Mass strikes defend workers’ rights

Submitted by Matthew on 8 June, 2016 - 10:38 Author: Olivier Delbeke

The strike in France for the withdrawal of the “labour law” is continuing to spread slowly, and this week alone it has won over the waste treatment centres; it is continuing in the refineries; it is supported by thousands of local groups of activists, in particular CGT members, who are active in logistics and transport centres.

Meanwhile, on 2 June we saw 30,000 demonstrating in Le Havre, and 45,000 in Marseilles. There is also a strike at Amazon, and in the Bio Habitat firm.
No-one is still keeping count of incidents of police brutality in the strike movement, but a threshold was crossed in the last few days.

Romain Dussaux, attacked with a tear-gas grenade on 26 May in Paris, without any provocation, has been fighting for his life in hospital.

Christophe Mirmand, police prefect in Ille-et-Vilaine, has justified ramming automobiles into protestors, the use of tear gas and the beating of demonstrators and journalists in Rennes on 2 June. He also justified the storming of a St Malo college being occupied by parents, teachers and students to prevent its closure by the state (planned for September). Eleven children took refuge with the fire brigade, of whom three were wounded.

It is worth noting that this last incident was not a demonstration against the El Khomri law, but it shows that the issues are being generalised and drawn together, on both sides. From below, there is a desire for unity, to press all the social demands. From above, there is indignation, which is turning the French police into the major enemy of public order in France.

It’s now clear to everyone what’s going on. In the middle of May, we were deluged with articles about “hooligans” and “anti-cop hate”, with rolling media coverage of an inadmissible attack against a Paris police car on the fringe of an Alliance and Front National demonstration. The storm was generated by Hollande and Manuel Valls.

It now appears that there is no proof that the “suspects” who were arrested were there… apart from the testimony of a plainclothes police officer, who seems to have been a part of the group of attackers.

The lesson is clear: it is the Executive branch of the state, it is the government, who is guilty of fostering disorder and hooliganism. Beating up children — this is the reality of the passage of the labour law by executive order. This is the regime of the 5th Republic, with its back to the wall.
The movement of strikes and demonstrations against the El Khomri labour law is continuing in spite of it all, precisely because it has put its political character firmly on the agenda. The movement is confronting the government, the president and the regime, to get rid of them, to impose democracy, and to bring to account those who are responsible, at the highest level, for the violence, and the breaches of human rights, both social and democratic.

The movement is the real defender of civil liberties.

The media is spreading the rumour that the FO trade union is ready to give up on fighting the withdrawal of the law in return for amendments to the law’s Article 2 — and now we hear that the CGT is making similar noises. But Article 2 is the “inversion of the hierarchy of norms” [i.e. the provision which permits local agreements taking precedence over national agreements], it’s the heart of the law.

The only possible “amendment’” to it would be to “invert the inversion”: to re-establish the primacy of the law, of the labour code and national agreements over local agreements. In other words: the only possible amendment is the withdrawal of the law.

The CGC (a white-collar, managers’ union) is now calling for the withdrawal of the El Khomri law. The CFDT’s steelworkers’ section likewise. It is clear that supporters of the movement mean to descend on Paris in massive numbers on 14 June.

In part, there is a will to march in the capital in order to silence, and threaten, police provocateurs. People are getting fed up of exhortations to stop the movement for the sake of Euro 2016.

The movement is on the march: and although there will be fluctuations, it will not stop. It is a political movement, and it is taking aim at the regime.

*Olivier Delbeke is an editor of the French socialist newsletter Arguments pour la lutte sociale.

Strike facts

The strike has taken root across several sectors, and in particular

• The refineries, where six out of eight are now entering their third week of strike action.
• The transport sector, with the mobilisation of road freight drivers and public transport. Following negotiations on Monday 6 June the rail workers’ strike is continuing.
• The energy sector, with several actions having taken at off-peak times, strikes at EDF and RTE, at the Noisy-Le-Sec and Villeneuve-La-Garenne.
• Eight waste and refuse treatment sites, including the TIRU site (Paris, 13th district), which has been on strike for eight days.
• Amazon, where, despite repression, three or four sites are on strike;
• Dockers will hold a 24-hour strike action on 9 June and observe a ban on overtime and extraordinary shifts from 6 June;
• A mobilisation is spreading in the private sector, with various forms of action: open-ended (“reconductible”) strikes in several agri-food businesses (Nestlé in Morbihan, Haribo Perrier in Gard, Jacquet in Puy-de-Dôme, Tabac in le Havre); metallurgy (LME in Nord, Iveco Annonay in Ardèche, Peugeot Mulhouse); and retail (Intermarché, Leclerc in Haute-Garonne), glassmaking (Verralia), etc.
• On 7 June, a strike will take place at Roissy airport, which will bring together hundreds of strikers and all the sub-contracted firms.

Information from the CGT trade union federation.

Belgium: striking against austerity

A growing wave of opposition to austerity and changes to labour laws saw Belgium train drivers and public sector workers strike on Tuesday 31 May.

On the same day a march in Brussels highlighted cuts in public services. The current mobilisations are in many ways a continuation of the trade union struggles of autumn 2014.

International Viewpoint magazine comments: “As with Valls and Hollande in France, the Christian Democrat Kris Peeters [Minister of Employment and Labour] wants ... annualisation of working time (up to 45 hours per week), temporary contracts for an unlimited period of time, re-employment of the long-term sick … But the discontent in the population is general: it is also about extending the time taken to reach pension age, exclusions from the right to claim unemployment benefit, and other regressive measures that contrast with gifts to the rich and the bosses..

“Air traffic controllers spontaneously withdrew their labour for several days after the [bomb] attacks, denouncing their working conditions. French speaking prison guards have been on strike for five weeks already to protest against the lack of staff. French speaking train drivers have joined them since May 25 against a management diktat that wants to extend their working hours with loss of pay.

“Spontaneous actions have formed a common front which has led the Walloon CGSP (FGTB section in the public sector) to adopt a resolution that gives official support to all actions beyond 31 May 31]....

“For now, this dynamic is unfolding almost exclusively in the public sector in the south of the country, where there is an atmosphere of an impending general strike to drive the [right wing coalition] Michel government from office. As a result the polarisation between left and right in unions is sharpening and is developing a communitarian twist. If the more right wing trade union apparatus in Flanders is not dragged along in turn, there is a fear that some union sectors might be torn apart on communitarian lines. This would have serious consequences for all workers...”

Both the FGTB union (1.5 million members) and the National Confederation of Employees (the main organisation of the Christian union in the Francophone areas) have called a general strike for 24 June.

• Full article here