Socialist Worker

A million French workers strike to say ‘screw it’ to pension attacks

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2685

Huge demonstration in Paris

There were mass demonstrations throughout Paris (Pic: Force Ouvriere/Twitter)


Another massive day of strikes and protests in France on Tuesday showed workers’ continuing determination to beat attacks on pensions by neoliberal president Emmanuel Macron.

The CGT union federation said that around a million people joined 200 demonstrations across the country.

This is fewer than the first big strike day last week, but it is still a huge number of marchers. And they are angry.

How they fight back in France
How they fight back in France
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Martine, a council workers who was on the march in Marseilles, told Socialist Worker, “I’m 59 and I want to be able to retire soon. My job is hard work and I don’t want to be working until I am 65 or longer to get a pension.

“If you’re forced out before the pension age due to sickness the scheme is rubbish. I will be living in poverty—after 31 years in the job.

“I take home only £1,500 a month so my pension is not going to be great. Macron’s reforms will mean I work longer and collect less. Screw it.”

Crucially strikes that began on 5 December continued in several industries, particularly on the railways and in education and health.

Almost all Paris Metro lines will be closed until Friday morning at the earliest.

Around 80 percent of long-distance domestic trains were cancelled on Tuesday and Wednesday. The RATP Paris public transport system of trains and buses is paralysed.

Eurostar cancelled more than 30 trains on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week.

Seven of France’s eight oil refineries are on strike and blockaded. This could mean fuel shortages at petrol stations—even more so if lorry drivers carry through their vote to strike next week.

In some areas strikers stepped up their action on Tuesday.

Last week, EDF electricity bosses had brought in managers and other workers to run the Cordemais power plant in Loire Atlantique to limit the effect of strikes. On Tuesday strikers fought back.

They occupied the control centre of the plant—and also decided to keep up their action until at least Thursday of this week.

The rage, and the desire for action, is not just about pensions. The headline of the centre-left newspaper Liberation on Wednesday was, “In Paris, we march against the pension reform project and ‘the system’”.

Martine added, “People are questioning many things they normally accept. The Yellow Vests did this, they made us think about who gains and who loses in life. So now we see clearly, ordinary people are crushed and the rich are richer than ever.

“People are looking beyond France. There was respect for the big strike that’s happening in Algeria.”

Democracy

The strikes are maintained by the democracy of regular general assemblies of strikers. The Revolution Permanente website reports that at the assembly at Paris Gare du Nord station, “In front of 150 strikers and the flags of the four unions that operate in the workplace, all the speakers insisted that they rejected any division.

“The same slogan was on everyone's lips—no negotiation, and renewal of the strike movement. There was a near-unanimous vote for this.”

An assembly of 200 teachers in the city of Tours voted “to welcome the fact that the strikes are continuing, to encourage other groups to join extended strikes and to demonstrate alongside the Yellow Vests.”

Students are also becoming involved. For example there have been large student groups joining the blockades set up by RATP workers at their depot in Ivry, Paris.

“We helped the workers to reduce the number of scabs,” a student told Socialist Worker.

“It’s great to be lining up with the strikers. I went on all the climate change marches, and felt that a new movement was coming through.

“Now I can see the power to change the world—it’s the workers.”

RATP strikers and students marched together with slogans such as “We are all children of the strike”.

But the government is not making concessions. Macron and his gang know that this is a battle they have to win or be broken by the opposition in the streets.

So the key issue is what comes next. Only a general strike, renewable by mass assemblies, can guarantee success.

The danger is that the union leaders will call some action but allow the energy of the movement to dissipate as Christmas nears.

Four union federations and four youth organisations have called for local protests and assemblies on Thursday this week and another massive day of strikes and protests on Tuesday next week.

These have to be used to escalate the movement.


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