The French government is trampling on democracy and stepping up repression as it faces strikes and protests. It moved this week to “requisition” more refinery strikers whose action over pay has caused widespread fuel shortages. If workers ignore the order to return to work they could face six months in prison.
Showing great courage and determination, the Normandy and Feyzin refineries are still out. But union leaders have not provided a wave of solidarity with this key battle. So intimidation has an effect.
Workers at TotalEnergies’ La Mede refinery and at a storage site in Dunkirk voted for a return to work on Thursday. The same decision was taken at the Donges refinery on Wednesday.
A day of strikes and demonstrations on Tuesday saw over a million workers strike and 300,000 join over 170 demonstrations, according to the CGT union federation. There were 7,000 in Bordeaux, 10,000 in Le Havre, 70,000 in Paris.
Tooled-up riot police attacked protesters in Paris. They hit members of the GGT stewarding team in a replay of the violence unleashed against the Yellow Vest movement.
Transport saw the biggest strikes. But there were also walkouts by some Amazon workers, home helps in the ADMR care service, workers at Nestlé Purina and decorators at the Annecy theatre.
School students blockaded at least 100 high schools in solidarity with the refinery workers, against attacks on education, and demanding action on environmental issues. At the Voltaire school in Paris, student Dora told L’Est Republicain newspaper, “We are here against repression and police attacks which are only increasing and in support of our teachers.” She added that they’re “in support of the refinery workers”.
At Helene Boucher school in Paris school students chanted “Plus de profs, moins de keufs”—more teachers, fewer cops.
Nearly everywhere the cops responded with brutality. Police used tear gas against hundreds of students at the Tourelle school in northern Paris. And there have been repeated assaults at Joliot-Curie school in Nanterre where cops attacked and arrested students.
Cops raided Évariste-Galois school in Beaumont-Sur-Oise in advance of the strike day after several days of revolt.
And then on Wednesday, president Emmanuel Macron announced he would force through his budget without winning a vote in parliament. “We need to give our country a budget,” prime minister Elisabeth Borne told MPs as she announced the use of clause 49.3 of the French constitution.
Under the clause, a law can be passed automatically unless the opposition passes its own vote of no confidence in the government.
Just as in Britain, the budget will slash money to hold down energy bills and it will deliver more to the military. Parliament passed an amendment to increase tax on dividends proposed by a member of Macron’s own coalition.
The left wing Nupes coalition of MPs proposed a no-confidence motion in the government. In a surprise move, the fascist RN voted for the left’s motion. But the government survived because the mainstream right, Les Republicains, did not back the move.
Tuesday mobilisation of strikes and demonstrations was welcome. But it was smaller than many had hoped because the unions didn’t build it or have a plan for what should follow. Nevertheless Macron will face serious resistance if he pushes ahead with a scheme to raise the pension age.
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