the remaining years of his mandate.”
The union leaders must not back off.
As rail worker Olivier from Marseille told Socialist Worker, “We walked out today together, all the unions, whether the national office called for it or not. Today must be just a beginning.”
Some of the demonstrations
The CGT union federation said 500,000 joined protests and demonstrations across France.
La Rochelle 3,500