By Olivier Rubens
On 3 October, 80,000 workers from EDF-GDF demonstrated in Paris against the privatisation of their company and attacks on their rights. This was followed on 17 October by a national strike in the education sector. The two strikes were in opposition to the neoliberal attacks of the Raffarin government on public services and its questioning of workers rights.
On 26 November it was the turn of the rail workers. A national demonstration of 100,000 people was held in Paris at the call of all the rail trade union federations. It was a rallying point for other sections of the civil service and public services who want a united front of all workers against the attacks of the bosses and the government.
The demonstration's success (with 80,000 workers from the rail company SNCF participating) came despite the fact that there had not been a call for a strike on the railways.
In air transport, the postal service, telecoms and the civil service, strike calls were variously well heeded. The government claimed 13% of civil servants were on strike, whereas even the union federations didn't nudge in that direction.
If the union federation FO have played the tough guys nationally, at the local or federal level things have been different. In the truckers sector, FO have signed an agreement with the bosses that is seen to have stabbed in the back the CGT and CFDT [other trade union federations] militants who wanted to relaunch a wide-ranging dispute.
The federal leadership of CGT does not want to link the current disputes, but the civil service CGT federation, that of the post and numerous local structures want a common mobilisation of their sectors, along with the rail workers.
On the one hand, the federal leaderships of the CGT, FO, CFDT and FSU don't want to annoy the government: on the other hand there are union groups and structures which want a united voice. This situation is the same in every union federation.
The coming weeks will tell whether the grass-roots and the militants can impose their will or whether the union leaders and those of the left (Socialist Party and Communist Party) will be able to block the social mobilisation and protect Chirac and Raffarin as they do so.
Time is pressing, because Chirac and Raffarin want to transform their electoral successes from the 5 May and the June parliamentary elections to do at last what the French right and bourgeoisie have been dreaming of for 20 years : to inflict a defeat on workers and on their organisations comparable to Thatcher's defeat of the miners in 1984.