National Sections of the L5I:

The situation after April- with an all out general strike everything is possible!

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According to the Confederation Generale du Travail (CGT) over 3.1 million people demonstrated in France on April 4th in the fifth of a series of joint days of action by youth and workers which have thrown France into the biggest political crisis in over a decade. In Paris 700,000 joined the march, 250,000 in Marseille, 120,000 in Bordeaux, 90,000 in Toulouse, and 75,000 in Nantes. “On n’est pas fatigués !”-We’re not tired! chanted the young demonstrators.

What dynamism and self-sacrifice!. Many university students and the secondary school students (lycéennes and lycéens)-like those in Rennes- -have been on strike and occupying or blockading their places of education for six weeks! Yet the next day the main national organizations pledged themselves to step up the direct action. And new sections are joining the struggle all the time.

Many students from the technical schools and unemployed youth from the banlieus have become heavily involved in the anti-CPE actions, an enormous step forward for “integration” not into the bourgeois culture of the French nation as Chirac and Co want but into common class struggle. This unity must not be allowed to be a passing phenomenon.

It is a powerful blow against racism and must be reciprocated by the entire labour movement taking up the demands of those youth and workers suffering the economic and political effects of employers’ discrimination and state racism. It shows too shows that the youth revolt in the banlieus- neglected by most of the union leaders and the reformist politicians— was indeed a political uprising against the racism of Nicolas Sarkozy and the thugs of the CRS. The sans papiers, the unemployed also see this as a great battle against precarité (casualisation) and social exclusion, against the whole attempt to further destroy what is left of the social welfare system- gained by workers over many decades.

Despite the government’s deceitful hints that they were in effect giving in and modifying the CPE on all its most obnoxious elements, nothing hard and fast has been offered. Indeed Both de Villepin and Sarkozy have made it plain that the repeal or abrogation of the CPE is not on offer. The student’s organisations and the trade unions on the other hand have reaffirmed that this is their minimum demand.

Youth step up the struggle

To show that they are not in nay way abandoning the struggle the school and university students organisations have called for the continuation and stepping up of the struggle. The next nationwide day of action is on Tuesday April 11. This escalation was the demand of the national coordination, 500 strong that met in Lille on the weekend of April 1 -2. So after the great day of action on April 4 the youth have launched a series of militant direct actions. On April 5 and 6 anti-CPE demonstrators targeted key communications and workplaces across the country.

In the early hours of Thursday April 6 students blocked a road to the northwest of Toulouse, thus preventing the movement of an Airbus A380 convoy for two and a half hours. In Paris during the morning rush hour, after blocking the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris, masses of anti-CPE demonstrators moved on to block the Gare du Nord and the Gare d’Est.

In the north anti-CPE demonstrators blocked rail lines and at Boulogne-sur-Mer. From Toulouse in the south to Caen in Normandy rail lines and stations was blocked by hundreds strong demonstrations of high-school pupils and university students In the west at Brest sports students stormed the local chamber of commerce climbing onto the roof and throwing eggs at the police. In Montpellier Students entered the local UMP offices and dumped its contents in the street. A hundred anti-CPE demonstrators, including the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire leader and postal worker. Olivier Besancenot, blocked the postal sorting office in Nanterre.

Government in turmoil

The government of premier Dominique de Villepin plainly does not know what to do. It has invited the union leaders and official student organisations to enter into negotiations offering the modification of the CPE (First Employment Contract) which provoked the uprising. But at the same time de Villepin has made it clear the CPE will stay and he will press ahead with the whole Loi sur l’Egalité des Chances (Equal Opportunities Law) of which the CPE is a part. This law has other really obnoxious “gifts” to the employers like introducing night work for 15-year olds! To talk only of repealing the CPE is to sell the movement short, to ignore the attacks on workers in small enterprises already passed (CRE) as well as those to come.

