Socialist Worker

Rail strikes in France are a warning signal for the bosses

French workers struck this week as part of a revolt against president Macron, writes Charlie Kimber

Issue No. 2598

Workers in Paris during a strike last month

Workers in Paris during a strike last month (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Rail services across France came to a halt on Tuesday as the first of 36 planned national strikes hit the network hard.

The rail workers’ resistance is the spearhead of a wider fightback. Air France workers, refuse collectors and electricity and gas workers were also striking on Tuesday.

And on Wednesday, the second day of rail strikes, workers at the French national state broadcaster were set to walk out too.

Over the Easter weekend workers at 300 Carrefour supermarkets struck against job cuts. Speech therapists held big protests.

University and school students are mobilising on the streets and holding occupations.

They are fighting against “reforms” that would make it harder to go to university—and against a series of assaults by the far right.

There is open discussion of a CGT union federation proposal for what could be a general strike on 19 April.

All the strikes have particular demands. Refuse collectors want a national service with common employment rights and pay.

Gas and electricity workers want pay rises and an end to imposed competition in the sector. Rail workers are striking for two days in every five to defend their contracts and oppose privatisation.

But workers are united by the feeling that this is a key moment 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 free market rule.

Successes

They have had partial successes, but not nearly enough from the bosses’ point of view.

The French revolutionary socialist organisation the NPA wrote this week, “The attack on the rail is just the beginning of the Macron project.

“Macron wants a society where contracts, rights, pay, hours and holidays are negotiated individually. “This is what the rail workers refuse to give up—and they are right. If they lose then all workers lose.”

The government made some concessions to rail workers last week, but not nearly enough.

The unions have moved into action, but not yet decisively. For some workers, proposed united action on 19 April feels a long time away.

Francis, a school teacher from Bordeaux, told Socialist Worker, “We need to move quickly and spread the action now. We should not wait for some struggles to be exhausted before others begin.

“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.”

At the same time as building the strikes, workers have to entrench unity. Macron is pushing new racist laws that must be fought.

The fightback in France is a beacon for workers across Europe—and an example to Britain’s trade unions.

It is crucial that French union leaders do not back off until rail workers and all the strikers win.

 


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