French workers on the move

French workers on the move against pension reforms

History is repeating itself in France

French workers are on the move against the Macron government’s planned pension reforms. The angry workers came out on the streets to protest in huge numbers across France. The macron government wants to increase the pension age and withdraw the facility of early retirement in the hazardous and stressful work conditions. Hundreds of thousands of workers across the country joined the strikes and massive protest rallies.

The Strikes and demonstrations took place yesterday, 9 January 2020, throughout France against President Macron’s pension cuts plans. Large protests took place in Paris and other mass demonstrations across the country – the biggest and most extensive, so far.
French workers are once again showing the tradition of resistance and militant struggles. French workers have the rich tradition of struggles and fighting for their rights. They are fighting against the French government’s plans to change the pension laws for more than a month. They are determined to fight it out.  
The mass strike movement in France against government attacks on pension rights is now the longest since the revolutionary general strike of 1968. After more than a month, it has also lasted longer than the public sector strike of 1995 that ended in victory over the Chirac-Juppe government.
President Macron’s government wants to increase the pension age for all workers and scrapping early retirement for those in particularly arduous and stressful jobs. In his New Year speech, however, Macron made it perfectly clear he had no intention of stepping in to ease the situation and a dramatic escalation of the movement is already underway.

The macron government thought that the workers will exhaust soon. The strikes and mass protests will soon be tired out. But the strikes and protests are spreading with the passage of time. The French working class showed its resilience and ability to fight long drawn battles. 
The strike that broke out in France on 5 December last year has already seen hundreds of thousands of workers on the move in a struggle that has been threatening for a long time. In 2019- there were already thousands of demonstrations- strikes and struggles, some of them very long and drawn out as in the hospital sector.

One protest leaflet expressed the sentiments of French working class in these words” the stakes are so high that the entry into the battle of millions helps us to see that it is we – the industrial workers, transport workers, building workers, shop workers as well as teachers, nurses, firefighters, civil servants – who are the ones who make everything function, that without us nothing happens. We have to fight for a general strike that says ‘workers, youth, pensioners, we are the majority in society, we are the power!’ The potential for getting rid of Macron is very real.”

The list of those already participating includes not only the traditional militants in the docks, the factories, the depots, but also teachers, care-workers, telephone operators. Just before Christmas, striking singers and dancers from two famous opera houses in Paris showed their determination to fight against having their pension rights undermined by performing on stage at Paris protests. Lawyers are staying at home.

This week, it is reported that five out of eight refineries are not just blockaded but involved in the strike. Workers in the chemical factories are joining in. Last week a collective called ‘SOS Pensions’ announced that its 700,000 members will be joining the protests. These include self-employed doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, airline staff, and accountants. (Air France’s second-largest pilots’ union is now joining the strikes after the larger union at Air France called off its action after getting agreement from the government to retain full pensions at 60)

All this has echoes of the historic strikes and occupations of both 1936 and 1968, though not developing to the same extent from below and, so far, without the workplace occupations. The Russian revolutionary leader, Leon Trotsky spoke of a “roll-call” of workers joining the action in 1936. To some extent, history is repeating itself – the magnificent history of working class struggle in France.

The radicalization-mobilisation and participation is yet not on the scale of revolutionary movement of May 1968 which threatened the strong government of General De Gaul. Today’s movement does not have all the characteristics of the mass strike wave of 1968. That revolt began among the student youth and was taken up by workers across the country. Today- university and school students are yet to become fully involved, including taking their own ‘strike’ action but the potential exists.

                                         Khalid Bhatti


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