The hard man of the right, interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the bitter rival of de Villepin, has tried to outmanoeuvre the latter by briefing against him in the press. Chirac, who hates Sarkozy and has reportedly had stormy meetings with him throughout the crisis, has put now him charge of the negotiations with the unions, in his capacity as head of the ruling UMP party. Probably this is an attempt to pass him the poisoned chalice. Sarkozy has talked of drafting “improvements” in the law but also insisted it must remain on the statute book but he cannot afford to seem weaker than de Villepin.

Sarkozy is the man who provoked the uprising by youth in the banlieus, many from the black and arab communities, by calling them scum (racaille) .For this reason some demonstrators on April 4 raised the pointed slogan “Sarko, Villepin, Chirac sont des racailles, qu’ils s’en aillent, qu’ils s’en aillent” (Sarko, Villepin, Chirac are the scum – kick them out! - kick them out!). Perhaps too they remembered the chant of the demonstrators in Argentina in 2002 Que se vayan todos (kick them all out)

Sarcozy prides himself as the French Thatcher who will finally bring the full and unbridled neoliberal revolution to France. Defeating him is quite as important as finishing off the lame duck Chirac and the dead duck de Villepin. Sarkozy has repeatedly posed with the CRS thugs after the CPE demonstrations. His police have arrested more than 3,000 demonstrators, including 383 in Paris and 243 in other cities on April 4 alone. On the March 18 demonstration police thugs put one trade unionist into a coma from which he has only just come round.

On April 4 Sarkozy’s police were caught red-handed posing as demonstrators , sporting LCR stickers and trying to organise provocations. Demonstrators and the student and union stewards (service d’ordre) several times identified them and chased them back through police lines. All of this shows the need to generalize the individual service d’ordres which are already guarding the occupations of the Unis and lyceés and the union contingents on demos, into a mass workers and youth defence organisation

Union leaders prepare to sell the movement short

But if the government politicians are divided and the students are growing more and more radical the weak point in the movement is undoubtedly the actions of the union leaders. Whilst the demonstrations were, according to many, even bigger than the last journée d’action on March 28, the number of those actually on strike on April 4 was significantly less. This is an ominous sign; one that that the union leaders are seeking a deal with de Villepin or Sarkozy. Indeed at the end of the actions the leaders of all the main union federations the Intersyndicale anti-CPE and UNEF the largest student union, announced that they were entering into discussions with Sarkozy and Co.

They insisted they were still demanding the total scrapping of the CRE. But they entered the talks without making this a precondition, the position they had adopted hitherto. Their studied ambiguity can be seen in the statement made by Bernard Thibault of the CGT. “The withdrawal of the CPE is negotiable. I hope that the demonstrations will help us to deliver a fatal blow to it.” If they want it to be withdrawn, killed off, then why the need for negotiations. Sarkozy and de Villepin know the demonstrators’ terms- unconditional and total withdrawal. All they have to do is get on with it. All the union leaders needed to do was to say this.

As it is the union leaders are playing dangerous game. They want to discredit de Villepin, forcing him into a partial retreat on the CPE but they too hate and fear the idea of bringing down governments by mass action on the streets. Rather they want to discredit the right and win the presidential elections in 2007 for the Socialist Party with the PCF as a junior partner.

On Wednesday 5 April the UMP parliamentary representatives met the CGT, FO, the CFDT and the CFTC – the Intersyndicale. Nevertheless the talks with these deputies and senators got nowhere; no substantial climbdown was on offer. After the meeting the union leaders said they had gained nothing and issued a demand for the abrogation of the CPE before April 17, when the National Assembly goes into recess. The deadline of April 17 is highly problematic. It means there will be no official action by workers in solidarity with the youth for over two weeks, probably longer because of the holidays. It indicates that the bureaucrats want to perform their old trick of spacing out the days of action till the movement falters and fails. They have done this three or four times since 2002.

Le Monde (Saturday 8 April) reports offers by the UMP to “substitute” or “replace within a reasonable space of time” the CPE with another contract, “agreed between the social partners”. The unions are reported as saying they would demand a solemn assurance that the CPE would not be applied in the meanwhile and that it would be replaced by a completely different document. Such an agreement serves only one purpose - to save the face of the government and give it more room for manoeuvre when the pressure of the mass mobilisations are over. Chirac and his prime ministers are past masters of making promises to the unions under pressure (as they did over the privatisation of Gaz de France) and then breaking their promises.

