Socialist Worker

Workers in France say no return to ‘normal’

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2706

A demonstration outside the Robert Debre Hospital in Paris

A demonstration outside the Robert Debre Hospital in Paris (Pic: L'Anticapitaliste)


French health workers are demanding that “we don’t go back to how it was before”—and want fundamental changes in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

Around 500 hospital workers and their supporters gathered outside Robert Debre hospital in Paris on Thursday of last week. They were met with police repression, at least three arrests and dozens of fines for joining a “gathering of more than ten people”. 

Laurent, a nurse, told the crowd that workers don’t want medals but “salary increases and a properly run health service”. 

“We are neither robots nor war machines,” she said. “We deserve to be recognised as caregivers and to have the government’s support.”

Demonstrations also took place recently in Nantes, Toulouse, Rouen and Clermont-Ferrand. 

At Toulouse’s Purpan ­teaching ­hospital, the CGT union said around 1,000 people took part, including health workers, Yellow Vests, campaign groups and political organisations.

Major demonstrations were planned this week in Paris, Besancon and other cities. At Bordeaux University hospital ­protests were planned for Thursday—unions there have given notice of strikes but their leaders have not yet called the action.

Health unions and ­campaign groups are ­demanding more and better equipment, a pay increase of £270 a month and the recruitment of at least 10,000 additional full-time workers. They also want an end to hospital closures and the abolition of private sector “accounting logic” in the health service. 

Unions 

Unions plan national ­demonstrations on 16 June.

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Annette, who works in an ­intensive care unit in Paris, told Socialist Worker, “The government said it was going to give every health worker a bonus of 1,500 euros. 

“Then it turned out that this would apply only in the most hard-hit regions and that everyone else would get 500 euros. Then it restricted the payout in the worst regions to the hospitals that had seen the most patients. 

“One day we’re all getting 1,500—the next it’s less than half of us.” 

On Monday the health ministry held a meeting with 300 ­representatives of unions and other groups representing medical staff. It’s designed to take the heat out of the feeling for change, which existed strongly before the ­lockdown and has now accelerated.

The process is overseen by Nicole Notat, a former right wing head of the CFDT union. Her ­appointment caused outrage because she is well‑known for her support for the 1995 welfare “reforms” that led to the biggest strike movement in France since the 1968 revolt. 

It’s clear that, as for governments everywhere, Macron’s main thrust is to restart the profits of big business. Easing the lockdown and reopening some schools has seen at least 25 new clusters of Covid-19 infection and more than 70 cases directly linked to schools. 


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