French working people lead the way


Strike on Tuesday, February 7
Strike on Tuesday, February 7

By Federico Mendez from Nuevo PST, Argentina 6/3/2023

The French government of President Emmanuel Macron presented, at the beginning of January, a pension reform bill that delays the retirement age from 62 to 64 years and increases the contribution period necessary to obtain the full pension. As of 2027, it will be required to have worked for at least 43 years ─and no longer 42─ to be entitled to a full pension.

This measure has generated strong rejection by more than 70% of the French population, which has already mobilized five times, bringing together millions of people. The polls presented by the main French media indicate that 6 out of 10 French oppose the reform. " I don't want to work any longer, I have a hard job and I'll be devastated at 62. It's neither physically nor morally viable, " Sylvie Dieppois, a kitchen helper who demonstrated in Rouen on the third day of the strike, told AFP. " I am going to turn 60, at 62 I could enjoy a full retirement, but with the reform I will have to work nine more months. It is unfair, especially with women", Anne, a graphic designer who was marching in Paris, told the EFE news agency. This protester believes that Macron's plan harms women more, and she is not mistaken, the eight quarters per child that they are currently counted for the pension it allows them to retire before 62. With the reform, the majority will have to work until they are 64. This forceful rejection of the working people forced the unions to unite in an opposition front for the first time in a long time.

Under current conditions, French women are already retiring later than men, as their pension contributions are suspended or reduced by maternity leave and part-time jobs. With the pension reform this inequality is going to deepen. According to government data, the pensions of French women are 40% lower than those of men. It should be noted that the International Day of Working Women is approaching this March 8 and that the most important mobilization is scheduled for the day before.

In the latest Eurofound survey , carried out in 2021 among more than 70,000 workers from 36 European countries, the very poor position of France in Europe is revealed. Work pressure ─physical and mental─ is stronger than in other countries: high levels of violence, job discrimination and low pay ─only 45% of French workers consider that they are well paid for the work they do, against 68% of the Germans and 58% of the Europeans─. Almost 40% of the workers find themselves in a "tense" labor situation, in which the demands are high in relation to the wages received.

All the working people of Europe are paying close attention to what is happening in France. A test similar to that of the Macron government must be faced by the Spanish executive. The retirement age in the second largest economy in the European Union is one of the lowest in Europe and, if the reform goes ahead, France would be close to 65 in Spain or 67 in Denmark.

France is one of the European countries with the best labor legislation, which makes it a region that is not very permeable to investments by multinationals and a target to defeat for successive French capitalist governments ─attempts to modify the pension system have already taken longer. 30 years old. What is fair for the French working class and the result of decades of struggle for the Macron government ─under the excuse of extending longevity─ is a "fiscal imbalance".

Workers from the main French union sectors (public transport, refineries, schools and power plants) along with thousands of others promised a country in blockade before allowing the legislature to give the green light to the reactionary reform.

Massive mobilizations

The first day of protests (01.19.23) against the pension reform managed to gather some 80,000 people in Paris and between one and two million throughout the country. Most of the trains were cancelled, electricity sector employees reduced the power supply and about 70% of preschool and primary school teachers refused to work. High school student unions and police unions also joined.

The second day of protests (01.31.23) was higher: 1,272 million according to the authorities of the Ministry of the Interior and 2.8 according to the unions. According to the newspaper Le Monde , it is in any case " a record against a social reform since 1995 ". In Paris there were 150,000 according to the police, while the CGT counted 500,000, but participation also rose in most cities and towns: 40,000 in Marseille, 28,000 in Nantes, 23,000 in Rennes, etc., according to the police. Strikers ─ who do not get paid for unemployed hours ─ were less numerous in the public sector, such as in education or in the state railway company SNCF, although a large part of the regional trains were paralyzed. The spearhead came from the energy sector. Nuclear power plants registered a drop in production of about 3,000 MWh, according to the EDF company. And between 75% and 100% of the personnel of the refineries and warehouses of TotalEnergies joined the strike, according to the CGT.

The third day (02.07.23) included, like the previous two, partial strikes in key sectors of the country, such as transportation, education and energy. Numerous universities and high school student centers were blocked by their own students. Although it was a little less, two million French according to the CGT and 750,000 according to the police.

On the fourth day (02.11.23) thousands of protesters took to the streets in 240 cities, 2.5 million according to union estimates and one million according to the police. In Paris 400,000 demonstrators marched from the Place de L'Opera to the Place de la Bastille.

