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France: Millions protest against Villepin government
...but trade union leaders hesitate
SATURDAY 18 March saw a one-and-a-half million pro-testers take to the streets in France. This was to protest against both the new CPE youth employment contract law - which will allow employers to sack young people at will - and against the government in general. In Paris up to 400,000 participated.
The anger against the CPE and the government has been enormously increased by the police attack on a postal worker that has left him in a coma. Last Saturday's attack on this worker, a member of the SUD-PTT union, has had a similar radicalising effect as the death of Malik Oussekine did during a 1986 protest that made Chirac, then prime minister, withdraw a plan to limit university entrance.
Currently, the government appears to be sticking to its course, although the bosses are now talking about making a few limited concessions regarding the CPE law, but these are now seen as too little to late.
The latest opinion poll says that the CPE is rejected by 73% of the population. But the trade union leaders are, as so often has happened before, hesitating.
Despite having threatened the government with a general strike instead they have called a "day of action" on 28 March. One trade union leader explained that they did this because the words 'general strike' have "an insurrectional meaning", in other words they did not want to challenge the government as a whole. They would like a day of protests rather than a mobilisation for the next stage of struggle.
In contrast to others on the Left, Gauche Revolutionnaire, (a section of the Committee for a Workers' International, France - the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party in England and Wales is affiliated) has continued to call for a general strike to unify the struggle against the CPE with those against the other attacks on living standards that President Chirac and the Dominique de Villepin government are attempting to carry out.
As Gauche Revolutionnaire explained in a recent statement, it "defends the idea of a massive and democratic strike. We think, as well, that we need a real alternative to capitalism, a new party that can be a key tool in struggles and to resist capitalism. Such a party can be born out of the present strike, if campaigning or strike committees, while building the struggle, extend their demands to unite workers and youth against capitalism."
In The Socialist 23 March 2006: