By Charlie Kimber
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France at standstill as pension strikes move up to ‘higher gear’

Strikes by millions of workers in France mount pressure on president Emmanuel Macron
Issue 2845
Strikers from the Force Ouvriere union

Strikers from the Force Ouvriere union on the streets of Paris last month. (Picture: Force Ouvriere/Flickr)

Millions of workers across France began a mass strike on Tuesday in what could be a ­historic week for struggle. All the trade union federations have pledged to bring the country “to a standstill” on the day. It will be the sixth, and biggest, day of action against president Emmanuel Macron’s assault on pensions.

“We always said that we would go into a higher gear if necessary,” the head of the CGT unions, Philippe Martinez, said on Sunday. Strikers and many other people were gathering at more than 250 demonstrations nationwide as Socialist Worker went to press.

The big question was how many strikes would continue after Tuesday. Some were definitely scheduled to extend into Wednesday and link up with International Women’s Day.

“We know we’re out for more than a day, and will discuss each day whether to go back,” Annette, a worker in Paris’s public ­transport system, told Socialist Worker. “One day isn’t enough against a government that laughs at democracy and thinks it can get away with anything.

“We have prepared for this. We have our own strike fund in our bus depot and have made our own links with workers in schools and universities who say they will support us either by coming out—which would be best—or by ­collecting money for us.”

Big sections of rail ­workers ­nationally, energy workers ­including refinery workers, refuse workers and lorry drivers have also pledged to stay out beyond ­Tuesday.

Some union leaders may support that for 24 hours, but others won’t. And no union leader will deliver the rank and file energy that can maintain a movement to keep ­fighting until victory

In several geographical areas workers have been preparing for a long time in advance. In the port city of Le Havre, for example, core workers and contractors met for general meetings every day last week. Workers at Total, Chevron and other sites discussed action over pensions, but also pay and working conditions.

University and school students had also ­prepared for mass action. It was also a very good sign that on Saturday thousands of people joined marches against a new anti‑immigration law.

The slogan “Same Macron, same fight” was popular and anti-racists will pour on to the pension protests this week. The stakes are very high. The pension attacks have already been passed in the equivalent of the House of Commons.

The plan is currently under ­discussion in the upper-house Senate, where it is expected to be amended but approved. A final vote from both chambers is scheduled soon, and by 26 March at the latest. This week will be crucial in deciding whether the ­resistance goes forward

“Tuesday has to be a start,” Pauline, a teacher, told Socialist Worker. “We can’t be passive or satisfied with just looking good for a day on the streets. If we win on this we can win on so much more.”

Learn lessons of 2010 and 2018 defeats

“We were talking on the night shift yesterday and we said there are already many colleagues over 50 who are unfit for the safety elements of the work. When you have health problems, high blood pressure, you are quickly sidelined.

“You cannot work shift hours, night shifts. We have colleagues who are young and who are declared unfit by occupational medicine because they are already broken by work.

“Like the entire population, rail workers want to fight the pension ‘reform’. But rail workers do not want, once again, to be the spearhead and to be isolated.

“They want people to go on strike with us. In 2018 we lost. We did not have enough power to make the government back down.

“Among refinery workers it’s the trauma of 2010. We saw mass mobilisations with millions of people in the streets.

“And the refiners saw that they were the spearhead. People gave so much money to the strike funds that they had to redistribute it afterwards.

“But when the government saw that the balance of power was concentrated around the refiners, they sent 17 CRS riot police vans to lift the pickets. The repression worked and that showed the limits of ‘proxy strikes’.”

Laura Varlet, Rail signals worker.  Interview in full here

Appeal from leading trade unionists

“To build a movement that can be extended after January 31, it is essential that these sectors, which occupy strategic positions and have a great capacity for blocking the economy, be joined by millions of other workers, as well as by young people, to generalise the strike.

“In fact, those who will pay the highest price are precisely the most precarious workers, women and young people. The fight against pension reform is a class struggle, but also a feminist, anti-racist fight, which concerns workers, youth and all the oppressed.

“Likewise, while the project of making us work more and more is part of the logic of capitalism, whose profit-based system is always more devastating for workers and for the environment, this struggle is also ecological.”

Signed by 300 leading trade unionists in France, artists, campaigners and ‘intellectuals’

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