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France: Millions On Strike
AIRPLANES WERE grounded, trains didn't run and the roads and motorways were gridlocked as France's workers walked out.
By Judy Beishon, Paris, Tuesday 3 June.
Schools for the tenth time this year were closed as teachers went on strike. Elsewhere, workers in the public sector and in private industry joined in the action.
Huge demos took place in Paris (250,000) and many cities and towns throughout France (Marseille 240,000).
The strikers are demanding that the right-wing prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin drop his attacks on pensions, stop privatisations and scrap his plans to decentralise education.
Raffarin, like many of his European counterparts, wants to slash social spending on pensions in order to reduce taxes on big business. That is why a popular slogan on placards in Paris was "Our pensions before their profits."
He also wants to privatise much of the state-owned sector just like the Tories did in Britain. But public sector workers made clear their opposition on stickers and placards: "Electricity and Gas at the service of everyone, not the profits of a few."
With a right-wing President and government the French ruling classes are hoping to tough it out with the trade unions. Raffarin has made it clear he's not going to cave-in like the then prime minister Alain Juppe did in 1995/96 when faced with mass protests. "The street does not rule" he declared. However, a placard in Rouen declared defiance: "Raffarin - the school students are in the street."
Bernard Thibault, leader of the CGT trade union federation, said: "If employees decide, we will have strikes, demonstrations, rallies, the whole palette of union initiatives, as long as needed."
Already the government has backed down on the issue of decentralisation of education, hoping that it can take the heat out of the teachers' action and thereby concentrate on pushing through its attacks on pensions.
Whether or not the movement will escalate is in the balance but the mood on the streets of Paris was summed up by the most prominent demand of the strikers: "For an all-sectors general strike".
In Austria today transport and public services were disrupted as workers walked out against Chancellor Schüssel's pension bill. Schüssel's ruling right-wing coalition has attacked the trade unions who are resisting his attacks.
In The Socialist 7 June 2003: