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France: Transport strikes suspended
But workers' fightback continues on other fronts
AFTER TAKING nine days of strike action, the longest for 12 years, French national SNCF rail and Paris urban transport workers called off their action on 23 November. The media declared this a victory for president Nicolas Sarkozy's pension cuts and Sarkozy himself said: "I promised this reform and I have kept my promise".
But this is only a symbolic and possibly temporary victory for Sarkozy because it has been bought by offering compensation to workers affected which will wipe out any short-term financial gain for the government, and workers could resume the strike after the negotiations.
Six rail trade unions have entered into a month of talks with the employers and government. Electricity and gas workers also face negotiations over the same pension cuts. The government wants to increase the number of years these sections of workers must work before retirement (from 37.5 to 40 years) and index their pensions to prices rather than wages.
Rail and energy workers responded angrily to these attacks and also towards the CGT union federation leadership who were too willing to call off the strike. Nauseating to these workers, Sarkozy's social policy adviser paid tribute to the "spirit of responsibility" of CGT leader Bernard Thibault.
In contrast, the Sud union, though much smaller than the CGT in the SNCF network, took a determined anti-government stance and is growing as a result.
Through their grassroots general assemblies, many rail workers have demanded that they be consulted regarding the coming decisions of their union leaderships. Strike committees and general assemblies – involving both trade union and non-trade union workers – can play a crucial role in France in building and organising industrial action and in resisting attempts by the union leaders to back down.
If Sarkozy wins this initial pension battle, he will try to attack other sections of workers in the same way. But his anti-working class offensive is presently facing a workers' fightback on three fronts. As well as the pensions struggle, on 20 November, public-sector workers had a one-day strike against low pay and 100,000 job cuts; and students are fighting the 'Pécresse' reforms (Valérie Pécresse is the minister for higher education and research).
The demonstrations on 20 November involved 700,000 people in 150 towns and cities. As well as teachers, civil servants, customs officers, firemen, hospital staff and other sections of the public sector, the marches included delegations from the private sector and contingents of university and school students. Print distribution workers were also on strike on the same day against restructuring.
The Pécresse plans, opposed by students, are for university autonomy and pave the way for increased tuition fees, private sector financial sponsorship, competition and quality differences between universities.
An opinion poll published on 19 November showed confidence in Sarkozy down five points in one month, to 51%, and prime minister François Fillon on 41%.
As this right-wing government loses support, the French Socialist Party remains in basic agreement with its attacks, and despite this, the Green and Communist parties look to being in alliance with the Socialist Party.
Gauche Révolutionnaire, the French section of the Committee for a Workers' International, is actively involved in the present struggles and is calling for a general strike to unite them, drawing in the private sector. They are also taking part in discussions on the left about the formation of a much needed new workers' party.
In The Socialist 29 November 2007:
Environment and socialism
What we think
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Marxist analysis: history
Workplace news and analysis