A huge day of strikes and demonstrations in France on Friday has reinvigorated the battle against attacks on pensions. Another day of national action was set for Wednesday this week.
More than 50 days since the fight against president Emmanuel Macron’s assault began, millions of workers are still ready to struggle.
The seventh day of national action on Friday last week came after indefinite strikes ended on the RATP Paris public transport system and on most of the rail network.
But the latest day of action saw both the RATP and national rail services severely disrupted.
Striking teachers, hospital workers, refinery workers, dockers, firefighters and others joined mass marches. The CGT union federation said that nationally 1.3 million people took part.
Between 350,000 and 400,000 people marched in Paris. It was perhaps the biggest demonstration so far in the battle against Macron’s attempt to make most people work longer for a lower pension.
There was a militant determination to show that the struggle is not over. As a demonstration of around 60,000 began in the northern port city of Le Havre, power workers triggered electricity cuts against businesses.
This was in defiant response to government denunciation of such tactics. Macron criticised what he called “the acts of violence and the radicalism of certain blockade tactics”.
He also called for “the utmost firmness towards their perpetrators”. Marie, a striking teacher, told Socialist Worker, “People have been fighting for so long—particularly on the railways.
“We can’t give in now, but some of the union leaders will and others won’t fight to the end. It’s great that different strikers are coming together across the unions. We need more of that—and to keep drinking the spirit of the Yellow Vests.”
“People have been fighting for so long—particularly on the railways.
Friday was chosen for the day of action because it saw the pension changes presented to the Council of State, the last step before it goes to parliament on 17 February.
The Council of State, a thoroughly establishment body, criticised the pension law as “imprecise” and “patchy”.
It said that it had been given insufficient time to study the bill. But Macron is pushing on—and so are the protesters.
“Our determination remains intact,” Yves Veyrier, head of the Force Ouvriere union, told reporters ahead of the march in Paris. “We have weeks, months of
protest ahead of us.”
This week’s action—called by four of the union confederations and four student and high school unions—has to be the launchpad for more sustained strikes.
Workers pile pressure on trade unions to strike
There is a definite “hardening up” at the core of those who are involved, and new forces are entering the fray.
University students, who have played a relatively minor role in the battles so far, have begun to be more visible.
And teachers and school students are also bringing together the fight over pensions with the battle against a new school “continuous testing” regime known as E3C.
Student boycotts and workers’ action have combined to cancel exams in some areas.
This has boosted the pensions fightback. A rank and file group of rail and RATP strikers is increasingly taking independent initiatives, chasing down ministers and lobbying union leaders. One sign of the political ferment at the base of the unions is the decision of some members of the CFDT union federation to tear up their membership cards.
They are angry that their leaders have backed off from the fight.
Franc Bugnoni, a technician, explained, “The battle against the CFDT and Macron feel like the same fight, I’m returning my card”.
Another striker denounced CFDT leaders, saying they are “turncoats—I’m leaving”.
There is also a broader political feeling.
One of the most popular slogans is, “Metro, work, grave—no”.
The big question is what will come next. Last Friday was very successful, but it cannot be just an episode.
It has to be followed up by indefinite strikes.
Workers at the Luxfer gas cylinder plant near Clermont-Ferrand in France have occupied their factory against closure. They are part of a group that is linked to the old British Aluminium, Alcan and Alcoa.
One of the occupiers told Socialist Worker, “We want to keep this place working, but the English have decided to make sure it ends.
“We are occupying to prevent the bosses from sabotaging the machines.
“Pension strikes, Yellow Vests, our occupation—it’s all part of wanting a better life. And my daughter is part of the climate change movement.
“We want something better than we have now.”
Union rep Axel Peronczyk said, “This area is becoming an industrial wasteland. If people find new jobs they are precarious and low paid. Management have treated us with contempt.”