After a 12th day of action on 13th April, the national trade union leaders have called for the first of May – traditionally a day of demonstration for workers’ rights to be the time for “a tidal wave of protest”. In the meantime, every day, in different towns, there are demonstrations, and blockades of motorways or shopping centres, railways, universities or high schools. On 20th April, protesters invaded the headquarters of Euronext, who own the Paris Stock Exchange. “We chose the Stock Exchange,” explained one protestor, “because we want the richest companies to pay for our pensions with their endless millions”.
Macron has now signed his pensions bill into law, On the evening on Monday 17th, he gave a live speech “to the nation”. At the time of his speech, demonstrators gathered in front of town halls around the country to bang on saucepans and drown out his nonsense. All he had to offer was a vaporous collection of shallow slogans. He declared he needed “a hundred days” to “calm the situation down”. He promised “a new pact on life in the workplace”. No one believed him. Not only are 90% of employed people opposed to his idea of making us spend two years longer in the damned workplace, but those who have been following know that it was Macron who drastically reduced the power of Health and Safety Committees in workplaces and who continually attacks the rights of statutory staff representatives. Just before his speech we learned that only a quarter of those people who regularly vote for Macron thought his speech would help!
Determined to show he is in charge and can “turn the page”, Macron has organized a series of symbolic visits on other issues around the country, and has demanded that his ministers also get out and about and talk to people. On Thursday 20th, he chose a school in a small town of only 4 000 inhabitants, where he planned to make some announcements about teachers’ pay. Energy workers cut the electricity off at Montpellier airport as he arrived. Hundreds of demonstrators were waiting for him, and electricity workers cut off the power at the school he was going to, obliging him to speak in the playground and without a microphone. A massive police presence stopped demonstrators from approaching Macron, and people were searched, with saucepans being confiscated if found! Macron announced a pay rise for all teachers, but with plenty of strings attached, one example of a series of minor concessions this week.
On Friday there were five ministers in towns around the country, all met with saucepan banging crowds and protected by tear gas. Several Macronist ministers have found it easier to simply cancel their public appearances.
Although the movement has slowed, it is still very active and extremely popular (polls show that 64% of the entire population want the protests to continue, and 45% want more radical actions). The refusal of national union leadership to campaign for going beyond the weekly day of action made a quick victory against the pensions attack impossible, but Macron is not out of the woods yet.
Some of the Macron camp have cynically decided that now is the time to use racism to divide us. An immigration law aiming at making it easier to deport people, shelved a few weeks ago, is likely to be presented to parliament after all. And Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Finance, declared this week that the real worry of French people was benefit fraud, with the money from it “being sent to North Africa” he alleged. In fact, immigrants cost far less to social budgets than other members of the population, since they often arrive as adults (so their education is not paid for by France), and not infrequently leave France on retirement (so health costs in old age are not borne by France). In any case, all experts agree that tax fraud by richer citizens costs around a hundred billion euros, at least ten times more than benefit fraud. Le Maire’s comments show he is happy to encourage the far right in order to save his government’s skin.
Macron’s “hundred days to calm things down” have been declared by electricity unions “a hundred days of anger”. Major prestige events such as the Cannes film festival in May and Roland Garros tennis championship in June may well find that electricity is hard to come by. The first of May should be inspiringly huge. Nevertheless, more mass strike action will be necessary to win.