Tens of thousands of striking public sector workers, railway workers and students took to the streets on 20 November to protest against Sarkozy’s attacks on their pensions, education, and health service.
The beginning of the public sector fightback coincides with the seventh day of the transport workers’ national strike and the continued strikes and occupations at thirty seven French universities.
Across France many hundreds of thousands mobilised to declare that their livelihoods, their right to organise as workers and their right to a non-privatised university education would not be sacrificed on the altar of the government’s ferocious attempts to “liberalise” the French economy.
By the time the Paris demonstration set of from the Place d’Italie, the air was thick with the smoke of protesters’ flares, their enthusiasm showing no sign of being dampened by the rain — doubtlessly buoyed by the signs of increased mobilisation among RATP and SNCF rail workers that morning. Although a wide range of unions, individual workplaces— such as hospitals and schools — and universities were represented, they were overshadowed by the massive presence of members of the CGT (Confederation Générale du Travail) .
Despite certain right-wing CGT bureaucrats’ attempts to quash grassroots strike organising in the fear that railway workers will make the union look unruly – even before the 13th CGT head Bernard Thibault is reported to have said that the strike should be cut short — workers from both the public and private sectors were in the streets in solidarity with their fellow striking workers and students. Parisian workers and students had clearly recognised that although Sarkozy’s reforms affect them differently in the short term, they represent an attack on all workers and therefore must be met with a broad, united response.
CGT officials used vans to block the road so that the railworkers’ contingent on the demonstrations was marching separately from, and out of sight of, the students. But workers and students met up at the final rally.
CGT workers from health, education, energy and transport sectors marched under the banner “Les services publics: un biencommun à defender” (“Public services : a common good to be defended”). However, there was a noticeable absence of the banners of railway workers’ strike committees.
Self-organised strike committees at the biggest Parisian train stations have been calling General Assemblies all week and have determinedly maintained the momentum of the strike, much to union bureaucrats’ dismay.
Having been sold out by their own union — UNEF accepted the government’s university “autonomy” bill without protest — the thousands of students at the demonstration did not march under official union paraphernalia, nor were the majority visibly divided into individual universities.
Ironically, one lonely UNEF balloon floated above the students’ block as they called for young people to get into the streets and Sarkozy to get out of their universities. University students were joined by sixth form (lycée) and younger (college) students, some of whom were barely in their teens. Shamefully, and despite mass student organising to rival the anti-CPE mobilisation of 2005-06, the majority of university lecturers and professors have not organised in solidarity with their students.
One strikingly grotesque placard that attracted much attention showed Sarkozy’s and Margaret Thatcher’s faces mangled together. French workers know what’s at stake!