May day strikes in France

Submitted by SJW on 1 May, 2018 - 10:29 Author: Michael Elms
Solidarity with strikes in France

On Tuesday 1 May, French workers struck to hold over 240 demonstrations across France, as part of their battle against President Macron’s attacks on transport, education and the public sector.

In Paris, in spite of heavy police presence, a monster march of striking workers and their supporters shut down the east of the city. From across France, reports are coming in of outrageous police provocations, with gas and baton charges being used against workers and students.

In the days leading up to the 1 May strike, general assemblies were held in workplaces, where strike votes were taken by show of hands. Railworkers at Trappes in Yvelines took over motorway tollbooths and opened the barriers to motorists, leafleting drivers and coming away with huge donations to their strike fund.

Railway workers, education workers, civil servants and workers in Air France were particularly well-represented in the strike rallies.

Macron is proposing reforms to the railway system that would permit the parcelling-off and privatisation of the railway network and the closure of branch lines, undoing over a century of collective agreements and rights at work for rail workers. At the same time, Macron is proposing to slash over 100,000 jobs in public services. Workers at Air France are in dispute over pay: while Air France has announced a 42% rise in profits, they have offered their staff a measly 1% pay increase. And in the countryside, Macron is not only shutting branch rail lines, but rural schools as well: a move which is being met with mass campaigns.

In Hauts de Seine, a suburb of Paris, postal workers were out on strike, in a dispute with a bullying management which has victimised a popular socialist trade union representative, Gael Quirante. In solidarity with Gael, and in support of the strike movement more broadly, postal workers in distribution centres in several other Départements joined the action. In Hauts de Seine, the workers organised a community action on the strike day, serving kebabs in the neighbourhood.

Striking workers were backed up by an enormous student mobilisation. Macron has changed university entrance criteria. Previously any student holding a baccalaureate qualification could sign onto a university course of their choice: now the government’s Parcoursup system limits student choice based on grades: a move that students and teachers condemn as a step towards a UK style system of class-based selection. Dozens of universities across France are now mobilised, with mass meetings being held regularly to organise the movement. In Rennes 2, thousands of students attended a democratic mass meeting (or General Assembly) on 30 April. In Paris and elsewhere, delegations of striking students have been visiting local workplaces throughout the struggle.

In March, the Trotskyist former presidential candidate Olivier Besancenot issued a unity call to the rest of the French left.
10 organisations of the left answered the call, but not the Parti Socialiste (which is not in opposition to the government), or France Insoumise (whose position is one of haughty sectarianism). On 30 April, hundreds attended a unity rally and united press conference in Place de la République. It was addressed by Pierre Laurent, head of the French Communist Party, Besancenot, and figures from other left groups like Ensemble. Laurent spelled out an electoralist attitude to the fight, saying that four years hence voters needed to punish Macron; Besancenot called for united strike action to defeat and remove Macron now.

Many rank-and-file trade union activists warn that the historic tactic of the trade union leaderships in France – of “perlé”, or strung-out, isolated days of action – won’t work, that an escalation to all-out strike action in the currently-mobilised sectors is needed. But the workers’ movement needs to fight Macron on the political level as well.

In order to draw more sectors of workers into the fight to defeat Macron over his governmental programme, the workers’ movement needs to pose a political alternative: a perspective for a workers’ government to replace Macron’s bosses’ government.

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