Introduction by Oaklandsocialist:
I recently talked with a worker in Arkansas. We were talking about all sorts of things – retirement, pension plans, unions… He had heard nothing about these enormous struggles in France. In 1936, French workers went on strike and occupied their work place. US auto workers heard about that and did the same in 1937. Big Business in the US is terrified that workers here will hear about and be inspired by these battles today. Also see our comments/questions at the end as well as links to previous articles on these battles.
by Yorgos Mitralias
After almost four months (!) of enormous mobilizations by the workers’ and popular movement, unprecedented in post-war France (!), the conclusion of the French unions’ struggle against the pension (anti-)reform might appear to be obvious: the (anti-)reform is now enacted, which means that Macron has won and the unions have lost. But how then can we explain that no one in France or abroad dares to come to such a conclusion? What happens when we see a representative of the international (very) big capital as prestigious as the rating agency Fitch Ratings downgrade France’s credit rating on the so eloquent grounds that “Political deadlock and (sometimes violent) social movements pose a risk to Macron’s reform agenda and could put pressure on a more expansionary fiscal policy or even lead to a reversal of previous reforms”…?
So when Fitch goes as far as to note that because of the “political deadlock” situation and the “social movements” that are continuing unabated, Macron not only risks not being able to pursue his (anti-)reforms, but even risks seeing the reversal of those which he has already achieved, the conclusion is stark: the Macron described by Fitch cannot be the winner, he is already the big loser in the ongoing historic French class confrontation! And of course, Fitch is not the only one to say so. This is what all Macron’s “enemies” are saying, but also more and more of his friends: in the media, among the employers’ organizations, in the traditional French right, or even within his own party. But above all, this is what the French are saying, or at least the vast majority of them, who stubbornly refuse to “run out of steam,” to “be divided” and to “accept reality,” as the French media never got tired of predicting and wishing over the past four months.
The fact is not only that this year’s May Day demonstrations were five or even ten times larger than the previous ones of the last three or four decades! It is not only that the French continue to oppose the (anti-)reform on a scale similar to that of the last four months, in spite of its official enacting. (1) Nor that at least half of the French population declares itself in favor of continuing and intensifying the mobilizations. Not even that the front of trade union confederations remains united, contradicting day after day the media that have been predicting its “division” for four months. It is that Macron, his Prime Minister and his ministers can no longer leave their offices without being confronted by hundreds, even thousands of citizens who boo them, even going as far as to hunt them down on several occasions! And this is happening all over France, even when they go to small villages! Result: the “return to the people” wanted by Macron turn into a fiasco since almost half of these “contacts” end up being… cancelled at the last minute. Or they become the object of mockery and ridicule when ministers, prefects and police officers order the confiscation of saucepans and other metal objects used by demonstrators to make noise, even stipulating that they are…. “makeshift weapons” and assimilating the “casserolades” to… terrorist practices! Just as they went as far as to ban and confiscate, after strict body checks, the red cards (!) that the spectators of the French Soccer Cup final wanted to show to a Macron obliged to greet the soccer team not in the center of the field, as is the custom, but in the underground corridors of the stadium!
