A wave of strikes by French rail workers beginning next Tuesday will signal the start of a crucial confrontation with president Emmanuel Macron’s government.
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.
His government is pressing for privatisation and wants to strip away century-old agreements that prevent mass redundancies of rail workers.
All the rail unions have announced that, from next week, workers will walk out for two out of every five days—a total of 36 strike days.
The SUD-Rail union plans an indefinite strike, where its members will decide at daily assemblies if the action should continue.
It’s not just rail workers who are fighting. Around a million French public sector workers struck last Thursday against plans to axe 120,000 jobs and bring in more temporary contracts, agency workers and productivity-linked pay.
There were over 1,500 demonstrations involving around half a million people, according to the CGT union federation.
Macron was elected as the great new “centrist” hope last year. Now he is enthusiastically tearing into workers, boosting military spending and making racist laws even harsher.
Paris health assistant Elisa Horvat told Socialist Worker, “It’s great to be on the streets together. We can beat Macron if we are all as one.
“There are teachers, admin workers, health workers and electricity and gas workers here—and university and school students.” Around a third of rail workers also struck last Thursday—even though there was no national strike call.
At least 15 schools in Paris, and 50 nationwide, were closed after school students blockaded them in protest at new selective admissions procedures.
Several universities were shut—some as part of continuing occupations (see right).
Unemployed workers’ groups joined the marches in protest at Macron’s new benefits sanctions—modelled on the Tories’ regime in Britain. The protests came on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the great revolt of May 1968. Many activists say 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,” French political scientist Thomas Guénolé told the bosses’ Financial Times newspaper.
“If he loses this battle he will be another head of state that pushed too far too soon and has to stop.”
The union leaders must not back off from confronting Macron.
Strike wave could grow
Other groups of French workers are pressing their union leaders to strike and demonstrate alongside the rail workers.
Some refuse workers, postal workers and others have already pledged to take action on 3 April during the first round of the rail strikes.
This is the broadening of the battle that the rail workers need.
The CGT union federation has called for 19 April to be a day of demonstrations across France.
That needs to be turned into a call for a general strike.
Olivier, a train driver, told Socialist Worker, “We want to see the whole of the working class in the streets against president Emmanuel Macron. And the best way to do that is to see all of us on strike.
“It’s not like Britain, we don’t need ballots.
“The union leaders could and should make the call now for 19 April.”
If French workers beat Macron, it will be a major blow against neoliberalism across Europe.
Far right attack on student occupation
A group of masked men violently attacked students who had occupied a lecture theatre at the University of Montpellier last Thursday evening.
Several students were hospitalised, two with serious injuries.
A far right blog has claimed it was organised by a fascist organisation.
Shockingly it emerged that one of those who facilitated the attacks was a leading member of staff.
An occupier said, “Soon after midnight, we were quietly eating and listening to music.
“There were about 50 of us when a group of a dozen individuals, hooded and armed with sticks and pieces of broken wooden pallets, entered through the side doors.
“They jostled us, hit us. Some of us fell to the ground, they were hit again.”
The dean of the faculty of law, Philippe Petel, was accused of opening the doors to the assailants and giving a thumbs up after the attack.
He initially defended his actions, but later resigned.
At least one other academic staff member is suspected to have been involved.
Demonstrations took place at several universities across France in solidarity with the Montpellier students.
And trade unions have called for a full investigation into links between the fascists and managements.