Archive article from The Socialist Issue 433
28 March 2006:
France - millions march for job security
FRANCE'S 28 March "day of action" saw much bigger mass protests and strikes against the French government even than the 1.5 million who demonstrated on 18 March.
In Marseilles alone between 200,000 and 250,000 were on the streets, compared with 130,000 on 18 March. Trade union leaders said three million joined protests on 28 March. The right-wing Le Figaro said that the national mobilisation left prime minister Villepin "isolated".
France has seen mounting protests against Villepin's CPE, the "First Job Contract", that allows workers under 26 to be sacked without reason or warning during their first 24 months with any employer.
Starting mainly amongst university students, the anger spread to school students and to manual and white-collar workers. School students see this law as legalising their exploitation and lack of future, turning them into the "Kleenex generation", used then thrown away.
Millions of workers see the CPE as the second stage of the government's plan to give more power to employers to intimidate workers. Last year, the government passed the CNE that allowed for the sacking of any worker during their first 24 months in a company with less than 20 employees.
Polls show a continuing rejection of the government's policies. Both President Chirac and Villepin are so far hanging tough, but they may be forced to make some concessions now, only to come back for more later.
However the trade union leaders repeatedly hesitate from calling for serious action against the government and, despite occasional threats, have not called for a general strike because they don't want to challenge the government. This long-standing policy means they take no initiatives themselves. Nearly all the demands for action come from the rank and file.
One result of the leaders' passivity is that they offer no alternative to many of the most oppressed youth. A tragic warning of what this can produce were the attacks on the 23 March student demos by small gangs of youth trying to steal mobile phones, etc. from protesters.
But instead of having a policy that could both offer these youth a future to fight for while also protecting the demonstrations from criminal elements, the leaders of the main trade union, the CGT, simply agreed that the police should surround the demos while their own stewards try to keep political slogans out of the protests.
The union leaders are trying to ride out the movement by calling one protest a week. But, more and more, workers talk about the need for a general strike to turn the tide against the attacks they have suffered. There is anger in the private sector as well. If private-sector workers saw there was the chance of a generalised struggle that would not leave them isolated in their individual companies, they too would join in.
A national student meeting has called for blockades of railway stations and motorways on 30 March and a general strike on April 4, but a more generalised strategy is needed. However it cannot be ruled out that the French tradition of spontaneous strikes will be seen again with workers deciding to continue striking.
The past weeks show that large sections of France's population want to fight, not just complain about, the neo-liberal agenda. Today it looks likely that the French 'Socialist' Party could win next year's elections, but as has been seen in the 25 years since Mitterrand became the first 'Socialist' president in 1981, this will not lead to a fundamental change.
What is needed is a new political force, a new workers' party, which can combine this resistance with a genuinely socialist struggle to change society.
Out soon! 1926 General Strike
This May sees the eightieth anniversary of the 1926 General Strike in Britain - the most important and earth-shattering moment in the history of the British working class.
To commemorate it and, more importantly, to draw out the lessons from this movement, Peter Taaffe has written a book outlining the course of the nine days that shook British capitalism to its foundations.
It is more than a narrative and chronology of the events themselves, although these will be important for newer members and activists in the movement.
Following the biggest strike of the British working class since 1926, it will discuss the use of the demand for a general strike. But it will particularly deal with the revolutionary possibilities of the General Strike and the question of whether the fledgling Communist Party of Great Britain had the right strategy, programme and tactics to take full advantage of the strike and the period.
This book is a must for all socialists. Cost £7.50. Place your advance order now - just £5 including p&p.
Cheques to Socialist Books, PO box 24697, London E11 1YD
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