France: strike movement grows

Submitted by Matthew on 1 June, 2016 - 2:01 Author: Olivier Delbeke

Over the last week, the balance of forces has shifted in favour of the working class. This was a surprise for its enemies, who responded with howls of anger, and a powerful and growing cause for confidence and unity within the ranks of the social layers in the battle — but also for those who haven't yet joined in, but who are watching, listening and learning. But you wouldn't hear this by watching or reading the national media, who, for just this reason, have taken up a shrill tone of outrage, which is becoming fouler and more ridiculous by the day.

There were more demonstrators on 26 May than on 19 May, and more demonstrators on 19 May than on 17 May. Above all, there is now a real layer of “'repeat demonstrators” (eight days of action since the start of March), from different generations, who number hundreds of thousands of persons, who are determined to continue the movement. There is, above all, this strike, which, slowly, is spreading.

The slow spread of the strike (dockworkers in Le Havre, petrochemical workers in all of France's 8 oil refineries, road-freight drivers) is a result of the tactic of the union leadership, in the first instance CGT and FO, which was not to organise a central confrontation to checkmate Hollande on the “Labour Law”, which aims to do what Sarkozy would never have dared during his term in office. Strikes in refineries; in transport; at the Peugot PSA Mulhouse works on Thursday 26 May; at Amazon, whose workers, precarious and super-exploited, are blockading their distribution centres all over France, for both their own demands and for the withdrawal of the El Khomri law (“Labour Law”). In small and medium workplaces, in particular in the region around Le Havre, in Finistère, in the Northwest, strikes, like those at Amazon, are based on their own demands, which, quickly, will provide the basis for greater unity, because, seeing as they are mostly about pay and hours, they necessarily oppose everything that the El Khomri law would mean. If the government tries to force the situation, in particular, by militarising the refineries, then a clear call for a general strike will be needed, and rallies in front of the prefectures.

The movement is not only a workers' strike movement, but also a democratic movement which is confronting and threatening the regime of the 5th Republic, its executive and its “state of emergency”. Violence Incidents of police violence and attacks on trade unionists have seen many victims in recent days, including some serious injuries, and they are clearly increasing, although not reported by the national media, much more than the incidents which have received much more publicity, such as the burning of a police car in Paris on 18 May.

The next official stage planned by the leaders of the CGT, FO, FSU and Solidaires unions is the national demonstration on 14 June, due to coincide with the discussion of the Senate's motion in the Assembly. How will the strike develop between now and then? Everything will depend on initiatives taken by local teams of activists, on the way that workers of whatever sector enter the action next, bringing their own demands and joining them with those of the movement for the withdrawal of the Law.

Close attention should also be paid to the developments in the SNCF [French rail system] around the mobilisation against the deregulation of working hours, the reform of the collective labour agreement, and the opening of the way for full competition on the rails. Without a doubt, in order to take part in the 14 June demonstration, people will need to go on strike. On the other hand, if the demonstration is big and politically successful, it will make it possible to bring people out on strike the following day, to carry a decisive blow against the government. But all of that depends on the way that things are organised, concretely, at the grassroots, with methodical preparations, general assemblies, necessary transport to Paris, collections of money from workers, or organised by the unions.

French workers are playing for high stakes in terms of their conditions of life and work. The most conscious part of the movement knows this full well, and will organise to beat a Hollande-Valls government which is running out of steam. It will pose the question of the defeat of the government, and therefore its fall, be it through parliamentary vote, or by the knock-out blow of a general strike, or both.

*Olivier Delbeke is an editor of the French socialist newsletter Arguments pour la lutte sociale.

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