National rail strikes in France are becoming a focus for a broader revolt by workers.
On 3 April Air France workers, refuse collectors and electricity and gas workers are all set to join the rail workers in national strikes.
And there is open discussion of a CGT union federation proposal for 19 April as a day for, effectively, a general strike.
“We haven’t been this close to an unprecedented social revolt for years,” said Sébastien Menesplier, the general secretary of the CGT’s energy sector.
On 4 April, the second day of this round of the rail strikes, workers at the French national state broadcaster will walk out too.
All the strikes have particular demands.
For example, refuse collectors want a national service with common employment rights and pay rather than a patchwork of different contracts and privatisation.
Gas and electricity workers want pay rises and an end to imposed competition in the sector.
Rail workers have announced 36 days of strikes to defend their contracts and oppose privatisation.
But workers are united by the feeling that there has to be a serious effort to break the neoliberal offensive from President Emmanuel Macron.
Successive French rulers have dreamed of being the “Margaret Thatcher figure” who would sweep away workers’ rights and truly implement market rule.
They have had partial successes, but not nearly enough from the bosses’ point of view.
Macron is the latest to offer himself for this task. He wants to weaken unions, raise pension ages and clear the way for privatisation throughout the public sector.
He is also attacking existing pensioners and making it harder to go to university.
The stakes are very high. If Marcon is beaten now his whole vision of transforming France in the interests of profit will be shattered. If he wins it will be a significant reverse for workers.
The unions are moving, but too slowly.
For many workers, proposed national action on 19 April feels a long time away. And the Force Ourvriere federation has already said it won’t support a strike that day.
“We need to move quickly and spread the action now, not wait for some struggles to be exhausted before others begin,” said Francis, a school teacher from Bordeaux.
“I’m not interested in the differences between the union leaders. Let’s be out together, and for as long as it takes. Let’s use the energy of the students and the school students as well as workers.”
There are significant rank and file moves. A rail strike on 22 March was widespread, despite only one federation (Sud Rail) calling for it.
This has to be built on.
At the same time as developing the strikes, workers have to entrench unity.
Macron is peddling racist division by pushing new laws. These would make it much harder to claim asylum, extend the time detainees can be locked up in holding centres, and make deportations far easier.
These attacks have won him backing from some of those who previously supported Marine Le Pen of the fascist Front National. Macon’s policies have also further encouraged fascists.
On the last big day of strikes and protests on 22 March, masked men attacked a student occupation in Montpellier. At least one staff member was involved, as were fascists.
There was another far right attack on students in Lille on 27 March.
It is positive that the attacks saw students mobilise on the streets and occupying in several areas including Paris and Toulouse as well as Montpellier.
This is a critical moment for French workers—and for workers across Europe.