by Giorgios Mitralias
In France, what happened in the previous three days of popular mobilisation against the government’s pension (anti-)reform, happened again in the fourth, on Saturday 11 February: many hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of 240 cities, 2.5 million according to the unions’ estimate, and about 1 million according to the police. However, President Macron continues to provoke, regardless of the opposition of the vast majority of French society, and seems determined to pass his bill at all costs and against this society…
Thus, day by day, the crisis is escalating and reaching a climax, both on the streets and in Parliament, while the trade union confederations, which remain united, are now under unbearable pressure from their bases to escalate further their action, generalising the strikes and effectively paralysing the country! Taking the first step in this direction, the trade unions have called a general strike for 7 March in both the public and private sectors, calling on all professionals (traders, farmers, etc.) to do the same.
Already, all the unions in the key important urban transport sectors (metro, buses,…) have announced that from 7 March they are paralysing tens of French cities with a strike of unlimited duration, to be renewed daily by the general assemblies of all striking workers, unionised and non-unionised. The unions in -the equally key important- refineries, electricity and energy in general are starting to do the same this week. And the three most radical trade union confederations CGT, FO and Solidaires (SUD) are already in favour of escalating the strike struggle, with daily renewal of strikes by the general assemblies of strikers, while the messages coming from everywhere, even from the base of the mainly moderate trade union confederation CFDT, leave no doubt about the mood of the overwhelming majority of French workers: all of them want an escalation and radicalisation of the struggle!
What is surprising and unprecedented in the present situation, however, is that the same mood of hardening the struggle prevails now among social sectors that used to either stand by and watch the struggles of others, or even actively oppose them. Thus, according to all the latest opinion polls, while three quarters of French citizens are increasingly against the (anti)reform, 40%-45% are seeking to ‘block the country’ (!) , believing that this is the only way to defeat Macron and prevent the passage of his infamous bill.
So, everyone in France, friends and foes, even the government MPs themselves, agree that we are facing an extremely rare, if not unprecedented, all-out clash between the ‘deep society’ and its neoliberal rulers. And the remarkable thing is that President Macron, his Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and her ministers are no longer trying to persuade public opinion as they seem to have made up their minds that they can do nothing with this overwhelming majority of French people! And that is why they are doing everything they can to force their bill through in mid-March in a chaotic French Parliament in a perpetual crisis of nerves, thanks to the vote of the traditional right-wing MPs, but that too is no longer a given, even though its historic leader former President Sarkozy is now wholeheartedly backing Macron…
With the political crisis escalating and the popular movement becoming more and more radicalised, it is no coincidence that the ominously eloquent slogan/pun ” You make us (work until) 64, we make you May 68 ” (1) is now beginning to be heard at demonstrations all over France, and is now being displayed on the walls of cities! And the fact is that the atmosphere felt like a powder keg as French citizens of all ages, and not just wage earners, are determined to do everything in their power this time to get rid not only of the infamous bill but also of the ‘monarch’ Macron and his regime. In other words, Macron’s choice to turn his pension (anti)reform into a symbol of his entire neoliberal policy and a central challenge against « those from below » is now forcing precisely « those from below”, i.e. the vast majority of citizens, to turn their opposition to the bill into a full frontal challenge and confrontation with the Macron “regime” and with the very neoliberal policies implemented by all governments – right and left – of the last 40 years!
Of course, much will depend on the mass entry into the struggle of the youth of the universities and high schools. For the moment, their participation in the demonstrations is impressive, but the occupations of schools and colleges remain limited (about 15 universities and 200 high schools), while police repression is rampant and scandalous convictions of “occupiers” are increasing. However, the ‘proletarianisation’ of students and their growing impoverishment is objectively bringing them closer and closer to the wage-earners and their problems. Most of them are forced to work to make ends meet, while one in four students live usually well below the poverty line, and it has become routine for even homeless students to queue up every day to get a plate of food from a charity!
The outcome of the clash is therefore uncertain but following events will certainly be exciting. Macron seems determined to take the conflict to the extreme but French workers are not giving up and seem to have learned useful lessons from their long but ineffective struggles of the last decades: Demonstrations are good and useful for the massification of the struggle and the self-confidence of the struggling populations, but generalised and democratically “renewed” strikes by the wage-earners themselves, when they even paralyse the country, are certainly even better. And above all, more effective!
1. See our previous article: https://oaklandsocialist.com/2023/02/04/france-towards-a-social-explosion-of-historic-proportions/