It is unlikely the youth will be taken in by this ruse but if the unions totally demobilise it could split the alliance needed to win. Moreover since the government is determined to “reform” the whole code du travail, (labour protection laws) i.e. to undermine the security of employment, limits on dismissals, etc that workers have won over decades, no “negotiations” will be of any use. The potential the present movement offers, on the other hand is to reverse the existing widespread precarité, win decent and secure jobs for the young, the immigrants and organise a great part of the working class who have dropped out of the labour movement. In short the opportunity exists to deliver a shattering blow to neoliberalism in France and therefore in Europe as a whole, where the level of defensive struggles has been rising in recent months.

On Monday the Intersyndicale meets again to decide on the next steps if their April 17 deadline for with withdrawal of the CPE is not met. The message to the youth and to the militant ranks and file of the unions must be “Watch your leaders!” Indeed it is high time to set about controlling them. They are already hoping that a staggered month of university and school holidays is about to start and hoping this could demobilize the movement, get it off the streets. They hope too that the energy and self- activity of the young will abate in the next four weeks.

Indeed there is a danger that if it remains isolated the youth movement could run out of steam— already there are reports of some blockades and occupation being abandoned—there are also many signs that young people are becoming more radical. This is why the government, the Socialist Party opposition and most union leaders want to bring the crisis to an end as soon as they can .

A crisis of leadership

The problem for the movement is simple. The road to victory lies not just on the streets. It passes through the factories, offices and all the other workplaces of France. The question of questions is —how to get a huge strike wave, an all out indefinite general strike. Calling on the Intersyndicale to do this is necessary. Indeed the “far left”, the Ligue Communiste Revoultionnaire and Lutte Ouvriere do not do this clearly and unequivocally, for fear of offending the union bureaucracy or an only-from-below syndicalism. This is, de facto, to cover up for the evasion and possible treachery of the union leaders. We need a general strike — with the union leaders if possible- but without them if necessary

But another crucial problem is that the unions have not taken the fantastic opportunity to raise and re-raise the many issues facing workers – the privatization of Gaz de France, the rotten deal forced on the teachers in 2003, the low wages and lengthened working week, the lack of a future of millions of unemployed, the precarité (insecurity/casual nature) of many workers jobs already. Far from these issues weakening or defocusing the struggle they are the issues that affect many millions and can draw them into a mass strike wave.

The vanguard of the working class, the railworkers, (cheminots) and public sector workers have shown they are willing to take solidarity action with the youth, But the great mass of the working class, sympathetic as they are to the anti-CPE movement, need more than altruism to move them into action. They need to see that the struggle is quite literally and materially their struggle too, that they can put forward their demands. If this can be done then the movement will far exceed that of 1995 and can become a great general strike like 1936 or 1968

But, sensing the union leaders search for a rotten compromise the political reformist vultures are beginning to circle. Socialist Party leader François Hollande, was reported in le Monde as cheerfully remarking that big social movements like the present usually lead in the end to governments of the Left. But his attitude now is that enough is enough. Just before the demonstration on April 4, he indicated his hostility to the masses making politics on the streets. “I’m hoping that we can get this conflict, which has lasted too long, over with, that this will be the last demonstration” – he said.

The critical moment has developed, as with all mass struggles, when the issue of strategy and leadership is decisive. The government is beaten on the issue of the CPE. Do you let it retreat in good order the better to counterattack later (reculer pour mieux sauter) or do you press forward and inflict a strategic defeat on it? For the refomists to pose this question is to answer it. They will be totally satisfied with a tactical retreat by de Villepin and Co, Thus to leave direction in the hands of the present leaders of the Intersyndicale, UNEF, etc. will, at the very least, mean that the movement achieves far, far less than it could have done.