The fifth and last day (02.16.23) was the one with the lowest attendance of all. The Paris Metro operated normally as did most of the schools. However, it was strong on the rails of the TGA high-speed trains and regional services. At the national level there was no official estimate of the number of protesters, but the CGT estimated some 1.3 million. In Paris the police estimated 37,000 while the CGT put the number at 300,000.

The unions claim that the days of the strike are not deducted from the salaries of those mobilized, when inflation and the cost of living affect the country. The discussion is now whether two mobilizations in one week do not weaken the struggle.

In the demonstrations, experienced demonstrators come across a new breed of young activists who know that this reform compromises their future. Grandparents, children and grandchildren marched together in this protest. Many people who had never been to a march took to the streets against the reform.

Union centrals cornered by the pressure of the worker bases

The eight union centrals (CFDT, CGT, FO, CFE-CGC, CFTC, Unas, Solidaires and FSU) have united in a single opposition front, which makes it a historical fact. They are not held together by their own free will or the generosity of their leaders, but by the immense pressure of the workers rank and file that demands that they intensify the pressure on the government.

The bureaucratic leaderships of these workers' centrals, already overwhelmed and forced to go further, fear that the pressure of the bases will overthrow them and that new leaderships will take the initiative and go in depth in the fight against the government. " It is democratic madness to turn a deaf ear ," said the CFDT general secretary, referring to the immutability of the government.

In a press release on February 11, the inter-union said that the " determination " of the " population " must be heard, the parliamentarians of the " republican arch (NUPES-macronianos-LR) and the government " must " massively reject this text " . The true message to the government and its institutions is this: it seems that we have everything under control, but in reality we are in the hands of the popular majorities who cannot be diverted from what they want: the cancellation of the project, please come to your senses!

Required by the circumstances, all of them have called a general strike for March 7 , both in the public and private sectors. In a statement, the inter-union declared that " if despite all the government and parliamentarians remain deaf to the popular protest ", then " it would call on the workers, youth and retirees " to " harden the movement, paralyzing France and all its sectors March 7. " After the communiqué of the inter-union, the unions CGT, FO, UNSA and CGT of the RATP also called for the extendable strike from March 7 to " achieve the defeat of this bill ."

The unions of the key sectors of urban transport have announced that as of March 7 they will initiate an unlimited-duration strike, which will be renewed daily by a general assembly of all workers, unionized and non-unionized. Added to this are the workers in the refineries, electricity and energy in general. The three most combative union centrals ─CGT, FO and Solidaires─, join the strike with daily general assemblies. Even the bases of the more moderate trade union center, the CFDT , enthusiastically joined the fight.

For the strikers, the government will not stop its momentum, unless it is faced with a total blockade of the country. That is why they carefully watch the next movements of "sensitive" sectors. At the Total Energies refineries ─ which partially blocked the country last year ─, workers stopped between 75% and 100%, according to trade union sources. Some are betting on a strike with a blockade of the hydrocarbon workers and, in this way, give an accurate blow to the economic activity of every country.

For its part, the government continues without yielding a step, knowing that the situation can only worsen. An influential government adviser, according to the newspaper Le Parisien, reflects aloud that " we are playing breathlessly, with the risk that the movement will harden on the part of the most radical trade union fringe, or we will look at what can be improved ", and he adds " To the extent that the protesters radically oppose the 64-year-old measure on which we will not budge, I hardly see a way out on this side ." As a last instance, the government has the constitutional recourse of article 49.3 for the reform to be approved without legislative treatment, such as a decree, but this would only increase social anger.

The fight is defined in the streets

As we have already seen, the trade union centrals remain united and forced to go further due to the enormous pressure of the worker bases and the popular majorities. It is not just any strike, or sectoral strikes, it is a total mobilization that covers the entire country and is supported by the majority of the population. This phenomenon is the continuation of the " Yellow Vest Movement ", but it is also its overcoming. The Yellow Vests were centered on the crisis of the middle classhit by the great world economic crisis and was organized mainly from social networks, the current phenomenon comes from the most exploited sectors of the proletariat, from youth, from retirees and is organized with the methods of the working class ─daily assemblies, inter-union assemblies, internal commissions, etc.─ and with their organizations at the head ─trade unions, labor unions, etc.─.

This struggle directly questions the foundations of capitalism. The French working people are experiencing a revolution in their consciousness, they are realizing what they are capable of, that their power can bring Macron's capitalist government to its knees and even overturn it. As long as it is governed by a parliament that responds to the interests of a minority ─businessmen and multinationals─ their problems will never be fully resolved and as the capitalist crisis deepens these governments are going to try to make them pay the full cost ─and increasingly—to the working class and the poorest and most oppressed sectors.

Long live the struggle of the workers and the people of France!

Down with Macron's reforms!