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Floods can’t wash away the strikes in France

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Workers bring France to a standstill days before the Euro 2016 football tournament, reports Dave Sewell
Issue 2507
Rail workers in the Sud union protest in Paris over the Work Law
Rail workers in the Sud union protest in Paris over the Work Law (Pic: Photothèque Rouge/JMB)

Strikes continued to spread last week as part of a bitter revolt against the planned Work Law.

The law give bosses more power to sack workers, increase their hours or cut their pay.

France is hosting the Euro 2016 football tournament, set to start this Friday. But French president Francois Hollande said on Sunday, “I want this conflict to be over”.

He claimed, “Nobody will understand it” if rail and aviation strikes stop fans getting to football matches.

Rail workers in the main unions began an indefinite strike against the Work Law and an attack on their conditions last Tuesday.

Sud union rep Fabien Villedieu told colleagues at a 200-strong mass meeting at the Gare de Lyon station in Paris, “We’re not just going to sit back over our working conditions for the sake of 2.5 million football fans. If we have to wreck the Euros, we’ll wreck it.”

Bosses, politicians and the media have sought to play down the strike’s impact. But nearly half of train services have been cancelled, costing bosses £16 million a day.

Last Thursday saw a new day of coordinated strikes against the Work Law. Alongside ongoing strikes in oil refineries there were walkouts in ports and nuclear plants. Some regions saw power cuts.

The CGT union punished Pierre Gattaz, head of the powerful bosses’ union Medef, for comments attacking them the previous week. They cut off electricity to his second home and his factory.


In other regions they moved hundreds of thousands of customers onto off-peak tariffs, in an “Operation Robin Hood” that also saw protesters open some toll roads.

Parisian bus drivers began their walkout that day too. Hundreds invaded the bus company’s offices on Friday morning.

Major floods in parts of France only increased the strike’s impact.

The government averted an air traffic controllers’ strike planned last weekend by agreeing to stop job cuts—though not before many flights had been cancelled. But pilots plan to strike over pay this weekend.

The Work Law is now set to be debated in France’s senate, where the Tory opposition has a majority.

Senators’ committee amendments, such as abolishing the 35-hour working week, make the law much harsher. In a surreal twist, the government called a rally of its own on Wednesday to defend “social progress” and the Work Law.

Between horrifying police repression and concessions to split off some groups of workers, the government is gambling that the movement will run out of steam.

Union leaders’ aim of “bringing them back to the negotiating table” makes this a real possibility.

The CGT union leaders cannot be trusted to call the general strike that would defeat the Work Law and open up a new potential for resistance to austerity.

But activists are going all out to build more strikes for the movement’s first national demonstration next Tuesday when the senate debate begins.


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