By Charlie Kimber
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French workers gear up for major national strike over pensions

This article is over 1 years, 3 months old
But many activists say one day is not enough to beat back French president Emmanuel Macron’s attacks
Issue 2838
French union leaders surrounded by press and microphones after they announce a day of strikes

French union leaders announced a day of strikes on Tuesday. But their plans are still limited (Picture: Force Ourvriere on Flickr)

Trade unions in France are set for a major national strike on Thursday of next week against the government’s attempt to raise the pension age. Unusually, eight trade union federations have united to call for strikes and demonstrations.

The arguments over how workers can win mirror the debates in Britain. French trade union leaders move quicker and further than the TUC union federation because they are under more pressure from below. But their response is still limited, and rank and file workers are pressing for escalating and harder-hitting strikes.

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne, from pro-boss president Emmanuel Macron’s party, announced the planned assault earlier this week. Macron tried a similar move in 2019 but was forced to back off by waves of strikes and then the arrival of the pandemic.

Macron and Borne now want to raise the minimum age for a full pension by two years to 64. And collecting it at 64 will depend on having paid into the system for 43 years. However, the cops— exhausted by clubbing strikers, Yellow Vests and black people—will be able to collect a full pension at 54. Unions point out that, at age 64, 29 percent of the poorest workers are already dead.

Macron no longer has a majority in parliament so he has been talking to the mainstream conservative Republicans to back him. Even if he wins them over, he might still lose. So he’s preparing various anti-democratic ways to implement the measures without full parliamentary approval.

The attacks are a political choice. A report in September 2022 by the Pensions Advisory Council, a state body, found the pensions system actually produced surpluses of £800 million in 2021 and £2.85 billion in 2022.

But for Macron it is a key “achievement” that he has to deliver for the bosses, a signal that workers are going to pay for the surge in inflation and the coming recession.

It is crucial workers defeat him. The 19 January strike will be a start, but nobody believes it will break Macron’s attack. And trade union leaders are making only vague noises about a follow-up.

Some activists are organising for more. Unions representing French oil workers on Thursday called for a more serious plan. As well as a walkout on 19 January, there are calls for a 48-hour strike from 26 January and a 72-hour strike from 6 February. These would include “shutdowns of refinery installations, if necessary,” said Eric Sellini, national coordinator of the CGT union federation at energy giant TotalEnergies.

And after 6 February there would be a move towards an all-out strike, renewed each day by workers’ assemblies. 

There will be a battle between left and right over opposing Macron. At the same time as the left wing Nupes party and the unions called for action, the fascist National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen claimed it also was against the measure.

She is posing as the friend of ordinary people and said the French could count on her party’s “total determination” to block Macron. Le Pen encouraged voters to use a forthcoming parliamentary by-election as a referendum on pension changes, and vote for her party.

However, as usual, the fascists don’t want to upset bosses or the cops. So the RN’s new leader Jordan Bardella said, “ If you think that we are going to block the doors of the National Assembly or take to the streets to oppose government policy, that is not our ambition.” Le Pen’s “total determination” turns out to be ineffective parliamentary games.

If the unions falter, the fascists hope to benefit from the bitter resentment that will follow—and to turn it against refugees, migrants and Muslims.

The high stakes underline why next week’s strikes have to be the beginning of insurgent and all-out resistance.

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