France: Repression and Resistance
French Trade unions have staged two nationwide days of action in response to the Socialist Party government's use of emergency powers to impose its reforms to the Work Law without a vote in the National Assembly.
This reform is the most serious attack since the pension reform carried out by the right wing government of president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010. It makes it easier for bosses to sack workers, bypass national agreements and undermine strict overtime payment regulations.
It has provoked months of strikes and protests by trade unions and the youth-led “Nuit Debout” movement, inspired by the 2011 “Indignados” protests in Spain.
The bill will now go to the Senate, France’s upper house, for approval. Many trade unionists and activists are hoping that an escalation of the strikes can deliver a repeat of 2006 when mass protests forced the government to repeal the CPE law, which attacked the employment rights of young workers.
On Thursday, 100,000 marched in Paris, with large demonstrations in the regional centres. Strikes have spread amongst railway workers, in the oil refineries and the postal service. Petrol stations in the west are starting to run out of fuel as trade union activists use blockades and pickets to tighten the screws.
However, despite the determination of ordinary union members, it is far from clear that the union leaders are prepared to lead from the front, preferring to pass the initiative to local organisations.
This caution flows from their fear of the consequences. A defeat for the government would trigger new elections, paving the way for the return of the right wing Les Republicains - and a possible presidential run-off between them and the FN’s Marine Le Pen.
The use of emergency powers to force through the bill means the government has staked its future on facing down the movement. Both sides know that there can only be one winner in this test of strength.
There have been over 1,000 arrests amid some of the most violent confrontations in recent years. MPs voted to renew the state of emergency, giving the government authority to ban demonstrations, a power they have not hesitated to use.
The Socialist Party leaders have threatened to send in the police to break the pickets and “restore order”. They are relying on the complicity of the trade union leaders in restoring the order of the ruling class.
They expect that, in order to save the government, the national union leaderships will limit themselves to denunciations of violence (on both sides) but disclaim responsibility for the actions of their local federations. Therefore the greatest danger facing the movement is not the batons of the CRS but a knife in the back from their leaders.
A signal of this comes straight from the CGT who called for the “unity of the population and the police” following a provocative police union demonstration against “anti-police hatred”, supported by leaders of the far-right Front National.
The movement needs to arm itself against both the forces of the state and its agents in the working class. This means the election of local and regional coordination committees of delegates, drawn from the workplaces, from the schools and universities, but also from the banlieues (the outer suburbs with a high proportion of youth from families of North African origin).
Uniting these young people with the workers' movement and the youth of the lycées (high schools) and universities would be, at one and the same time, a blow against islamophobic racism and against the dead ends of fundamentalism and terrorism.
Such bodies at local, regional and national level can prepare and launch an all-out general strike to force the withdrawal of the law.
What is also needed is creation of services d’ordres (stewards) from the unions and the youth to defend the movement against the repression of the cops and the riot squads, and avoid provocations, not sucking up to the “trade unions” of les flics.