France: “all together, all at once!”

Submitted by SJW on 9 May, 2018 - 1:09 Author: Olivier Delbeke

On the student front, the waltz of police interventions continues, with a violent attack by the cops in Grenoble on the campus there, to chase away blockaders, who were trying to prevent end-of-year exams from being held. The cops gassed and battered not only strikers but also students who were trying to sit their tests.

The degree of police violence on campuses is determined by two factors.

Firstly, a weak level of mass organisation resulting from the retreat of UNEF after 2006, and so difficulties in launching and building mass movements at a time when people can’t get together peacefully in general assemblies or take over lecture theatres by night. This limitation prevents the necessary discussions which could allow the movement to mature and expand.

University managers are generally in favour of subjecting universities to neoliberal mutations, and aren’t inclined to show generosity towards the students. They are doing everything that they can to hobble the movement and don’t hesitate to call the police, as is their legal power, every time.

Since the Easter holidays (late April), there has been a to-and-fro of universities coming back into action, and others which have quietly returned to their exams following police interventions.

A few universities stand out: Rennes 2, Toulouse-Le Mirail, Paris-8-Vincennes (St-Denis, … Even the ENS, the Ecole Normale Supérieure, a temple of higher-education elitism, has been touched by the mobilisation, albeit sporadically and temporarily.

On 22 May, the first effects of the new Parcoursup admissions system will make themselves felt, with the first unis responding to attempts by young people to sign up to bachelor’s degree courses. We can expect that tens of thousands of young people and their families will have every reason to get angry, when faced with the muddle of this new system which is designed to leave tens of thousands of young people on the scrapheap.

The big event is the meeting at Matignon of the railworkers’ union federations with the Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.
The unions didn’t want to carry on talking with the Transport Minister, and demanded this meeting. It has emerged that Philippe is not offering any more than his minister.

So the strike will go on. The political problem is that it cannot remain isolated, and other sectors must join the struggle, on their demands, against the government’s policy: “all together, all at once!” .

On the weekend of 5-6 May the bosses and government suffered a further shock in a referendum organised by the CEO of Air France, which was intended to stump the unions, who had been engaged in a week’s-long fight for an immediate 6% pay increase.

The CEO offered an immediate 2% increase and 5% staggered over four years. He pledged to resign if the offer was rejected by workers. With 55% voting against, on an 80% turnout, the CEO’s blackmail failed and he will resign.

The attempt to set the Air France workers against pilots, who were portrayed as privileged and well-off, failed. All grades of workers (pilots, stewards, engineers, cleaners, etc.) united to demand what was theirs after several years of wage stagnation. Despite the blackmail from the company that says the firm is in danger, the workers are holding firm and this is very bad news for Macron.

22 May will also be the moment of a national strike of civil servants, called by all the civil service trade unions, even the CFDT and the UNSA! The stakes of the movement are clear: the government wants to dynamite the civil service between now and 2022, by destroying civil servants’ special employment rights; by recruiting workers on insecure contracts; by bringing about a performance-based pay regime instead of any general increase in pay; restricting institutions that represent workers by fusing CHSCT [health and safety committees] with Technical Committees]; and by reducing the remit of parity commissions which deal with promotions and career progression.

Finally, Macron wants to cut 120,000 civil service jobs by 2022, and is making them offers to induce them to leave.
On the pretext of a slight reduction in unemployment, the government has just announced its intention to cut 4,000 jobs in Pôle Emploi [job centres].

On 14 June, the trade union federations organising pensioners will put on new demonstrations against the rise in the CSG [national insurance contributions], which is hitting all pensions, small and large; and also to demand an increase in pensions. This mobilisation also raises the need for better funding for hospitals and sheltered accommodation for older people.
In the post office, there are battles against closures, sackings or increased workload and against repression from bosses. The most famous case of the latter is that of the secretary of the 92 SUD Postal Workers’ union branch, Gael Quirante, who was sacked for trade union activity by the Minister for Labour himself!

Everywhere, there is a certain ferment. The political problem is to avoid it getting diluted. The problem is one of bringing about unity to get rid of Macron as quickly as possible. And that itself raises a series of problems.

The congress of the Force ouvrière (FO) trade union saw a massive rejection of the outgoing general secretary, Jean-Claude Mailly, who openly collaborated with Macron over decrees against the Labour Code. And this needs to be translated into real engagement by FO in national united cross-sectoral actions.

In the CGT, the problem takes the form of statements by general secretary Martinez, saying “the CGT doesn’t want to get rid of Macron, it doesn’t do politics, it wants to show its independence”.

Real trade union independence doesn’t consist in saying that you don’t do politics: it’s doing everything to help workers win their demands, regardless of their impact on the longevity or fragility of the government.

There are obstacles to the movement taking off, as well. This was expressed very frankly by François Ruffin, the France Insoumise deputy for the Somme, following the demonstration on 5 May in Paris which brought together between 40,000 and 100,000 people aiming to “give Macron a slap”: “it isn’t about getting rid of him”.

This de-prioritisation of “getting rid of him” manifests itself in a certain number of political, trade union and civil society organisations are to meet following a call by Attac and the Fondation Copernic [leftwing think tank] on 26 May, when they are expected to issue a call for a “people’s tide to rise against Macron”. The final decision will be taken on 16 May, and will come to a conclusion on the form: national demonstration in Paris or decentralised marches in all towns and cities. For now, the CGT, SUD, the PCF, the NPA, Ensemble, GDS, the PCOF [Hoxhaist] and others will take part.

In the meantime, the [Lambertiste] Democratic Independent Workers’ Party (POID) is calling for a demonstration marking 50 years since the 13 May 1968 demonstration whose main slogan was “De Gaulle, ten years, that’s enough!” under the slogan: “Macron, one year, that’s enough” and “unite to get rid of him”.

It is a shame that the POID didn’t try to seriously expand its initiative by addressing the strikers of 22 March and 19 April or the demonstrators of 1 and 5 May, instead sending formal invitations to ill-attended meetings. But all the ingredients are there for this orientation to succeed.

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