France: May 1968 – March 2023!
by Yorgos Mitralias
At a time when those who declare, even among the French elites (!), that we are witnessing the emergence of a “new May 68” are multiplying, while noting that in the country now reigns …. “an insurrectional atmosphere”, one can now reasonably ask: to what extent does March 2023 resemble May 1968? (1)
The answer is that it resembles it in substance, because March 2023 sees “those from below” actively, massively and increasingly radically challenging not only the government but also the power of “those above”, just as the – now legendary – May 1968 had done. But beyond this very significant resemblance, their differences remain numerous and, above all, are not without practical implications.
1. The first difference is that, contrary to what happened in May 68, today it is not only or mainly Paris, but all the big, medium and small towns of France, and even villages, that are mobilized, showing their anger or rather their anti-Macron rage in all possible ways! And to tell the truth, they manifest it even more massively and intensely than in Paris…
2. The second difference is that, contrary to what happened in May ’68, the workers’ unions have now joined forces as never before in the last 40-45 years. And it is not only the unity of the eight trade union confederations, from the most radical to the most moderate. This unity is all the more important because it also includes non-unionized workers, who have become accustomed to participating on an equal footing with unionized workers in making decisions (such as renewing their strikes) by attending daily general assemblies of striking workers at their workplaces.
3. The third difference is that, unlike in May ’68, the cooperation and unity of workers with student and high school youth is impressive today! Whereas in May ’68, the solidarity marches of radicalized students to the big labor strongholds (e.g., the auto industry) constantly found closed doors, and were met with hostility and even violent reactions from the infamous CGT order service, today, the same solidarity marches of the students and high school pupils are not only welcomed with open arms, applause and hugs, but are also expressly requested by the trade unions so that the young people and their organizations reinforce the blockades and picket lines in the refineries, railway stations, transport depots, etc. ! And an additional proof of this crucial evolution is the fact that the students’ and high school students’ unions are now part of the Intersyndicale and participate in its work! ….
4. The fourth difference is linked to the broadening of the programmatic and civilizational horizon of the unions and, by extension, of the labor movement. Whereas in May 1968, the trade unions, and in particular the CGT which was dominant at the time, rejected any feminist and ecologist “sensitivity”, which they did not hesitate to qualify as … “bourgeois”, today it is quite simply unthinkable for the French trade unions, and even more for the CGT, to abstain from feminist and ecological debates and mobilizations! And as a proof, in a few weeks, the next congress of the CGT will very probably elect at the head of the Confederation, for the first time, a woman who moreover declares herself feminist and even ecofeminist!
5. The fifth difference concerns the political and civilizational references of the trade union movement and of the overwhelming majority of mobilized workers. Contrary to what happened in May 68, there is no longer an abyss separating today the trade union vanguards from those of the radicalized youth, because they both share similar or even identical anti-authoritarian, democratic, anti-bureaucratic and anti-Stalinist, feminist and ecological references and values. One of the consequences of this so promising evolution is that, contrary to what happened in May 68, the left of all sensibilities coexists and cooperates without any problem in the mobilizations and beyond, with the extreme left of all sensibilities, and even with a part of the anarchists! And of course, it is not a coincidence if the two most prominent class struggle oriented and radical workers’ confederations, the CGT and Solidaires, are in the vanguard of the movement of support to the “armed and unarmed resistance of the Ukrainian people”, of the movement of solidarity with the persecuted and imprisoned trade-unionists in Belarus, and of the movement of solidarity with the anti-war and feminist movements in Russia.
6. A sixth difference refers to the hottest news, that of the immense popular mobilization for the defense of the most precious of the common goods, water, which shook France the last weekend of March: 25,000 to 30,000 peasants, ecologists, eco-socialists, trade unionists and left-wing activists, violently clashed in the middle of nature with 3. 600 CRS of other “special forces”, simply because they want to prevent the construction of “mega-basins” which store the water pumped – or rather stolen – from the water tables by the big landowners and the agro-industry, thus depriving the rest of the farmers and the population of this water at a time when France is suffering from the worst drought in its history!
But what is the great lesson of this historic ecological mobilization, which will certainly be better appreciated in the nightmarish future that the ongoing climate catastrophe has in store for us? Even more than the savage repression that has left three activists among the dozens of injured demonstrators between life and death today, the great event and the great lesson of this historic mobilization is that we saw marching, bleeding and fighting together against the forces of repression that defend the capitalist water thieves, the peasants of the Confédération Paysanne, hand in hand with the Greens, the trade unionists of the CGT and Solidaires, the militants of the Insoumis, and those of the NPA, and the anarchists of the CNT! It is there, in the middle of nature and in the middle of the plain of the Poitou-Charentes region, that the so desired but also so rarely realized “alliance of the workers with the peasants” finally materialized! ….
7. The seventh and last difference is that if in May 68 the French working class made the biggest general strike of all times (8,5 million strikers), at least until the moment of writing these lines, the current working class and popular explosion has not yet led to the reconductible general strike until the final victory! However, the messages emanating from the trade union base, and above all from the workers as a whole, concur that the Reconductible General Strike is beginning to become a real popular demand. At the same time, the major event of the mobilizations of the last few days, namely the entry into action of the youth who are demonstrating en masse (500,000 young people demonstrated on March 23 throughout France!), and who are occupying and blocking dozens and dozens of faculties and high schools all over the country, is confirming the worst fears of Macron and his friends, while giving an enormous impulse to the workers’ and people’s movement. In other words, the mayonnaise is taking, bringing us even closer to the March 2023 mutation towards that victorious variant of May 68, which we all need so much!…(2)
1. See our 4 previous articles on the same subject:
2. For a glimpse of the events that accompanied the historic (800,000 demonstrators!) March 23 demonstration in Paris, see the video:
Categories: environment, Europe, rebellion
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