France 2010: discussing slogans, ideas, and proposals

Submitted by martin on 26 October, 2010 - 2:19 Author: Martin Thomas

As we returned from France on 24 October, the AWL delegation discussed the different views we had heard from French activists about the ideas, slogans, and proposals that revolutionary socialists should put forward in the strike movement.

The CGT union confederation: "Pensions: the durable solution. Jobs, wages, justice, solidarity!"

The Solidaires (SUD) union confederation: "Withdrawal of the draft law. General strike".

The NPA: pictures of president Sarkozy and social affairs minister Woerth, with the call "Out!", and the sub-heading "Because they are worth nothing" (a pun. The banknote in the background evokes the Bettencourt scandal).

Lutte Ouvriere: "What parliament does, the street can undo".

Parti de Gauche (left splinter from the socialist party, now allied with the CP and the Gauche Unitaire, a splinter from the NPA, in the Front de Gauche): "Tax profits! Retirement is at 60".

Communist Party: "Capitalism is not the solution, it is the problem. Taxing financial profits = 22 billions for our pensions. Other choices are possible".

Socialist Party: "For a just, workable, and durable reform. Universal and personalised pensions".

Bedrock for everyone was the demand for the withdrawal of Sarkozy's attack on pension rights, rather than the feeble call made by the union and Socialist Party leaders for "negotiation" on the issue.

Also fairly axiomatic is agitation for strike committees, freshly elected, democratic, and accountable, and for joint committees linking up across trades and industries.

Along with that goes the call for the unions to move from days of action, plus license to more militant sections to organise open-ended strike action, to a full general strike.

All the unions emphasise that the fight over pensions "is also" a fight over jobs, public services, etc. The twist here is that this emphasis can function as an assurance that other issues are "already covered" by the campaign over pensions - an issue where the union leaders think that the government can easily make some concessions, since most of the money it will save from the pension changes is many years in the future.

Revolutionary socialists could counter this by calling for the right to a decent job to be established by cutting work hours without loss of pay and by expanding public services.

To mobilise the necessary resources, the rich should be taxed heavily and high finance should be taken into public ownership, to be run as a public banking, mortgage, and pension service under democratic control.

Such proposals sketch an outline of a workers' plan for the crisis. But to put them through, the working class needs a government willing to put them through.

There is no adequate mass workers' party ready to replace Sarkozy. But that can't mean that, when Sarkozy reaches record levels of unpopularity, we say that there is no point demanding his ouster, because anyone else plausible will be just as bad. That would amount to saying to workers: put up with Sarkozy, because if you threw him out you would vote for someone just as bad.

The argument about whether or not to link the call for "Sarkozy out" to a call for the dissolution of the National Assembly and early elections seems almost academic.

The resignation of a president under France's constitution is not like the resignation of a prime minister in Britain, or even of a president in the USA. There is no mechanism for the presidential powers to be quietly handed to a chosen successor.

If the president of France resigns, become incapacitated, or dies, the chairperson of the Senate takes over immediately, but only with limited powers, and with an obligation to call a new presidential election in between 20 and 35 days.

Even a Socialist Party candidate elected to replace Sarkozy would have the right, and would surely use the right, to dissolve Parliament and call early elections as soon as she or he took office. In other words, resignation of the president and early parliamentary elections are inseparable unless the right wins the presidential election following the resignation.

There is another argument: that the calling of any election, presidential or parliamentary, would function as a drain on the struggle, persuading workers to quiet down and wait to resolve the issues at the ballot box.

That argument would be decisive if the workers' struggle rose to the level of a full-scale general strike, with workers' councils being formed across the country, giving workers a political opening much greater than any parliamentary election. But we are not there yet. Short of that level of battle, just the argument that workers should keep up action to win demands rather than relying on parliamentary outcomes suffices.

Revolutionary socialists can raise the general (and, inevitably, at this stage, somewhat abstract) call for a workers' government. We can raise demands on the SP and the CP to commit themselves on some key immediate issues like pensions and cuts. We can call on them to be answerable to the organisations created in the working-class struggle (if the struggle develops organisations with real life and autonomy at national level).

All such agitation would of course have to be balanced and modulated so as not to detract from immediate calls for strike action and so as not to appear to preach any sort of credulity about the SP and CP leaders.

Are there sharper, more incisive ways to contribute to discussion in the movement about political perspectives? We don't know.

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