France: the anti-reform struggle enters a new moment

As soon as the Constitutional Council validated the French government’s pension reform on Friday, April 14, President Emmanuel Macron promulgated it on that night and it would thus be in force as of September. The Intersyndical put the brakes on the protest and only called for a demonstration on May 1st. But the CGT, some unions such as the railroad unions and the National Student Coordination call to “prepare the 1st” with strikes and marches on the 20th and 28th.

By Pablo Vasco

Last Thursday 13th the twelfth national day of strike and mobilization took place. Both measures showed a lower level of participation than previous days, but in spite of the wear and tear of three months of struggle, the salary discounts for the strike days and the intimidating police device deployed by the government, once again several hundreds of thousands of people went out to the streets all over the country.

On Friday 14, the Constitutional Council (a reactionary institution of the French bourgeois-democratic regime) modified some points for the worse and validated the essence of the anti-worker pension reform: raising the retirement age to 64 years and the contributions to 43 years in order to be able to collect the full benefit. Furthermore, the Council rejected the possibility of calling for a referendum of social initiative, as proposed by some parties seeking to divert the street struggle towards the elections in order to try to close the political crisis. Even with marked differences in the struggle, since the center-left of Mélenchon (FI) supported some actions and on the other hand the ultra-right of Le Pen (RN) did not, both political sectors focused on trying to find an institutional solution via an uncertain referendum.

On the same day, the 14th, there were protests in Paris and 130 other cities, some of which suffered repression with gas, beatings and police arrests. These actions were not called by the Intersyndical, which has been showing willingness to “dialogue” with the government, but by the National Student Coordination (CNE), the revolutionary left, sectors of union activism and people joined spontaneously.

Although Macron had a 15-day deadline and anticipated that he would do it in 48 hours, in an arrogant attitude he promulgated the reform that day. On Monday 17, while he was speaking to the country on TV, there were pots and pans of repudiation in dozens of cities. Very boldly, Macron said he “listened to the anger” of the people, promised dialogue to “improve incomes” and a “better distribution of wealth”… but he ratified his anti-worker reform and anticipated a hardening against protests and immigration.

On Tuesday 18 there were protests by high school students prosecuted for blocking their schools. And there will be a new strike and march for this Thursday, the 20th, called by the Railway Inter-Union, with the support of the CGT and the students’ coordination, and other measures for the 28th.

Why doesn’t the reform fall?

That’s  the big question that is debated among activists and beyond. France was shaken by twelve general strikes, very massive marches even in the smallest cities; blockades of companies, ports, faculties and schools; harsh confrontations with the police… What was missing to defeat this reform, imposed by force of 49.3 decrees and rejected by the great majority of the population? The answer lies in the key problem of the leadership, whose role is to increasingly curb the movement.

To be sure, Macron and his Interior Minister Darmanin applied a violent repression that included special bodies like the CRS and the BRAV-M, arrests even of minors, judicial summonses to the strikers and threats of sanctions to anti-repressive organizations like the League for the Rights of Man and Collective Defense (Rennes) or the environmentalist Earth Uprisings. But over and above such a repressive offensive, it is clear that the will of the working people’s rank and file to fight is in abundance. We could say the dame thing regarding the student movement, which is reorganizing itself, as well as the popular and middle sectors affected by inflation. The struggle also included important sectors of workers with little or no union experience, who participated in the strikes and demonstrations for the first time.

However, despite this enormous social force, with a higher rise than in 2018 with the yellow vests (since now the working class entered the scene), the bureaucratic leadership of the Intersindical did not live up to what is needed. It limited itself to a strategy of applying some pressure on the government, with dates with several days apart from one another, but without ever advancing on a plan of growing strikes until the strike for an indeterminate time that would allow to defeat Macron, his reform and all his capitalist plan of austerity. And now, emulating the best style of the CFDT, the trade union center most inclined to class conciliation, does not call for anything for two weeks until May Day.

The Intersyndical also did not include in the national agenda of struggle the demand for wage increases, which is so deeply felt by the working class and which causes constant strikes. In March and April, for example, there were and are wage strikes in the children’s clothing chain VertBaudet (Lille), the Chavant post office (Grenoble), the Genavir shipping company (Toulon and Brest), the technological Apple Store (Paris and Lyon), public transport (Narbonne, Tarbes, Loiret, Forbach and Toulon), and in the public transport sector (Narbonne, Tarbes, Loiret, Forbach and Toulon), Loiret, Forbach and Tisséo-Tolosa), the auto parts company ACS France (Deux-Sèvres), the tenant Presqu’île Habitat (Cherbourg), the metallurgical company Gindre Duchavany (Nord-Isère), the collection company SIVOM (Yerres), the sports channel AMP Visual TV and other companies.

As for a new trade union leadership, in Paris and other cities some interprofessional coordinations, mobilization committees and picket lines, blockades of ports and warehouses, all driven by radicalized youth activism and the revolutionary left, emerged. In some unions such as railroads, energy, refineries, teachers and garbage collectors there were overflows to the bureaucracy and continuity of the strikes. In the last national congress of the CGT for the first time the balance of the leadership was rejected and there was a change of leadership. That same pressure from below forced the CGT to differentiate itself from the CFDT and for that reason it called for the strike and march on the 20th called by the Intersindical railroad union with the support of the student coordination. But this process of organizing activism has not yet reached sufficient development and unity to constitute a national alternative to the bureaucracy of the Intersyndical.

The tasks ahead

Faced with this new moment of the struggle, more contradictory but still open, there are two simultaneous challenges for revolutionary socialists. This is how the revolutionary wing of the NPA (New Anticapitalist Party), in which our comrades of the ISL France militate, has been facing it:

  • The first task is to continue to promote all the instances of struggle, self-organization and coordination of the militant sectors, like in the strike of the CGT and the Intersindical railway workers’ union this Thursday the 20th. Our objective is to strengthen a new alternative leadership, of struggle and with workers’ democracy, that allows overcoming the bureaucracy of the Intersindical. Same thing in the student body, starting with the CNE.
  • The second task, in the heat of the mobilization, is to continue building in the workers and youth vanguard a socialist and revolutionary political tool to dispute against all the capitalist and reformist variants defending this system of exploitation and oppression. It is the only way to bring sooner rather than later a workers’ and popular solution for France, whose capitalist government, like its peers around the world, is attacking each and every one of the rights of the working people.