Victory to the French strikers – update from Paris
Updated: Apr 10, 2020
John Mullen, Monday 9 December
(This article follows on from the previous article written on 4th December)
The strike explosion in France is still going strong. 85% of trains are not running Monday, and 9 of the Paris metro lines are completely closed. There were 631 kilometres of traffic jams around Paris on Monday morning: this is an all-time record and a sharp symbol of the power of organized workers.
And unions have called for generalized strikes again Tuesday 10th December. Teachers and town hall workers, nurses and other public sector employees will be on strike again, and there is a chance that large numbers of private sector workers will join in. Several universities have already been closed by their presidents for fear of student occupations, and more student mobilization is expected this week.
Last Thursday half the schools were closed, and over a million people joined demonstrations in over 200 towns. In Paris fire fighters on strike and in uniform went in front of the demonstrators and made the riot police retreat and abandon their plans to kettle the protest.
The government is shaken and immediately began making minor concessions, hoping to divide and rule. First they are hinting that the new system will only apply to people born after 1973 (it was to have been 1963). But there’s this thing called class consciousness: workers over 45 are thinking about their younger workmates and about their children and are not going to be bribed. Then some minister has been promising substantial wage rises for teachers (among the most mobilized) in 2021. But teachers don't even believe the promises any more.
Not having a really coherent party used to dealing with such crises, Macron cannot get his ministers to agree on a strategy. The meeting of his cabinet which was planned for Monday lunchtime has been postponed till Tuesday night, so that they can see just how scared they need to be.
For the moment, national leaders of two of the three biggest union federations are calling for the strikes to continue. These are professional negotiators who are hoping that their negotiating position will be improved by the movement, but do not want an explosive all-or-nothing protest.
It is exceptional that they should call for a second day of generalized strike action only 5 days after the previous one, and a sign that pressure from below is overwhelming. And mass meetings of train and metro workers have already voted to continue for several days.
This level of blockage of the economy has not been seen since 1995. Public support is so high that mainstream TV channels are now feeling obliged to screen long interviews with strikers, alongside the usual anti strike propaganda. A poll taken Friday found 53% had a positive opinion of the strike movement.
Both reformist and revolutionary left activists are building the strike on the ground, and on prime time TV the MPs of the left reformist France Insoumise are calling for the maximum of people to get involved. The Communist party is organizing a major public meeting on the 11th to defend their “alternative proposal” on pensions.
A new embarrassment for the government hit the newspapers Monday – Jean-Paul Delevoye, author of the influential report which recommended this reform of pensions, had hidden the fact that he is a director of an important training institute for private insurance companies! These companies are hoping to make millions from the weakening of the state pension system!
Macron thought up this scheme when he was feeling strong, just after his election. But the Yellow Vest movement has weakened him. It is very difficult to know what will happen next, but when a major TV channel headlines “Has the government played its last cards?”, there must be some chance of stopping this attack. More sectors need to be persuaded to strike, and far more strikers persuaded that this is not just a strike to protest a principle – we can actually win.