By Charlie Kimber
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Millions of workers strike to defy French pension assault

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Issue 2684
Workers are battling changes to their retirement age (Pic: Force Ouvriere/Twitter)

A huge strike swept France on Thursday as millions of workers revolted against pension attacks from president Emmanuel Macron.

It is set to be the most significant wave of workers’ action since 1995 when protracted strikes broke a right-wing government’s assault on pensions. 

Some 90 percent of high-speed TGV and intercity trains were cancelled, with buses also affected. In Paris, just five of the city’s 16 metro lines were running—with a much-reduced service.

In the northern city of Lille transport was largely at a standstill. One of the two metro lines was totally stopped, many buses cancelled and the trams ran only every 30 minutes.

Air France said it had cancelled 30 percent of internal flights and 30 percent of short-haul international flights, amid walk-outs by air traffic controllers. EasyJet was also hit hard.

Estimates on Monday afternoon suggested around 70 percent of primary school teachers were on strike as were 60 percent of secondary teachers.

Train driver Pierre told Socialist Worker from a march in Paris, “It’s happening. What we have been waiting for is happening.

“On previous strikes I thought we were going through the motions a bit. But this is brilliant.

“On marches people chant ‘All together’. This is a glimpse of how that could be made real.

“It’s a big attack. 

“I began on SNCF rail firm 20 years ago, when under some scenarios you could retire at 50. But we have had attacks after attack. Firstly retirement age was pushed back to 52-and-a-half—on a reduced pension. Then it went to 57-and-a-half. Now they want to make us work even longer.”

A teacher said “The pension reforms are one blow too many. We’re fighting not to lose hundreds of euros of pension a month—after more than 40 years in a job.

“How can you dream of ending your career in front of pupils beyond the age of 70, in worsening conditions and on what for many of us is just a minimum wage?”

Hospital workers struck in many cities. And postal workers in 20 regions who are in dispute with the state-owned La Poste over changes to working conditions struck too.


Substantial sections of workers in private industry were also out including truck drivers, Carrefour and Geant Casino supermarket workers, Hippopotamus restaurants and Perrier and Haribo foods.

Hundreds of demonstrations took place, beginning at 10am in some areas. The CGT union federation said 1.5 million people marched nationwide. Even the interior ministry said over 800,000 took part.

The Solidaires union said at least 250 000 took part in Paris, 30 000 in Grenoble , 50,000 in Bordeaux, 4,000 in Auch, 30,000 in Rouen, 25,000 in Lille, and 10,000 in Evreux.

In several places they were met with tear gas. 

In Paris 6,000 police officers were deployed against protests and the authorities issued a decree forbidding protesters from gathering on the Champs-Elysées or at police stations.

Riot police began searching pedestrians’ bags before dawn, and shops on a planned protest route were ordered to close.

Strikers and Yellow Vests on the streets in Draguignan in south east France
Strikers and Yellow Vests on the streets in Draguignan in south east France (Pic: Cyrille Graslin, photosCGT on Flickr)

In many areas the Yellow Vests, who have been fighting Macron for a year, joined the action. There is a massive feeling that life is hard and public services are declining. A poll last month in the newspaper Liberation found 89 percent of French people felt the country was experiencing a “social crisis”.

It won’t be just a one-day strike. Already many rail workers have voted to continue into Friday, when they will again discuss how long to continue.

Other workers are looking further ahead. At the oil refinery in La Mede, in the Bouches -du-Rhone region, workers in the CGT union have announced their strike will last until 9 December—as a minimum. 

Teachers in Touolouse have voted to stay out until Tuesday.

The Revolution Permanente website reports that In the port city of Le Havre, an assembly of 200 workers brought together a huge range of strikers.

It included education staff, dockers and port workers and those in metallurgy, petrochemicals, various branches of the public services, call centre workers and also Yellow Vests and some students. Among those present were unionised workers from the CGT, Solidaires, FSU, FO and UNEF federations, but also many non-unionised workers.

It voted to renew the strike until the weekend and blockade the streets.

Such assemblies are needed everywhere to take control of the strike.

It’s crucial to bring together all the sections of strikers and protesters, and to stop the union leaders choking off the action before it wins.

The mass strikes and protests are giving hope to the whole of Europe. They show that the bitterness in society can be torn away from the right and the racists and directed towards the left.

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