Even if the effective repeal of the CPE is achieved (and not to get this would really mean the leaders had “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory”) this will still leave a government in place which will seek other ways to carry through its attack on the whole code du travail. If the union leaders get drawn into a debate as to how this could be done it will be fatal. In addition the governmemt will doubtlessly set out to build a social base and for this racism is their best weapon and Sarkozy the man for the job.

The reason all such problems confront the vanguard of the working class and the youth is that France lacks a revolutionary party—a determined force of thousands of militants rooted in every workplace and place of education that dares to expose the weakness, vacillation and treachery of the reformist leaders. Such a party must lead the fight for working class power and for the construction of socialism - for a democratically planned economy in place of the mass unemployment and precarité of capitalism.

Doubtlessly many militants and groups of militants realize or sense this problem, members of LO and the LCR, leftwing members of the reformist parties and union militants. They need to come together to hammer out a strategy to put this right. France has seen a remarkable intensity of political, youth and trade union struggles over the last few years. The present struggle, will in any case leave a huge stratum of new young militants, politicized and radicalised. They need to take up this task- the task of building a genuine revolutionary party on a revolutionary programme.

In conclusion

France has entered into a pre-revolutionary situation— one which began to develop in the uprising in the banlieus in November and fully burst out in March. The youth and rank and file union militants eagerly want to smash the CPE and increasingly understand it as just one part of a neoliberal offensive. They want to kick out De Villepin, Sarkozy and Chirac. The main obstacle to this is the trade union bureaucracy. In short the working class is hampered by a counterrevolutionary leadership with powerful bureaucratic apparatus, which it uses to strangle all initiative and spontaneous militancy. This situation will not last forever. It has to be seized and made more revolutionary. Otherwise it will be sold out or at least sold short.

That is why it is vital to encourage the formation of workers coordinations, councils of action united with those of the students. That is why it is vital for youth, union and militants of the far left to agitate in the workplaces for the formation of such coordinations and in every town, city and district of Paris and its suburbs for councils of action. Here delegates from the workplaces, from the places of education, from the organisations of the unemployed and the sans papiers, can meet together to plan action and to exercise control over the union officials. Programmes of action should be thrashed out in debate amongst all the sections in struggle. Once established they should immediately be extended to a regional and national level.

Demands should include—

No negotiations with De Villepin, Sarkozy or Chirac— they must repeal the whole both the CPE and the CNE totally and unconditionally and junk the whole project of the Equal Opportunities Law.

To achieve this and the unions must call an all out general strike on April 17.

In every union and workplace militants should fight for all out action now. Bring forward wage claims from every section of workers. Re-raise the demands over pensions and working conditions. Occupy the workplaces to prevent scabbing and provide places for mass meetings of the strikers

To give the mass of the working class and the unemployed direct stake in the action workers should demand for the repeal of all the neoliberal “reforms” carried out by this government and by Lionel Jospin’s “Socialist” government before it.

Restore the 35-hour week in full and with no fall in wages.

Give all the unemployed work, at full rates of pay agreed by the unions, by a massive programme of public works – new social housing, schools, hospitals. This must be carried out under the control of the unemployed organisations and the trade unions . It must be paid for by taxing the profits of the big corporations and the super-rich.

Grant full citizenship and welfare rights to the sans papiers and “illegal” immigrants.

Renationalise the privatised companies without any compensation for the billionnaires

Councils of action, coordinations, must be built to direct and control the general strike. They should adopt action programmes of demands which go beyond the repeal of the CPE , ones which can throw back the entire the anti-worker neoliberal offensive. They must build a defence guard of workers and youth to prevent CRS repression and provocations.

They must recognise too that a general strike poses the question of who will be master in the country the capitalist class or the workers and the working farmers. It raises the prospect of kicking out Chirac Sarkozy and Co. It raises the need for workers power, for a workers government based on councils of action and a workers militia. In opens the road to another world- a world without inequality, insecurity and exploitation; a socialist world.

If coordinations and councils of action can really unleash a mass strike wave, a general strike, then as was said in 1936, Tout est possible! Everything is possible.