Since early December, France has been gripped by a mass strike movement over the Macron government’s plan to reform pensions.
Workers’ Liberty organised a delegation of socialists of all ages from across the UK to visit France 24-26 January to bring our solidarity to strikers, and to talk to and learn from striking workers and socialist activists about events.
By the time that we arrived in France, the movement was entering a new stage. After nearly 50 days of almost-uninterrupted strike action, transport workers were scaling back their action from an all-out strike every day to a series of one-day actions. Until this point, various sectors of workers had entered the strike movement – teachers, refuse workers, municipal workers, museum staff, dockers, and oil refinery workers to name but a few — but the transport workers formed the core of the strike, taking action day in and day out to stoke the fire of protest and confrontation.
Now other sectors are starting to move, including college and university students, and a lot depends on the ability of new sectors of workers to play a similarly leading role in keeping the disruption going day after day. Some education workers reported to us a stirring in the Lycées [FE colleges], as younger students plan to organise a wave of walkouts in solidarity with their teachers – an act that has been decisive in earlier strike waves.
We joined a demonstration of the famous Yellow Vests through Paris (which was followed by a very heavy police presence) and saw first-hand this still-live protest movement’s mix of class-struggle ideas with confused liberal or nationalist solutions (like “Citizens’ Initiative Referendums”, or “Frexit”, which some protestors were keen to debate with us).
We spoke to socialist activists who work in the railways, who told us about the various forums through which many thousands of workers have been drawn into action. On the one hand, Trotskyist activists in tendencies like Étincelle are trying to build what they call “co-ordinations” — representative bodies made up of delegates from elected workplace strike committees, which they are building on an all-unions-and-none, all-grades basis as a means of bringing together an alternative leadership of the strike from below.
In contrast to this approach, which focuses on building workplace power methodically and is rooted in an insistence on delegate democracy, other activists are concentrating their strategy around what are called “interprofessional assemblies” — meetings open to any and all mobilised workers and activists. Although looser and less formally representative, these general assemblies form important forums for co-ordinating action by neighbourhood.
We spoke to student activists about how the recent years of repeated mass movements has created a large “active minority” of leftwing students on every campus, and how everywhere minorities of hundreds are finding ways to influence and mobilise broader layers of tens of thousands.
Finally, we discussed the political perspectives of the strike movement: if the strikes roll on and win the most ambitious of their demands — the fall of Macron’s government — what is the French labour movement’s perspective for replacing him with a workers’ government?
More voices from the French strike movement will be published in Solidarity and on workersliberty.org in the coming days and weeks.