France’s pension strikes still alive

Submitted by AWL on 12 February, 2020 - 12:19 Author: Joséphine Simplon
French pensions strike

The strike action renewed every day at SNCF (national rail) and RATP (Paris local transport) is over, but that doesn’t mean that the battle against the government’s Bill is at an end.

On the contrary. Not a day passes without one sector or another making itself heard with never-before-seen actions. The strike is still alive, whether it be:

• the strike of the firefighters who demonstrated on 28 January
• the strike of the street cleaners and refuse workers in Ile-de-France or Marseille, who have been on strike for more than a week
• the strike of the energy workers who have organised a series of power cuts and shortages; or
• the strike of the hospital staff and doctors who have been taking turns to resign over several weeks and who are calling for a national strike day on 14 February.

Various professionals also struck in huge numbers on 3 February: staff in cultural institutions, teachers, and the fighting university and laboratory staff who held a meeting of more than 700 over the weekend of 1-2 February.

And we mustn’t forget the Lycée students [roughly, 6th-Form college students] who have been organising blockades of their colleges in greater and greater numbers to protest the new Blanquer Baccalaureate qualifications system and its famous E3C exams.

The government is starting to understand that it’s not enough to go on TV and whistle down the end of the strike.

This exceptional mobilisation shows the extent to which the whole working population has rejected this reform; and the growing hatred of this government. What do they expect, when [Labour Minister Muriel] Pénicaud and the [Macronist] deputies of La République en Marche (LREM) have just been fighting down a proposal to extend statutory compassionate leave for parents who have lost a child from five to 12 days? It took an intervention from [bosses’ union] MEDEF before the ruling party dropped its opposition to the measure…

What do they expect, when [Education Minister Jean-Michel] Blanquer docked a day’s pay (counting the absence as a strike day) from teachers who attended the funeral of Christine Renon, the Pantin headteacher who killed herself last September? What do they expect, when the government has arrested minors for blockading their Lycée, holding them for dozens of hours? What do they expect, when the government blinds and mutilates those who stand up to its policies of injustice and social regression?
What do they expect, when Michelin, laying off its staff, demands that their laid-off employees pay the company back for staff discounts they received on tyres? Or when the SNCF state railway company pays bonuses to non-strikers and the RATP local transport firm punishes strikers?

While the government seems to be holding firm, one thing is clear: it has become fragile. After the Council of State [a high court which advises the executive branch on matters of law] announced serious reservations about the proposed pensions reform, the government has summarily withdrawn the “Castaner circular” [a controversial letter from the Interior Minister to regional government officials mandating changes to how the local elections will be carried out, widely viewed as an attempted gerrymander].

But that’s not all. After all the disruptions faced during the swearing-in of LREM deputies and ministers, now the LREM local election candidates are facing their own troubles. [Prime Minister] Édouard Philippe himself had to face a welcome committee of strikers when he went to Le Havre.

And just days away from the parliamentary debate on the pension reform bill, divisions are breaking out within the President’s parliamentary majority. On 28 January, the deputy representing the second constituency of French citizens overseas (Latin America and Caribbean), Paula Forteza, quit LREM: since then she has been followed by almost 20 other deputies.
In terms of local politics, the case of [the mathematician Cedric] Villani [who quit LREM and is running against their candidate in the Paris mayoral race] isn’t unique: LREM has suffered splits in 17 of the 50 biggest towns in France, and more than a third of municipalities overall.

And that’s before we get onto the 22,000 amendments, the motion of censure, and the criticisms raised by the right regarding the conditions under which the bill is to be scrutinised. These are all additional signs of weakness, which should offer encouragement to continue and ramp up the fight.

The return to work by sectors who had been on strikes renewed day-by-day, the weariness created by the national inter-union strike coalition’s calendar of days of action, the opening of the parliamentary debates and the looming school holidays: all this means that we need an open debate about strategies for building the mobilisation.

While we should continue explaining the need for strikes and working to deepen and spread them, the way that the strike will develop over the short term is conditioned by all these factors.

The movement needs to find a second wind, to lift spirits, and to help strikers find fresh confidence. And why not a national demonstration to re-start the engine?

• Translated from the website of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste by Michael Elms

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