Fight attacks on workers’ rights and austerity, French strikes show the way

Come to the NSSN conference 2 July

Photo Paul Mattsson

Photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

David Semple, Assistant secretary, PCS DWP group executive committee (personal capacity)

Mass strike action has paralysed French oil refineries and nuclear power stations. Rail and other transport links have been severely disrupted, as workers demand that the government backs down and withdraws the hated El Khomri (named after the government minister) labour law ‘reform’.

Directly implemented by fiat of supposedly ‘socialist’ president Francois Hollande – who refused to call a vote in the National Assembly as he believed it would be defeated – the law will allow employers to unilaterally extend the working week, reduce ordinary and overtime pay and make it much easier to sack workers from permanent jobs.

Following months of agitation and smaller strikes, the French union confederation CGT and other unions have finally been stirred into action by the overwhelming anger of millions of workers, who took to the streets through March, April and May to show their outrage.

Violent attacks by the riot police have failed to dam up again the anger felt by workers. An ‘Occupy’-style movement, Nuit Debout, has developed since 31 March, in public squares and communities, to give support to demonstrations and strikes against the labour law, and the strikes have held firm.

The contrast with our Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the UK is staggering. The TUC opposed calls by PCS civil servants’ union and the Fire Brigades Union for a day of action in support of the striking junior doctors, and opposed calls for coordinated action to defeat the new Trade Union Act, which attempts to undermine all future strikes.

Like French workers, we must exert the maximum pressure on the leaders of the labour movement to force them to act, if we are to roll back the tide of anti-union attacks and rebuild our unions to fight zero-hour contracts, poverty wages and the bosses’ dictatorship in the workplace.

The National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) was set up by the RMT transport union to bring together trade union activists and community campaigners. The NSSN annual conference is open to all; it will be held at Conway Hall, London, on 2 July, to debate precisely how we can follow the magnificent lead of French workers to build coordinated strikes to defend our rights at work and oppose austerity.

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