Over the last few weeks, millions of French workers have been on strike over and over again to stop the government’s plans to raise the retirement age. Sarkozy, who describes himself as “the French Thatcher”, has tried to impose a new pensions regime on French workers which would mean that most workers couldn’t draw a full pension until the age of 67.
These strikes have been powerful: much of France has been brought to a halt by petrol shortages and rail strikes. In certain sectors, such as oil and transport, the strike has been continuous; in other sectors, it has been limited to one-day actions. On some of these one-day actions, 3.5million workers have been in the streets.
How did the French do it? Speaking to Tubeworker, one French national rail worker said, “this isn’t Asterix - there is no magic potion, there is nothing in the water over here”. The strikes have been powerful because of the level of rank-and-file democracy that is taken for granted in many French trade unions – on the rails and in other sectors, the decision about whether to strike has been made every morning in mass meetings in the workplace, where all workers on a site discuss and vote by a show of hands. That’s not just because French unions are more democratic than UK unions – it’s also because through hard political battles they have been able to stop the kind of anti-trade union laws that bosses use to shackle unions in Britain.
Another strength of the French strike movement has been the unity of different sectors. Different workplaces send delegations to each others’ morning meetings, and every lunchtime on a strike day, all the different sectors come together for a rally in the city centre – where they are joined by students and youth.
There is no mystery about what the French are doing – we can do it too: and we also need to help them! Email solidarity messages from yourself or your branch to Tubeworker, and we will translate them and pass them on to railworkers in Paris!