The fourth national day of strikes and demonstrations on Thursday saw massive support against French president Emmanuel Macron’s attacks on pensions.
But the refusal of Macron to retreat is raising starkly the need for escalation to secure victory.
According to union figures, 370,000 people marched in Paris—up by 20,000 from the last day of national action on 17 December. Elsewhere 120,000 took to the streets in Toulouse, 35,000 in the port city of Le Havre, 30,000 in Rouen, 27,000 in Lyon and 25,000 in Grenoble.
There was more police harassment than on previous pension demonstrations. In Paris there were 20 arrests, and cops fired tear gas, rubber bullets and “flashballs”.
In Marseille 220,000 people took part, an increase from the 150,000 on 5 and 10 December and 200,000 on 17 December.
Those marching across France included striking rail and public transport workers, refinery, hospital and civil service workers, dockers, teachers, firefighters, barristers, Yellow Vests and more.
“There were new people on strike and new people marching,” Agatha told Socialist Worker from Marseille. “I am a teacher and we have just come back for the new term. In my school almost all the teachers struck.
“Across the country about half of teachers were out, 60 percent in Paris.
“The demonstration felt very strong and the police could not attack us or divert us from our route. It’s not just about pensions. There was a feminist section on the march, and climate change campaigners.
“This has to be the future—more people on strike and not just for one day. In Marseille there is a battle over whether we are out indefinitely or just for a day here and a day there. We need a general strike.”
Over two-thirds of train drivers and nearly 60 percent of train controllers struck according to management figures. Only a skeleton service—staffed by managers and a few scabs—ran on the Paris Metro apart from on the driverless lines 1 and 14.
All eight oil refineries in France started a four-day strike from 12 noon on Tuesday. The CGT union said this halted the movement of fuel by tanker or pipeline completely.
It was the most coordinated and united refineries’ action since the start of the battle against the attacks on pensions.
The Port-Jerome-Gravenchon refinery struck for the first time since 2010. It continued working during the 2016 revolt against new labour laws but has joined the action this time.
The unions have announced new days of action for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week. They will detail precisely what they are calling for after a day of demonstrations planned for this Saturday.
There is a real debate going on about how to take the movement forward. The strikes and protests are immensely impressive. The indefinite action in the rail and Paris RATP public transport sectors has been going on for over five weeks.
The government has signalled it will retreat on some aspects of its assault. But it is sticking to the core of its demand that people must work for years longer and many will receive less.
The revolutionaries of the A2C Autonomie de Classe group write, “The strike is beautiful. Beautiful as ministers, depressed deputies and editors who stammer and stutter before the force of the movement.
“Macron’s world is a human relations department surrounded by riot police lines. It is this world that we must destroy, because we will not allow ourselves to be destroyed by it.It is this world that we must destroy to gain what we want—everything.
“Only a political crisis will allow us to put an end to Macron.”
The danger is that the union leaders will allow the strikers to be isolated.
The socialist NPA party said, “This government will not give in easily. Let’s accelerate the pace by building a massive and continuous strike in new parts of the public sector and in private companies whose workers are also directly concerned.
“The generalisation of the strike has not yet taken place, it is now the sole objective of the coming days.”
Beginnings of rank and file organisation
There are signs of some rank and file initiatives and coordination trying to wrest control of the strike from the union leaders.
In Paris on Thursday a group of around 1,000 rail and RATP strikers marched in front of the official sections.
They were drawn from four unions and include people who are not union members.
They began to organise themselves at the base of the unions in the absence of any plan from the union leaders during the Christmas holidays to sustain and broaden the strikes.
They initiated days of demonstrations and action which helped to energise the strike.
On Wednesday this week over 100 of them went to the Peugeot Citroen PSA factory in Poissy in the suburbs of Paris urging workers to join the strikes. And some did come to the march the next day.
Some strikers went into the plant and spoke. A striker from Metro Line 3 said, “We are all going to win together or not at all, we cannot fight the battle only with two companies. We need a general strike.”
Farid Borsali, a worker at Poissy and CGT union member said, “We distributed leaflets in support of the railway workers. It’s one fight.
“On the assembly line it’s impossible to stay working until the age of 64. Connecting the public and the private sector will be crucial to win.”