Mass strikes against pension reform in France

Posted October 20, 2010

In recent weeks, millions of French workers and students have gone on strike and participated in massive demonstrations against proposed changes to the country’s pension system. President Nicolas Sarkozy wishes to push through a change to that would raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. This attempt has become a social clash over which class will pay for the ongoing economic crisis: the rich elite, or the working majority.

The union leadership, tied to the Socialist Party and its perspective of election-based reform hope to confine actions to periodic “days action” to stir up and direct anger towards the approaching elections. As protest has spilled over into broader and open-ended strikes, there is a real possibility of the enormous social power of the working class successfully turning back the pension attack. Oil refineries and rail line has been shut down, strangling transportation across the country. Thousands of schools have been struck, hundreds of them blockaded. Airports and shipping docks are closed. Elsewhere, riot police have been deployed and attacked demonstrators.

The statement below was published by the New Anticapitalist Party, an effort born in 2009 to unite the revolutionary socialist left with the most committed anticapitalist activists of the movements. Thanks to Andrew and Jean-Louis for translation assistance.

Gagner c’est possible! Winning is Possible!

October 18, 2010

The past seven weeks of strikes and demonstrations have continued to escalate, showing a progressive development of mobilization.

After the success of Saturday, October 16th, the day of strikes and demonstrations on October 19th is another success with three and a half million people in the street and massive youth presence. High school and university students have entered the fray.

Each time, several million demonstrators confirm a profound movement spanning the entire country. An unpopular reform, opposed by 70% of the population, can only encourage those who struggle to push others to take part in the demonstrations or to support the movement.

The September 7th demonstrations and strikes were a means to express discontent, but fell short of inspiring sufficient confidence to say that it was possible to win.

Little by little, things have changed. The strength of numbers in the recent demonstrations, the well received strikes, and discussions between colleagues have restored courage. The arrogance of power has finally convinced the most timid of the need to retaliate, not to give up. In the movement there is a strength of heart that cannot be measured by the number of demonstrators. It is something profound: the idea that “common law” is on our side and “if our pockets are empty and the cup is full” that its time to raise your head. It’s a question of dignity.

This consciousness, little by little, follows the rhythm of the strikes and the protests. But each time it has become increasingly clear that days of action are spaced apart and are not enough to reverse the ruling.

In fact, it has not been discussed that in the strike that ended a few weeks ago, 61% of those polled said they would support prolonged strikes!

There needs to be a push in the right direction… and all of the trade union federations must be pushed by the movement. The federations are careful to avoid an open political crisis, but through a general strike, the law can be repealed!

The October 12th strike has seen key sectors, namely transporation (ports, SNCF [Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer, the railway workers], public transit, airlines) and energy (refineries, EDF centers [Électricité de France, the national electricity company], etc), begin or increase activity. But there are also a multitude of other areas where the strike has spread: in office cubicles and at service windows there have been one-hour work stoppages at tax and employment centers, among municipal employees, postal workers, healthcare and education, etc. And, of course, the arrival of highschool and university students!

There has rarely been so much activity seen across the board. It moves in all directions and grows: local demonstrations are organized in practically no time, meetings between workers of different sectors, blocked entrances to industrial zones, etc.

In some places, like in Le Havre, there are general assemblies held each night across professions that publish a strike paper in connection with the unions. Elsewhere, the general assembly of railway workers join pickets at refineries, professors speak at the assembly spokescouncil, and more. It’s a kind of reconstruction, the return of a practice of struggle, of organizations necessary, but forgotten for too long.

And within days, the climate has changed. It’s a turn! We feel that in can swing around, that mobilization can win, that there is a chance to seize: that victory is possible. But for this goal, even if there are a number of strikes here and there, they are still too few and too scattered.

It’s through the strike that we can weigh in on the balance of power. By the strike, we remember that it’s us who keep the economy turning, that all wealth is the product of our work. And if — because of the increasingly precarious situation they face, many workers (interim, contractors, unemployed, those on welfare) are unable to strike — it becomes necessary to bring them into the movement in other ways, particularly in blockades and mass demonstrations.

But it’s the strike that stops the economy, that enables workers to take time to reunite and organize, to go and connect with other workers in neighboring businesses, and to take their fight in hand. It’s the task that faces us now.

The anxiety of a government that beats on its youth and sends police into refineries confirms the sense that nothing should be let go. We must move between the strikes here and those who are still hesitant. In this mass rejection there hides another: behind the rejection of the pension cuts is the rejection of Sarkozy and his politics in service of capitalism.

This is a crisis, both social and political — a profound movement that calls for the rejection of Sarkozy, Fillon and the others, like Woerth! They must yield or step down!