France: No to the anti-pension reform. A key week in the struggle

[:es]France, Paris, 2023-04-06. The leading procession and CFDT balloons 11th inter-union demonstration against pension reform. Photograph by Martin Noda / Hans Lucas France, Paris, 2023-06-06. Le cortege de tete et des ballons de la CFDT. 11e manifestation intersyndicale contre la reforme des retraites. Photographie de Martin Noda / Hans Lucas[:]

This Thursday, April 13, is the 12th day of national strike and mobilization against the anti-worker pension reform of President Macron and the capitalists. On Friday, April 14, the Constitutional Council, an institution which is functional to the government, will give its verdict. However, the rank and file workers and students maintain their readiness to fight.

By Pablo Vasco

Last April 6, on the eleventh strike day called by the Intersyndical, which is composed of eight union centers, more than two million people took to the streets throughout France to express their profound rejection of the government and its reform once again. Raising retirement age and the number of years of contributions is a harsh attack on pension rights and on the scarce free time we have to enjoy anything after a lifetime of work. Despite police repression, demonization of mass media and salary discounts for the strike days, the movement is still fighting. There are also sectoral strikes such as the Grenoble post office for the reinstatement of contract workers, Vertbaudet logistics in Lille for a wage increase, and several other companies.

In the midst of this national struggle, the meeting between Prime Minister Borne and the leadership of the Intersyndical a few days ago was useless: Borne did not yield anything on the government’s line and the Intersyndical did not yield anything either due to pressure from the rank and file. The workers’ youth and popular anger is huge.

For example, during the congress of the CGT for the first time in the history of that center, the balance sheet of the leadership was rejected by a slight majority. After tense lobbying, a new general secretary, Sophie Binet, was elected, with a much firmer tone than her predecessor. In this regard, the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), which is composed of our comrades of the ISL in France,states: “The Militants and especially leaders who opposed to what they call the ‘reformist line’ in the CGT are not all as radical as they would have us believe… And the voices that say that the workers themselves should lead their struggles are still very weak and not very coordinated. That being said, whatever their reasons, those who oppose the official line are increasingly successful, proof that in their own way they express a sentiment present among the most militant activism of the CGT”[1].

The CGT Congress

The government, more and more authoritarian

As all the capitalist governments try to impose austerity and fail to defeat the workers and popular struggles and rebellions, there is a global tendency towards greater levels of repression and militarism. The government of France is a clear example, with its plan to increase the military budget by 40% in the period 2024-2030: it wants to allocate 413 billion euros to armaments, while with barely 13 billion it could cover the supposed deficit of the pension funds! At the same time, the parliament has just passed an “anti-takeover” law against homeless people occupying uninhabited dwellings…

As for repressive measures against strikes and marches, Interior Minister Darmanin orders to intimidate workers in striking sectors, accuses anti-government critics of “intellectual terrorism of the extreme left” or “ultra-left” and continues to apply sticks, gas, rubber bullets, arbitrary arrests and searches. This state offensive includes threats of dissolution to the environmentalist group Earth Uprisings, to the anti-repressive group Collective Defense (Rennes) and even to the historic League for the Rights of Man (LDH).

At the same time, these actions and speeches of the French government in favor of repression encourage violent attacks by the extreme right, as happened in Metz, where a truck attacked a picket line. Faced with these attacks, a response of legitimate self-defense becomes necessary.

Student radicalization

Last weekend, April 8 and 9, the fifth National Student Coordination (CNE) met in Nantes, with the participation of 30 delegations. Among other political currents, the Youth of the NPA plays a prominent role in this unitary space. In its resolution, the CNE affirms: “After the government’s forced decree 49.3, our demands go far beyond the simple withdrawal of the pension reform. We demand the resignation of Macron and his government, which only represents the interests of a minority of bosses. Universal National Service, Darmanin law, contempt for climate challenges, RSA, unemployment, inflation and galloping precariousness… beyond the pension reform, we reject all this authoritarian and bosses’ policy!”[2] And it calls for:

“On Wednesday 12, participate in the operation ‘dead country’ seeking to block routes, crossing traffic circles and picketing in front of companies.

On Thursday 13, join the strike call of the Intersindical.

On Friday the 14th, demonstrations everywhere to show them that the mobilization will not end on the day of the verdict of the Constitutional Council: we will not be ‘wise’!

Support the regional initiatives of demonstration, especially on April 15.”

As other expressions of the radicalization going on in the student movement, high school students from more colleges joined the protests and a new national university federation emerged: the Student Union (UE). In the UE, which presents itself as more combative and democratic, two sectors have united: one is the breakup of 17 of the 60 sections of the traditional UNEF (National Union of Students of France)[3] and the other is The Alternative, a space that brings together another twenty student centers and groups. In its first communiqué, the new UE pointed out: “Inscribed in the framework of a historical social movement, the reunification of the student milieu will allow us to widen the mobilization in the days and weeks to come… We call on the students to mobilize massively in their establishments and in the streets on the occasion of the day of struggle on the 6th called by the Intersyndical”.

Photograph by Martin Noda / Hans Lucas

A decisive week

Even considering the logical wear and tear after three months of intense struggle, the general strike average has dropped although it is still firm among the refinery, electric and railroad workers. For its part, the government is quite isolated and with internal friction, the polls confirm that its unpopularity is growing and in the marches one hears the slogan “Go away, Macron!”. The Intersyndical, which would like to negotiate with the government, continues to call for separate days of struggle instead of organizing a plan of struggle with continuity until the reform is defeated. A good part of the vanguard is advancing in its experience with that union bureaucracy and also with politicians like the center-left Mélenchon or the ultra-right Le Pen, who -beyond their differences- do not prioritize  to mobilize but to encourage electoral exits like an uncertain referendum.

As the last editorial of the NPA rightly says: “On the 14th it is up to the Constitutional Council to give its green light to this law. We should have no illusions about this institution made up of old retired politicians. For the record, the last project censured by the Council was the proposal to tax very high incomes at 75% under the Hollande government… It is under the pressure that the movement manages to impose, over the government and businessmen, that the ‘wise men’ of the Council will perhaps tweak two or three annexed points, only to suggest that the worst could be avoided when the pension scrapping project is implemented. And Laurent Berger[4] plays along, announcing on TV that he will not ‘question the legitimacy of the Constitutional Council’… But our lives are worth more than the Constitution of the Republic! On the 13th we must be even more numerous than on the 6th in strike and demonstration… And on the 14th we continue! If Macron and Borne did not understand, and the Council validates their reform already introduced by force of decrees, the uproar could go up another notch. It will continue until it is withdrawn!”[5]


[2] The SNU is a voluntary (for now) civilian-military Universal National Service for young people. The Darmanin Act is a new anti-immigrant bill. The RSA is an Active Solidarity Allowance for job seekers, ultra-minimal and increasingly conditional.

[3] The UNEF was the main university federation in France, closely linked to the bourgeois PS.

[4] Leader of the CFDT, the trade union center most in favor of class collaboration.