France: This is just a start

The following article was first published as the editorial of workplace bulletins distributed by members of L’Etincelle (The Spark) faction in France.

March 26th, 2018

March 22nd was a success:

This is just a start!

With the arrogance of an ex-business banker, Macron has led attack after attack against workers since his election. He now attacks railway workers head-on, hoping to break their fighting spirit and demoralise the whole working class, like Thatcher did with the miners in the UK. There is just one problem, railway workers have decided not to sit there, and, with 350 to 500 thousand people in the streets on March 22nd, it’s clear they aren’t the only ones.

General discontent

            Workshop workers, station agents, train crews, and even managers, tens of thousands SNCF staff of all grades were striking even though the head of the CGT union didn’t call for a strike but only for a national demonstration. In the very lively demonstration in Paris, SNCF personnel met with public servants, university and high school students at the end of the march.

            In many other cities, railway workers joined together with public servants during the march. Contrary to what the government had planned, railway workers are not isolated. From hospital staff, local civil servants, to Education personnel and even private sector employees, everyone is unhappy with the government policy.

            It’s the same policy everywhere: wage freezes, planned understaffing, and worsening work conditions. Add to that a large dose of contempt and smear campaigns against employees of all sectors, the so-called “privileged.”

“Keep the pedal to the metal”… the government hopes

            To reassure himself in front of the protests, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe posted on his Facebook Live that “we must keep the pedal to the metal”. Recall that his political mentor, Alain Juppé, played on his reputation of a “self-assured” politician before backing down to the December 1995 movement of railway workers and civil servants that was about to turn into a general strike.

            Today, despite the mobilisation’s success, the hard line does not come from union leaders. Against the railways reform, the unions only plan a staggered strike, with two days of strike every five days, from April 3rd, spread over three months. An intermittent strike, while the three major union confederations bargain with the government over their own interests. Fortunately, many railway workers who gathered in general assemblies have understood this, and start talking about a real strike, that is, a continued strike that could get other sectors to follow.

Will we see a crystallisation of the fights?

            This is what Macron and the bosses are afraid of, and for good reason. Joining our fights together is on the agenda. Protests can add up, from public to private sector, in offices, workshops, shopping centers and all public services.

            Air France workers, some of which joined the railway workers demonstration, are currently fighting for their wages. After having conceded thousands of job cuts to increase productivity, they now raise their heads. On March 23rd, their strike forced Air France management to cancel 23% of the flights. The joint Air France unions representing all personnel categories also called for another strike on March 30th and other actions in April.

            As for Carrefour, the largest private employer in France, the unions are calling for a strike over jobs and wages on March 31st, within the whole company, and it is expected be a success.

Against the bosses and the bourgeoisie, who have never raked in more money, it is time to respond. How? “All together!” as thousands of railway workers called on March 22nd.


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