Workers on the march in France, photo by Paul Mattsson

Workers on the march in France, photo by Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Clare Doyle

A new period of class struggle has opened up in France. Until recently, the smouldering discontent among workers was finding expression in isolated but numerous workplace battles – over threatened closures, redundancies and the growing repression against workers’ representatives.

Secondary school students had been holding walkouts, especially on the issue of racism.

Now, everything is coming together but bold organisation is vitally needed to mobilise and put forward a strategy to win.

Workers have been taking strike action and joining demonstrations together across the country against changes in the labour law.

The ‘Socialist’ government of President Francois Hollande is trying to introduce legislation which does away with limitations on working hours and makes sacking and tightening the screw on workers easier.

Workers and students

The last day of action on 31 March saw at least 1.4 million marching in cities across France. Along with the workers have been angry high school students, fearing there will be no jobs for them even if they get to university and acquire qualifications.

On 9 April, workers and young people demonstrated again in their hundreds of thousands at the call of their trade union and student organisations.

In Paris, many workers and students decided to join those who have been staying overnight in the Place de la Republique. The idea of ‘Nuits Debout’ (nights standing up) – voicing discontents, discussing ideas and what to do – has caught on and spread to other cities (including across the border to Brussels).

Although there have been quite serious attacks by the police on occasions and attempts to close down the occupations, there have been regular general assemblies and ‘open mics’ for any of the ‘enraged’ to have their say.

The movement, while not as large, has been compared to the ‘indignados’ in Spain and the ‘Occupy’ movements in the US, with a clear rejection of society run by the rich and contemptuous elite.

While revolution cannot simply be ‘detonated’, France has in its history the experience of May 1968 which showed the students sparking a movement of workers that threatened the very survival of capitalism. In France today there is even more anger and feeling of betrayal that pro-big business policies are being driven through by a so-called Socialist government.

Hollande’s popularity ratings are “already the lowest of any serving president in modern French history” (Reuters).


The government’s tiny concessions on the labour law reform and an offer of money to students are unlikely to assuage the protesters. On the contrary, they can even act as a spur for taking more and bigger action. The situation is rapidly developing in which many workers feel that indefinite general strike action is needed.

The trade union federations have named 28 April for a new day of strike action and the battle is being joined by almost every layer in society. But the major force for change is the still powerful French working class.

Linked to real socialist ideas – not the neoliberalism of Hollande and Valls – it can force a political struggle which can have huge repercussions throughout Europe.

Members, and supporters of Gauche Révolutionnaire – the sister organisation of the Socialist Party – have participated in many of the actions around the country with, as yet, no harassment from the police.

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  • France 1968: Month of Revolution by Clare Doyle available from Left Books