The lesson is not only that “derision kills”, sometimes even more than weapons themselves, as the French who have been using this “weapon” to their advantage for centuries know all too well. It is above all that those who currently use it every day in their casserolades and other demonstrations and protests in cities and villages, do not do it “on command”. They do it spontaneously, showing ingenuity (in the choice of the forms of struggle) and self-organization when they meet, discuss, decide and take action by rallying young and old, unionized and non-unionized, workers and unemployed, peasants and workers, men and women, manual workers and intellectuals, experienced militants and first-time demonstrators Of course, against the (anti)pension reform and the hated Macron, but also to radically change life and work! Result: even towns and villages where there has never been a single demonstration now see a quarter or even a third of their population take to the streets! Like in the small village of Charny Orée somewhere in the center of France, where, for the first time in its history, 110 of its 500 inhabitants demonstrated. Or in Ouessant, this small island of Brittany swept by the winds, which saw 184 of its 830 inhabitants participate in the first demonstration ever organized on the island…
To all of this, one could add that the French trade unions, which until now have been discredited and rather skeletal, as well as the Confédération Paysanne, are now recruiting like never before because, according to the polls, they have become much more popular than all the political parties and other traditional institutions. In short, what has made the current French society literally unrecognizable over the last 3-4 months is what can now be seen with the naked eye: the enormous change in its external features, the festive atmosphere that reigns in its demonstrations, which only a few months ago looked like funerals. The ingenuity, solidarity and self-confidence of the demonstrators who (re)discover the joy of collective action and personal initiative. Their music, their songs and their dances, even when they suffocate in clouds of tear gas and receive a rain of police baton blows. Their smiles and their optimism, while until recently they were permanently sullen and fatalistic. The conversations and exchanges between strangers, when only a few months ago, each avoided and feared the other. All these signs cannot be deceiving: they smell of gunpowder and remind us of something of May 68..
The conclusion that we share with many French analysts, and not only from the left, is that whatever the final outcome of the pension conflict, the movement that has managed to develop is now so unprecedented, so broad, so radical and so deeply rooted in French society that it is impossible for it to be crushed, even by the police and the unprecedented (for a democracy) repression used by the “Macronie”. This is because as the weeks go by, the huge popular movement is no longer just questioning the pension (anti-)reform, but all the inhumane policies of the very dangerous Mr. Macron and, above all, the very miserable work and life promised by his neoliberal capitalism….
However, there is a… big however: this is not only about Macron being defeated but also about the unions, the movement, the people and the workers winning. Because despite the four months of historic and exemplary mass mobilizations, it is undeniable that Macron has not made the slightest concession and that, on the contrary, he is becoming more and more arrogant, more and more authoritarian, intensifying the repression and eating away at an already bad democracy. Why is this so? Because the huge popular movement has been willing but unable to hit him where it hurts the most, in his (capitalist) economy, which he has not managed to block!
The causes of this weakness are many and can be easily identified, the main one being that workers are impoverished, which makes them reluctant to strike if they do not want to starve themselves and their families. This problem is accentuated by the fact that the strikes called by the unions are not very mobilizing, because they are usually one-day strikes and warnings, without a clear objective expressing the will to go all the way, until the bosses or the government are defeated. Moreover, in our time, neoliberal governments seem to be totally insensitive to the social and political consequences of their intransigent attitude, so that the success of any demand now requires much more than traditional mobilizations. Rather, it requires something that looks more and more like a real… revolution!
The problem we have outlined is very vast and it is neither only current nor only French. It concerns all of us, it is the burning problem of all of us. What must be done to block and paralyze the capitalist economy, and also to break the intransigence of increasingly authoritarian and anti-democratic rulers? It is obvious that no one today has ready-made answers to this major question of our time, and it is not in this article that the relevant reflection will begin to develop. For the moment, therefore, we limit ourselves to noting that, beyond all its other virtues, the historical mobilization still underway of the French workers’ movement is doing something that constitutes a very great contribution to the world workers’ and popular movements, to all oppressed humanity and to all humanity in struggle: it is opening up the debate concerning the identification and the solution of the crucial problems that these workers’ movements and this humanity in struggle are facing in their fight to bring the great class enemy to its knees before it is too late for humanity and the planet…
Oaklandsocialist comments/asks: What organizations are developing? Are there committees of struggle? How about new, real fighting and democratic political parties? Also, here’s another question: We know that this counter reform is part of a global tendency, including in the EU. It’s driven by international capital and cannot be fought country-by-country. So the question is whether there is any move to carry the struggle in France to workers at least in the EU, and beyond?
1. See our 5 previous articles on the same subject: http://www.cadtm.org/May-1968-
France: towards a social explosion of historic proportions!
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