National Sections of the L5I:

French workers on the offensive

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For almost a year, the French workers have mobilised in a series of strikes across the country which gained momentum after the summer. The refinery workers had the largest impact by practically blocking the whole production and distribution of gasoline for several weeks. They demand a 10 % wage increase to compensate for the higher prices of all necessary products. Compared to the profit of Total, 16 billion Euros last year, the 2.6 billion dividend distributed to the stockholders, or the insane annual wage of 6 million Euros of its CEO, the workers' demands are totally justified. So much so that several other sectors are following their lead: workers in the nuclear reactors, in the automobile factories (PSA-Stellantis), train and metro workers, etc.

On October 18th, 300 000 workers marched for a day of action called by the largest unions, including CGT, FO, Solidaires and the students' unions. A similar day of action, with comparable figures, took place on September 29th. On October 16th, NUPES, an alliance of left parties including Jean-Luc Mélenchon's France Insoumise, the Communist Party, PCF, the Socialist Party, PS, the Greens and other minor forces, organised a demonstration against the “high cost of living” with more than 100 000 marching in Paris. These numbers are the highest since 2019 and are clear signals of a generalised combativity.

Challenged by the working class in action, the government of President Macron is weaker than ever. In Parliament, he lacks a majority by 44 MPs and had to turn to an anti-democratic procedure to adopt the budget law without debate. After having refused to acknowledge any problem with the gasoline for weeks, he resorted to “requisition”, an administrative measure forcing refinery workers to resume work. Among the majority of the working class, the discontent is widespread: rising prices compared to salaries that have been blocked for years, bad working conditions, the continued dismantling of the public services, the threat of another pension reform.

The workers on strike had plenty of reasons to take action. It is no wonder the mobilisation included practically every sector including, significantly, many workers from the private sector. On the eve of October 18th, the government actually feared a general strike, although that did not materialise. Despite hundreds of general assemblies in the workplaces, the occupation of hundreds of lycée, generalised discussions on the need for a general strike across the workers’ movement, no sector decided to continue on “grève reconductible” (it is a French tradition to renew the decision to strike every day). Despite a situation where a general strike is necessary, and conditions that are ripe for it, the renewed strike did not happen.

The reason for this current failure lies in the division inside the workers' camp and its political weaknesses.

The trade unions, including CGT, the most radical of the large unions, do not want a general strike. This is clear after two decades of widespread movements in France against neoliberal reforms: in every case, the CGT national leadership tried to let off steam with isolated days of action. It is using a similar tactic today.

The electoral success of NUPES at the June general elections came on the background of a rise of the far right of Rassemblement National and its racist ideology, and after years of neoliberal reforms and partial defeats. NUPES itself suffers from deep internal divisions. PCF and PS simply joined Mélenchon to save their MPs. Until five years ago, PS was actually in government, implementing similar neoliberal attacks as does Macron today, with Macron as its minister.

France Insoumise is yet another vehicle for Mélenchon to come to power within the framework of the bourgeois state. Repeatedly, he claims that “We are building a new Popular Front”. The 1936 Popular Front benefits from a positive, but largely undeserved, aura, created by the PCF. Workers went then on strike to have their government, to improve their conditions through reforms, to stop fascism and the war. In the end, they got close to nothing: that government collapsed in a couple of years and the Vichy regime took over. The whole country, indeed, the whole world, soon plunged into the nightmare of the imperialist war, Nazism and fascism imposed their iron heel on the European working class.

Mélenchon's programme is therefore hopelessly utopian at best. His populism is actually disarming the working class, fusing it within the “people”, praising the "yellow vests", diverting energies towards parliamentary actions rather than the class struggle, and strikes, in the workplaces.

While smaller political forces like NPA and Révolution Permanente (FT) do call for a general strike and correctly raise the slogan of a general wage increase, they have both, for opposite reasons, a unilateral and false approach to the united front. NPA adapts to NUPES (NPA called for the march of October 16th and Poutou spoke from the same platform as Mélenchon) and hails it as a positive recomposition of the working class without much criticism. RP rejects the popular front of Mélenchon but fails to understand the need to relate to the millions of workers that voted for Mélenchon and are today mobilised. A correct understanding of the united front is vital for the French revolutionaries to make an impact in the current situation.

Despite the failed opportunity for a general strike, the situation remains explosive. As one minister declared, “a match might be enough” to ignite it. The working class anger, the combativity, the weakness of the government will continue in the coming months. It is vital for the French revolutionaries to correctly analyse the situation, to raise an action programme including mobilising demands, and to generalise the need for a general strike within the unions, among non-unionised workers and in the ranks of the NUPES.