By Charlie Kimber
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Strikes and protests sweep across France in seventh day of national action

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Issue 2689
Strikers in Amiens in the north of France
Strikers in Amiens in the north of France (Pic: FO )

A huge day of strikes and demonstrations in France on Friday has reinvigorated the battle against attacks on pensions.

More than 50 days since the fight against president Emmanuel Macron’s assault began, millions of workers are still ready to struggle.

This, the seventh day of national action, came after indefinite strikes ended on the RATP Paris public transport system and weakened on the railways. But on Friday both the RATP and the national rail networks were hit hard.

Teachers, hospital workers, refinery workers, dockers and others joined mass marches.

Between 350,000 and 400,000 people marched in Paris—perhaps the biggest demonstration so far.

As a demonstration of around 60,000 began in the northern port city of Le Havre, power workers triggered electricity cuts against businesses. This was in defiant response to government denunciation of such tactics.

Macron criticised what he called “the acts of violence and the radicalism of certain blockade tactics”. He also called for “the utmost firmness towards their perpetrators”.

Students, who have played a relatively minor role in the battles so far, have begun to be more visible as the exam season ends.

There is also a definite “hardening up” at the core of those who are involved.

Blocking the rail tracks in Angers
Blocking the rail tracks in Angers (Pic: Revolution Permanente)

A rank and file group of rail and RATP strikers is increasingly taking independent initiatives, chasing down ministers and lobbying union leaders.

Marie, a striking teacher, told Socialist Worker, “People have been fighting for so long—particularly on the railways. We can’t give in now, but some of the union leaders will and others won’t fight to the end.

“It’s great that different strikers are coming together across the unions. We need more of that—and to keep drinking the spirit of the Yellow Vests.”

How they fight back in France
How they fight back in France
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One sign of the political ferment at the base of the unions is the decision of some members of the CFDT union federation to tear up their membership cards. They are angry that their leaders have backed off from the fight.

Franc Bugnoni, a technician, explained, “The battle against the CFDT and Macron feel like the same fight, I’m returning my card”.

Another striker denounced CFDT leaders, saying they are “turncoats—I’m leaving”.

There is also a broader political feeling. One of the most popular slogans is, “Metro, work, grave—no”.

The big question is what will come next. Friday was very successful, but it cannot be just an episode. It has to be followed up by indefinite strikes.

Friday was chosen for the day of action because it saw the pension changes presented to the cabinet, the last step before it goes to parliament on 17 February.

“Our determination remains intact,” Yves Veyrier, head of the Force Ouvriere union told reporters ahead of the march in Paris. “We have weeks, months, of protest ahead of us.”

An eighth national day of action has been called by four of the union confederations and four student and high school unions for next Wednesday.

It has to be the launchpad for more sustained strikes.


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