Eyewitness reports of French General Strike

Submitted by Maisie on 12 January, 2020 - 1:06 Author: Convergences RĂ©volutionnaires

This is a translated report written on the evening of Thursday 9 January of the strikes in France. It was written by activists in the French group Etincelle - you can read more of their coverage here

Summary of 9 January day of action
Today's day of action was a clear success. All reports tell of determined mobilisations, even if the number of participants is the same as or slightly down on 5 or 17 December. Taking the police figures, we are still looking at a movement that's twice as big as the biggest day of action during the movement against the labour law [2016 El Khomri law].

As for strikes: there has been a spectacular increase in strike figures on national rails (SNCF) and RATP (buses), after things had calmed down over the last three weeks (although the metro had not calmed down at all, and has seen an exceptionally high level of strike action for 36 days). More than two thirds of drivers were on strike on this 36th day, almost one third of all rail workers. In the education sector we saw the fourth mass (majority or nearly majority) strike day in one month.

The government is floundering. We are starting to hear discord among Modem [centre liberal] or En Marche [governing, Macronist] MPs. Ministers are still unable to answer simple questions about the reform (see this video of the question time at the National Assembly where Pietrascewski blusters at a Socialist Party MP https://www.facebook.com/RossignolLaurence/videos/617856792310578/) Even the most pro-government commentators are worried about the fact that tomorrow's planned staged compromise with the CFDT union federation has had any influence on the strikes, as that union federation has no power over events.

Having difficulty on their own chosen battlefield of dishonest dialogue and partnership, the government has deployed its cops in a show of force agains the demosntrations in many towns. In Paris and Rouen, they have targeted well-known strikers and sometimes union leaders. That's a risky, hard-line decision to take, and it could come back to bite them. According to initial discussions, this has only reinforced the determination of the core strikes (naturally) and it could inspire a broader layer to rise in protest, as wide circles are already angry at Macron (something we have to encourage and take quick stock of on Saturday). Demonstrations at police stations are being organised and they must be as big as possible.

In SNCF and RATP, doubts have been expressed in recent days, taking the form of a deadline: if no other sectors join the action after 11 January then it's curtains. But this argument was already being heard among railworkers on... 5 December, with the idea that if they were still alone on 9 December, then it would be game over. But after 36 days, the strike has remained at a higher level than in the other recent open-ended strike battles, all of which lasted less than half this time...

Clearly, the 36 strike days are weighing heavily on people's bank balances. And without a real open-ended strike mobilisation in another sector, there is a fear that numbers of strikers in SNCF and RATP will drop off in the coming days. But a lot of strikers also insist that there is no reason to go back to work after 36 days without even having won on the first demand: pensions. This determination will certainly be stiffened by the demonstration this afternoon, whose numbers shot back up. We have to rely on this determination to keep the strike going at all costs, until the bill is withdrawn: we have to organise the determination and push it to the bitter end. This is also the case, to a lesser extent, in the education sector, where all attempts at an open-ended minority strike are being noticed and hailed even by workers who aren't taking part in the strike. It's also possible that if we see some workers returning to work, a factor there might be that their colleagues are remaining mobilised, and they are just waiting for the moment to get back into the action.

The tug-of-war continues. In this long-running situation, union leaders are manoeuvring. The CFDT wants to discuss in the summer with Macron and MEDEF [French bosses' union] as part of the "Finance Conference" about how poverty shall be shared out. But will the government announce on Saturday that they're dropping even the pretence of concessions aimed at the CFDT in view of the latter's weakness in the strike movement? In any case, the "withdrawal" demand remains unaltered.

As for the CGT and friends, this evening's communiqué "we're carrying on!" and the setting of three days of action for the following week (14, 15, 16 January) is an encouragement to carrying on the RATP/SNCF/Education strike at least until Tuesday at any rate. But the formulations used in the communiqué are far from combative, and hint at the possibility of an about-face in the next few days. To quote only the last sentence: "holding workplace General Assemblies everywhere to debate ways of keeping up the mobilisation as part of the strike started on 5/12" What a roundabout way of putting it!

The agenda for Friday-Saturday is packed. In the Parisian Region, as well as strike pickets and General Assemblies, there will be a rally in front of police stations for those arrested at the demo. RATP central meeting at Vincennes at 10am (called without union backing at first, then joined by the CGT in Paris 94 and Sud Rail at Gare de Lyon - there will surely be people there, but what perspectives will the organisers put forward?); strike party at Montreuil in the evening organised by Sud Rail and Solidaires RATP...

On Saturday, demonstration called by strikers, unions and Yellow Vests. And in no time at all it'll be Tuesday 14 January...

On Friday, at this key moment in the strike, there will be a new RATP/SNCF regional co-ordinating meeting at 3pm, just after the outcome of the "negotiations" between [PM Edouard] Philippe and the CFDT - which, shamefully, the CGT is taking part in. This meeting, if successful, could take on political importance in this situation, all the more so the more SNCF/RATP strikers from all regions take part, and the more the meeting gives a show of will to continue the fight.

We'll conclude with an extract from an article in Le Monde on tonight's Paris demo:
"Allan is getting ready to protest on Saturday again. The maintenance electrician and CGT rep at PSA in Yvelines is even going to spend a good chunk of his Friday on mobilising his colleagues "because you can't work in engineering until you're 64, that's just wrong. If you're making one car every 1 minute 45 seconds, productivity is very high and staff are worked very hard. "
Meanwhile, Allan is finishing the day with a dash of pride: "Look at this demo. It's not a last stand. People aren't giving up, there's a lot of them, and they're happy. So maybe today we're not strong enough to win, but the government isn't strong enough to crush us. "

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