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From The Socialist newspaper, 30 June 2010

France, Italy: Workers struggle against savage austerity cuts

Build for a Europe-wide 24-hour general strike on 29 September

WHILE THE Greek working class has engaged in its sixth general strike this year, the French and Italian labour movements have now also stepped into the battle against capitalist cuts in a decisive way, as Cédric Gérôme reports.

ON THURSDAY 24 June, nearly two million workers took to the streets in about 200 cities and towns of France.

It was a national day of action called by the main trade union organisations against the government's pensions counter-reform (which includes the raising of the retirement age from 60 to 62, and forcing employees to work longer to qualify for their state pension).

This attack is a central piece of the wave of attacks concocted by the Sarkozy-Fillon government, aiming to slash up to 100 billion euros in public spending by 2013.

The turnout in last Thursday's protests sharply exceeded the previous national day of action held on 27 May. In a lot of cities, the number of demonstrators was considerably bigger.

The level of strikes was greater as well, especially in education and in public transport, but also in the private sector, which was much more represented in the different workers demonstrations than in May.

The marchers' mood was very militant. Leila, a member of Gauche Révolutionnaire (CWI in France) who was on the demonstration in Rouen, commented: "The march was bigger, younger, with more women involved and more dynamic than on 27 May. The workers showed they were there to prepare the comeback in September. The slogans calling for developing the struggle were numerous."

A clear majority of French people oppose the so-called pension 'reform'. An opinion poll published on the day of the protest shows that 68% of the French population either supported or sympathised with the strike. Everybody understands that this pension reform is only the opening shot towards a more general offensive from the capitalists to reduce once again the working class's share of society's wealth.

General strike

AFTER ITALIAN prime minister Silvio Berlusconi had insisted for weeks that Italy did not face the same kind of deficit and debt problems of its neighbouring Southern European countries, the government finally adopted an austerity programme of about 25 billion euros, targeting healthcare, schools, universities, funding for local governments, public sector pay and pensions.

Just the day after their French counterparts, Italian working people responded massively to the call for a general strike made by the CGIL, the country's biggest trade union federation.

Tens of thousands of workers, from the public and private sectors, young people, the unemployed and pensioners, filled the streets of the main Italian cities in a sea of red flags and banners against the deeply anti-social budget cuts.

The demos were particularly impressive in Bologna (100,000) and in Milan, where many expressed their solidarity with the workers from the Fiat Pomigliano factory, in which atrocious conditions of work are being imposed as an alternative to job losses. Several banners read "We are all Pomigliano".

Union leaders

Yet, in both countries, the union leaders' strategy is holding back the potential for developing the struggle. Most of the time, they are not questioning the attacks but only the way they are implemented.

Their short-sighted outlook sees the mobilisations of workers not as part of a coherent strategy to defeat the governments, but mainly as a release valve to allow the pressure coming from their own union ranks to escape.

This attitude is an obstacle on the road of building a powerful movement to efficiently resist the new offensive from the capitalist class, not only on a national level, but also on an international scale.

In France, the top of the unions are demanding a 're-writing' of the reform, waiting for some concessions from the government in order to scale down the protests and avoid a general strike movement. But a majority of people (67% in a recent opinion poll) have expressed a desire for a general strike.

In Italy, the union leadership has been trying consciously to divide the resistance by calling for different types of actions at different times, in different areas. Last Friday (25 June), three regions of Italy were thus not part of the movement, going on a general strike only on 2 July.

The recent mobilisations in France and Italy are only a foretaste of what is possible and needed. Trade union and political activists must stress the need to build on these successes.

In the autumn, new important social battles will also take place in other European countries where the working class and the poor are facing similar attacks.

Clear initiatives must be taken to link up all these struggles. In this respect, the day of action called by the European Trade Union Congress on 29 September, which coincides with a call for a general strike in Spain, could be the springboard to prepare a powerful transnational response from the working class, for example in the form of a European 24-hour general strike.

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In The Socialist 30 June 2010:

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