Huge numbers of French workers struck and marched on Tuesday in the latest phase of the revolt against neoliberal president Emmanuel Macron.
The immediate focus is Macron’s attacks on pensions. They mean working longer and getting less.
The CGT union federation said 1.8 million had joined marches across the country, 300,000 more than on the last big day of action 12 days ago. Around 350,000 demonstrated in Paris, 200,000 in Marseille, 120,000 in Toulouse and 70,000 in Bordeaux.
A large group of militant rank and file workers organised to head the Paris march. They came from several railway depots and stations and the RATP Paris public transport sites in Lagny, Pavillon-sous-Bois, Flanders, Pleyel and Belliard.
They marched behind a banner saying «No negotiations»—an instruction to their union leaders not to do rotten deals with the government in talks set for Wednesday this week.
Behind them came militant teachers» groups, postal workers, firefighters, students and school students. Members of different unions marched together, and were joined by non-members who are involved in the struggle,
All of these were in front of the official union groups.
Some workers have been on strike continuously since 5 December.
Over two-thirds of train drivers had been out for nearly a fortnight by the start of this week, causing widespread rail cancellations.
The Paris public transport system has been very severely disrupted by continuous strikes.
Seven of France’s eight oil refineries are on strike, causing fuel shortages. Bin workers in some areas have been on strike for pay and conditions as well as pensions.
On Monday a lorry drivers’ strike began. Some drivers held “operation snail” actions where they drive slowly on major roads.
This caused around 435 miles of traffic jams in the Paris region.
Around a third of teachers and some health workers have also been on continuous strike.
Marie, a teacher from Paris, told Socialist Worker, “It has been hard to hold the line with some people, but it’s a huge boost to see lots of workers out with us.”
Hundreds of secondary schools are blockaded by students—leading to repeated police assaults. “Cops have replaced our teachers,” is one common chant.
Strikers were boosted on Monday when “Mr Pensions,” Jean-Paul Delevoye, was forced to resign. He is the government official who drew up the plans for the assault on pensions. He was ousted over his failure to declare other sources.
Among his sources of cash was work for the French Federation of Insurers—whose members include private pension providers. All of this is happening just two and a half years after the 2017 presidential election in France which was disastrous for the left.
The most popular left candidate took less than 20 percent of the vote in the first round. The candidate of the equivalent of the Labour Party came fifth with 6 percent.
The run-off was between the neoliberal Macron and the fascist Marine Le Pen. Within 18 months the Yellow Vest movement had swept the country and a year after that mass strikes and demonstrations are threatening to break Macron.
Mainstream politicians are demanding that strikers agree a “Christmas truce”. Fascist Marine Le Pen—who has falsely claimed to back the strikes—is pushing this demand as well.
Many strikers are demanding union leaders call an unlimited general strike, and not to waste time over pointless negotiations with the state. “No talks, withdraw the pension plan, Macron out. That’s what we want,” train driver Bernard told Socialist Worker from a picket line in Paris on Tuesday.
Workers reject division
The strikes are maintained in some places by the democracy of general assemblies of strikers.
The Revolution Permanente website reported that at the assembly at Paris Gard du Nord station, “In front of 150 strikers and the flags of the four unions that operate in the workplace, all the speakers insisted that they rejected any division.
“The same slogan was on everyone’s lips—no negotiation, and renewal of the strike movement. There was a near-unanimous vote for this.”
An assembly of 200 teachers in the city of Tours voted “to welcome the fact that the strikes are continuing, to encourage other groups to join extended strikes and to demonstrate alongside the Yellow Vests”.
In some areas there are coordinating groups that bring together different sectors.
On 12 December the port of Le Havre and its huge industrial zone were completely blocked after a call by the unions’ coordinating body and the city’s general assembly of workers.
Nearly 6,000 demonstrators—port strikers, their supporters, Yellow Vests, teachers and students—set up eight blockades between the port and the industrial zone.
More than 2,500 dockers and port workers were mobilised to shut down what is the largest port in France for containers.
Taking power from the rich
EDF power strikers in Bordeaux have taken over the plant.
They are deliberately targeting power cuts at bosses—and putting ordinary people on cheaper tariffs.
They have cut off some public buildings and a big commercial area in Bordeaux.
For long periods they have taken out firms such as Ikea and Lidl, the logistics centre for Cdiscount—France’s biggest e-commerce website—and the city’s bus depot.
Meanwhile 80,000 people have been transferred to off-peak rates. That means huge savings on their bills.
Bastien, a CGT union member at EDF, said, “We take the kilowatts of the richest and give them back to the poorest.”
In Beziers, the strikers at Enedis which manages the electricity system, have switched all the network’s customers onto off-peak hours.
In Perpignan strikers cut off the power to the municipal buildings, banks and a fruit and vegetable market last week.