By Charlie Kimber
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‘The strike is liberating’—day 11 of French revolt

This article is over 1 years, 1 months old
The urgent question remains how workers and students can win on pensions—and push out Macron
Issue 2850
Dockers in the French CGT union joined the march in Bordeaux on Thursday

Dockers joined the march in Bordeaux on Thursday

A great wave of demonstrations and strikes again swept France on Thursday, the 11th day of mobilisations since January. The battle is far from over, but the strategy has to shift.

The CGT union federation announced that there were “more than 370 gatherings planned today, an absolute record!” “Let’s keep up the pressure in the face of a cornered government,” it said. 

The movement began in January in response to president Emmanuel Macron’s decision to add two years to the age at which people can claim a pension. But it now has spread to take on questions about democracy, the violence of the police, and the way society is organised.

Some of the demonstrations were huge. Unions said 400,000 marched in Paris, 170,000 in Marseille and 50,000 in Nantes. 

From early morning protesters mobilised to block roads and roundabouts in Brest, Amiens, Caen, Lyon, Marseille, Vienne, Deux-Sèvres, and other towns and cities. 

In Paris, several hundred railway workers also invaded the headquarters of the multinational BlackRock. Strikers and supporters blockaded the capital’s Charles de Gaulle (Roissy) airport, beginning with a demonstration at Terminal 1 and then moving on to hit other terminals.

The FIDL school students’ union said “rebel youths” had blockaded at least 400 schools nationwide.

In Paris, rat catchers hurled rodent cadavers at City Hall. Natacha Pommet, a leader of the public services branch of the CGT said rat catchers wanted “to show the hard reality of their job” and that opposition to Macron’s pension attacks is broadening. “It’s bringing together all types of anger,” she said.

In a strong demonstration of internationalist solidarity, Belgian trade unionists blockaded a major oil depot that was set to supply French petrol stations with fuel. In a press release, the FGTB Petroleum and the FGTB union called for action against TotalEnergies and its “tactics of scabs and unfair competition by supplying the French market from Belgium, which usually never happens”.

In the capital activists pelted police with bottles and cobblestones when the protest reached La Rotonde, a restaurant used by Macron during the 2017 presidential election. Some parts of the awning of the elite venue were set on fire before cops extinguished the flames.

In several cities, including Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Rennes and Lyon,  cops met protests with volleys of tear gas. In Metz a truck crewed by well-known far right activists drove towards demonstrators and nearly ran them over. 

The previous strike day of 28 March mobilised 2 million people. This time it may have been slightly smaller, but still huge. And any reduction is because the unions’ strategy is unconvincing.

The strike continues to raise political issues. Agathe, a rail worker, who is one of those who have been on all-out strike since 7 March, told Mediapart website, “The strike doesn’t cost me much, it enriches me. I met a lot of people, in actions, in demonstrations. 

“We have forged links with employees from other sectors and that is very valuable in leading the fight. When we stop working, we take the time to think about the social and political organisation of the world, the wealth we create, and what society gives back to us, which is to say almost nothing. 

“We think about the place that the leaders give us in this society and also about the place we would like to take. And that’s why the strike is liberating. ”

 It’s an urgent question how workers and students can win on pensions and push out Macron. Sophie Binet, the new CGT general secretary, said that faced with the “deep anger” against the pension reform, the government “acts as if nothing had happened” and “lives in a parallel reality”. 

She added that “the mobilisation will continue in one form or another” after this week. But she dangerously posed the imminent ruling by the Constitutional Council as a source of hope. The council will rule on 14 April whether the pension measure was passed in a legal manner.

The body is stuffed with venerable political operatives and is not going to throw out Macron’s law. It may quibble over details, but not the entirety of it. Binet called on the council for “wisdom” and “to come to the conclusion that this reform is not necessary”. 

But the ruling class does think it’s necessary, to persuade workers that they are not able to overturn neoliberal measures. Hoping for it to be the movement’s saviour distracts from the real tasks of building and escalating the strikes and militant demonstrations.

The council is also expected to rule on whether to allow a referendum on the pension law. Under the convoluted official process, securing a popular vote requires a motion backed by 185 MPs—which it has obtained. Then 10 percent of voters—4.87 million people—have to sign a petition within nine months.

Fulfilling such conditions, which are open to many challenges and delaying tactics, again takes the focus away from the streets and workplaces.

Unions are calling another day of mobilisation next Thursday, 13 April, the day before the council’s announcements.

But occasional days of action aren’t working—the stakes are too high for the government. Leaders of all eight trade union federations met prime minister Elisabeth Borne on Wednesday. But predictably she made no concessions. The task is to rapidly move from spread-out action to a frontal confrontation.

As one strike put it on Thursday. “The union leaders should have called for a general strike from the start, general and renewable. Between the last day of mobilisation and today, ten days have passed! The government is not afraid of that.”

Winning such a shift means building the rank and file networks to go beyond the union leaders’ programme.

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