By Charlie Kimber
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French strikes ‘beyond trade unionism’

This article is over 4 years, 3 months old
Issue 2686
Workers are battling against attempts by some unions to call off action
Workers are battling against attempts by some unions to call off action (Pic: O Phil Des Contrastes/Flickr)

Another huge day of strikes and demonstrations in France against president Emmanuel Macron’s pension assaults was set for Thursday this week.

And a national day of demonstrations across the country was set for Saturday.

SNCF national rail and RATP Paris public transport workers have been on indefinite strike since 5 December.

Their walkouts have now lasted longer than the 1986-7 rail strikes and the extended 1995 rail strikes that defeated then-prime minister Alain Juppe’s pension cuts.

Over half of national rail services remain cancelled and most of Paris’s metro lines aren’t working. Bus services are also much reduced.

A “Christmas truce” to restore transport services, demanded by the ­government and supported by some union leaders, did not happen because of ­workers’ ­determination to keep ­fighting.

Far from the movement going away, it has been ­growing. On Friday last week the group SOS Retraites—SOS Pensions—said its 700,000 members would be joining the protests.

Bernard, a CGT union rep on the railways, told ­Socialist Worker, “We’re still very solid, and we are proud we haven’t folded.

“It was hard to be short of cash over Christmas, but we are lifted by the solidarity and the sense that if we lose this battle then we will end up like the railways in Britain.

“As the strikes have gone on we have not sat doing nothing. We are thinking how to make links with the Yellow Vests, climate campaigners and others. We are making new alliances.

“It’s exciting, and the politics go beyond trade ­unionism.”


The CGT called for a ­complete blockade of oil refineries from Tuesday to Friday this week which would intensify shortages at petrol stations. The ­government has said such action would be illegal.

Strikers continue to target power cuts at big business, while helping out ordinary people with their electricity bills.

The CGT union tweeted, “CGT electricians will restore power to the poor who are cut off and put in place off-peak hour tariffs for people ­struggling to pay.”

Macron remains determined to ram through the key points of his pension assault—forcing people to work longer and receive less.

The government had hoped to split the movement by making the changes apply only to those born after 1975.

But strikers rightly see the move as divisive, a prelude to further attacks, and an abandonment of younger people.

The Unsa federation called for its rail workers to go back over the holidays—but then 14 of its regions rejected the call and the strikes ­continued.

Other federations have backed continuing strikes, but most have not called clearly for an unlimited general strike. Only such a strike could guarantee success.

But there are powerful developments at the base of the unions where in some places workers come together across federations and across sectors to maintain and build the strikes.

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