Workers in France launched their tenth day of mass strikes and protests on Tuesday as the government of president Emmanuel Macron came under intense pressure.
Macron has forced through his attacks on pensions without a parliamentary vote. But the cost is intense anger and millions on the streets against him and his vision of fake democracy.
The vicious repression unleashed against strikers and demonstrators has not broken the movement. Instead, the movement has become more radical, more militant and drawn in younger layers of workers and students.
Only the hesitation of union leaders holds back an indefinite general strike that could win a crucial victory. It would defeat the Macron regime and give heart to workers fighting back everywhere.
Rank and file mobilisations show the potential for the action to rise to another level, whether the unions call for it or not.
Indefinite strikes continued this week among sections of energy workers, refinery workers, dock workers, some transport workers and many bin workers. The Paris bin strikes could spread to the private firms that are being used to scab on the capital’s strikers.
Police thought they had broken a strike at the Gonfreville-l’Orcher refinery near Le Havre last week after cops swooped and removed pickets blocking the entrance. Police were implementing a requisition order which means strikers can be fined or jailed unless they lift pickets or go back to work.
But then about 500 people, including a large contingent of port workers and dock workers, arrived to restart the picket. Workers threatened to close the port if the police didn’t back off.
The crowd also included 150 people, mainly students who had driven over 120 miles from Paris. Riot cops retreated as the pickets chanted “the refinery is ours”.
Workers voted for at least another three-day strike, blocking scarce kerosene supplies for aircraft. The crowd cheered actor Adele Haenel as she told the rally, “As a feminist and a lesbian I say if we are united, we can win.”
At the Ivry incinerator in the suburbs of Paris strikers and supporters also defeated a police attempt to smash a strike on Monday morning. Bosses used a requisition order against 12 strikers to send cops to remove pickets.
But strikers put out a call for a mass blockade. Some 40 rail workers arrived from Gare du Nord, and others flocked to the plant. Strikers parked their trucks in front of the site entrance and the big numbers of pickets meant the cops had to withdraw.
The government last weekend said it wanted talks with the unions—but not about pensions. It must not be allowed to escape its demise.
Police in France have left a protester in a coma and “hanging between life and death” according to his friends. Cops inflicted the injuries during an environmental protest against agri-business development held at Sainte-Soline in western France last Saturday.
On the eve of Saturday’s protests, interior minister Gerald Darmanin said, “The forces of disorder will not win and the extreme left will not win.” For the government, the possibility of a dead demonstrator was a price worth paying to make sure of that.
Facing 30,000 protesters, cops fired nearly 4,000 blast grenades in less than two hours. That’s about one every two seconds. The state mobilised 3,200 police and gendarmes.
They sent helicopters, mounted forces, water cannons, trucks to surround the contested construction site—and gendarmes on motocross quad bikes. For two hours, cops drowned the protest area with tear gas.
As well as the man with life-threatening injuries, a woman had “facial trauma” and police broke a man’s foot. There are some reports that a protester was blinded.
Cops fired volleys of GM2L grenades, classified as weapons of war. This device releases tear gas and produces a very strong explosion that can blow off a hand or a foot or cause blindness.
“Around me, people said that it was necessary to go back to the Yellow Vests, or to the mobilisations against the Sivens dam—during which Remi Fraisse was killed by a grenade thrown by the police—to see such a level.
“A protest group managed to enter the site of the development. But the demonstration turned around in the end because the medics no longer had enough equipment to treat the wounded, there were so many. And the police blocked help.”
Nicolas Girod of the Confederation Paysanne said, “This escalation in the violence reflects the total nullity of the state on the question of ecology. They do not question the substance of the subject, they only deal with it through violence.”
The violence is sickening. But it is also a reflection of a state that knows it has lost any sense of leading society by general consent. It uses such repression because it has a narrow base—which is rapidly shrinking.
A mega-basin is a giant water reserve. Big companies plan 16 mega-basins in the region around Sainte‑Soline.
They will fill these by pumping in vast amounts of water from streams, rivers, aquifers and groundwater. Agri-businesses use the water to irrigate crop fields to feed animals on intensive cattle farms.
Global warming already causes increasing droughts that hit local small farmers. Building the basins will make the water shortages far worse.
The “Bassines Non Merci” (Baisins No Thanks) movement in France brings together rural workers, ecologists, radical environmentalists, some trade unions, socialist political groups and small capitalist farmers squeezed by agri-businesses. Its methods include occupations and sabotage of pipes as well as marches, political pressure and propaganda.
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