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Public sector strikes sweep through France

This article is over 17 years, 4 months old
Olivier Besancenot, postal worker and spokesperson for the far left party LCR, analyses the struggles that broke out in France last week
Issue 1936
Post workers hurl mailbags at police outside Sarkozy’s home
Post workers hurl mailbags at police outside Sarkozy’s home

Is something changing on the front line of social movements and workers’ struggles in France?

The climate had become rather lifeless after the wave of strikes against pensions “reform” in spring 2003 was defeated. That didn’t mean that workers were either satisfied or in despair. In 2004 they used the regional and European elections to penalise the right wing government. But nothing has changed for the better since the elections.

Then, last week, there were several national strikes in different public services. On Tuesday of last week workers at “la Poste” — the French post office — went on strike against new legislation designed to strengthen corporate-style management and accelerate outsourcing. These are both steps towards privatisation. The strike was not completely solid. But those post workers who went on strike showed their radical mood.

This can be seen from the demonstrations I was involved in, in front of the house of Nicolas Sarkozy, the leader of the main right wing party. On Wednesday there was a strike by railway workers, which was a real success. These workers are struggling against drastic budget cuts and staff shortages. Only one quarter of trains were able to move during the strike.

This action in turn inspired civil service workers who took strike action for better wages and in defence of public services on the Thursday. Demonstrations — some of them several hundred thousand strong — took place around France.

Polls indicate that a majority of workers from private workplaces supported the strike, despite the government’s attempts to set public and private sector workers against each other. Continued attacks by the government on benefits, as well as the successes of this week of strikes, raise a new question: what will our next move be?

A day of protest against the threatened “reform” of the 35-hours week legislation has been set by the unions for Saturday of next week. This is a chance to unite the movements against the bosses and the government. But until now there have been no precise demands or slogans put forwards for these protests. It is now essential to organise democratic debate among the rank and file to define our demands and our strategy.


Members of the Peruvian Workers’ Union took part in a huge march outside the country’s parliament on Thursday of last week to protest against their government’s economic and labour policies


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