By PdAC, ITALY
As we write, the March 23 strike is coming to an end in France. Despite Macron’s attempt to impose pension reform by force, bypassing parliamentary discussion—a mechanism provided for by the French Constitution, similar to what is called “porre la fiducia” [to place trust] in Italy—protests have not ceased. Rather, they have caught fire.
Macron’s coercive action added fuel to the fire, stoking anger among French workers. The March 23rd strike had broad levels of participation in many sectors, in particular in some factories in the country (where prolonged strikes are maintained with factory occupations, particularly in the oil sector) and in the transportation sector (in Paris, the Charles de Gaulle airport and the Gare de Lyon were blocked for several hours). There is talk of millions of demonstrators in the streets all over France: the CGT union has declared 800,000 demonstrators in Paris alone. From Paris to Nantes and from Marseille to Lyon, demonstrators have repelled police charges, in many cases managing to push back police in riot gear. Many spontaneous protests have occurred in big cities, which were overrun by garbage due to the prolonged strike of the garbage collectors. In Lorient, the municipal office and the police station were attacked. Another strike day is being called for next Tuesday, March 28.
In this report we summarize an interview we conducted over the last few days with Michaël Lenoir, the French comrade of the LIT-Fourth International. The events of March 23 confirm the comrade’s predictions. We also refer to a previous interview with French comrades already published on this site (1). We will publish a new note on the struggle shortly, based on the updates we receive from our comrades in France.
To begin with, update us on the development of the mobilizations in France. How did the strike of March 7 go? In which labor sectors did it have the greatest impact? Were there strikes and demonstrations also in the following days?
The strike of March 7 was the sixth day of strikes and demonstrations decided on by the national inter-union [the unitary coordination of French trade unions] since Jan. 19. On that day the participation in demonstrations was high, they were probably the largest since the beginning of the movement. The police themselves declared 1.3 million demonstrators throughout France and the CGT 3.5 million. It appears that the number of strikers was slightly lower than on Jan. 19, the first day of the national inter-union strike. For example, in the SNCF [railroads] 39% of workers joined the strike (according to a union source) compared to 46% on Jan. 19. While, 76% of the train drivers went on strike on March 7.
In the education sector, the main union recorded 60% participation in secondary schools. The management of EDF [French company for the production, transport and distribution of electric energy] announced at midday that 41.5% of the workers were on strike, slightly less than the 44.5% on January 19. At TotalEnergies, shipments from the refineries have come to a complete halt. Workers blocked roads and selective power cuts were carried out to the detriment mainly of the Macronists. On March 7, more than twenty universities and more than 300 colleges were occupied, including 40 in the Paris region alone.
Following Macron’s maneuver, here in Italy the media (TV, press, etc.) have said that the demonstrations have continued and that there are also important workers’ strikes in some regions of the country (also with occupied factories), is that so?
I assume that by the expression “Macron’s maneuver” you mean the forced application of article 49-3 of the Constitution, which avoids putting pension reform to a vote in the National Assembly, the result of which probably would have been negative for Macron and his government. All this happened on Thursday, March 16.
The demonstrations have not only continued, but the nature of the protests is changing. Macron’s authoritarian attitude has increased popular anger, and now the demonstrations are spontaneous, occurring every day, and especially at night. They are often banned, and there are clashes with the police in Paris and in many other cities. It gives the impression that the struggle is beginning to escape from the trade-union leaderships, which for the moment have only planned a new day of strikes and mobilizations for this Thursday, March 23. All the while the bill was passed by force and the vote of no confidence in the government in the National Assembly failed to obtain the necessary 287 votes. It lacked 9 votes (278 out of 577) to dissolve Elisabeth Borne’s government.
Strikes (with occupations) and struggles have intensified, especially since March 16 in some sectors. This is true in the refineries and among the garbage workers in particular, as tons of garbage invade the streets of Paris. At the SNCF [railroads] the strike has continued, although has been somewhat weakened since March 7. And it is now likely to regain strength. The whole country is crossed by strikes, blockades, and demonstrations, but the region most active in the struggle is undoubtedly Marseilles, where the local CGT is more militant than the national confederal leaderships. As for the students, the situation has improved notably: Important assemblies have been held and the students are in the streets; they are also in constant contact with the striking workers (railroad workers, garbage collectors, etc.).
The big problem is that prolonged strikes are decided locally, and have been spontaneously organized by the workers and therefore can only last for a short time. Prolonged strikes are weakened by the isolation to which they are confined by union bureaucracies.
In relation to this, how have the top leadership of the labor movement behaved?
The inter-union refuses to proclaim a prolonged inter-union strike and to seriously blockade the country. This is what would need to be done. The real problem is understanding whether we can impose an alternative strategic option to that of the union bureaucrats. This is the subject of some articles that we will publish shortly [on the site http://www.litci.org].
The strategy of the majority of union leaderships, when they are united or divided, is always the same: simple “days of action” with strikes and demonstrations at variable intervals. In France we call them “leap frog” strikes. The profit machine must be blocked, the struggle must cost capital dearly. The worst thing is that even people close to Macron and members of the government recognize that this possibility exists, but the union leaderships continue to prevent this from happening….
This wears down the fighting spirit of the workers, because the balance of power is not shifting to the benefit of our class and Macron is taking advantage of it. That is why he is acting so forcefully. We must demand that the union leaderships call a general strike (because unfortunately many workers, even the critical ones, follow these leaderships over small union groups or far left political activists), and build a sufficiently solid and democratic self-organization to try to create an alternative leadership for the struggle. As long as the union bureaucrats impose their strategy of struggle, we are going to lose. In a sense, the union leaderships are really devices to make us lose! On March 23, all the unions went on strike, but Macron is not interested.
However, it is possible that the struggle’s center of gravity is shifting. We will find out soon enough. For the moment, militancy is picking up. Macron’s authoritarian move has clearly electrified anger and combativity.
Has there been very strong repression?
Repression is on the rise. Macron and his government are in the minority everywhere: in the streets, among the majority of the population, in public opinion, in the world of work. … The Elysée’s popularity rating is at an all-time low, and even in Parliament it no longer has a majority. But the president continues with the same arrogance! So, to impose his will, he needs to intensify repression.
Since March 16 there have already been thousands of arrests all over France (292 on March 16 alone). Those arrested are brought before the police, but the vast majority have been released because they were not charged with anything. The police who were super violent during the Yellow Vests Protests, with dozens seriously injured and killed, and under the command of former Paris mayor Didier Lallement, have toned down their brutality somewhat in recent months. At the union demonstrations, the situation had been fairly calm since January.
Now the police are hitting harder and harder; they are starting to block the demonstrators to places where they can no longer move. But all this has not stopped the protests!