Although the appeal launched by the trade union confederations speaks of ‘work-stoppages’ it is clear that hundreds of thousands will go on strike for the day. Trade Unions organising teachers, postal workers, workers in power plants, railway workers and civil servants have officially called for a 24 hour general strike and the momentum is building that should allow many private sector workers to join in. The school student unions have called to join the demonstrations.
Since it came to power the French government has been pushing hard on neo-liberal reform. The pension reform in 2003 provoked an enormous mobilisation of the working class, youth and poor but Prime Minister Raffarin and his government were saved by the failure of the trade union leaders to call a general strike at the decisive moment. The implementation of the pension reform opened the way for a number of counter reforms to pass, including the part privatisation of the electricity and gas sector, without a serious mobilisation of the trade unions. When struggles took place they were often isolated especially those against the growing number of redundancies in the private sector.
A new stage
To guarantee their profits French capitalism has to attack the living standards and working conditions of workers and youth relentlessly. The French government is going for the big bang by attacking the education system, effectively abolishing the 35 hour week, and preparing the privatisation of public services like the post and the railways at the same time.
Teachers and school students have been at the forefront of the mobilisations against the government. They have come out on strike repeatedly against government proposals that would model schools to the needs of employers and limit the number of students able to get into higher education (School students strike against education ‘reform’, cwi online, 19 February 2005). On Saturday 5 February more than 500,000 public and private sector workers took part in demonstrations around France in defence of the 35 hour week.
The mobilisation on 10 March is an important stage in the build up of a more generalised movement in the public and private sector to defend incomes, stop redundancies and call a halt to the neo-liberal policies. The comrades of Gauche révolutionnaire, cwi France, have called for a public/private 24-hour general strike as the next stage in the movement to defeat the Raffarin government. To be able to have a unified strike of private and public sector workers we need to prepare it by building general assemblies and strike committees, democratically controlled by the workers in each sector as a step towards cross-sector assemblies and coordinating committees. These can discuss the necessary demands and actions to unite public and private sector workers. A unified struggle can stop the attacks of the government and the ruling elite.
To truly free the working class, youth and poor our demands and actions have got to overstep the boundaries of capitalism. Gauche révolutionnaire’s action programme includes the need to built a new workers party, replace the Raffarin government with a workers’ government and fight for a democratic socialist society based on nationalisation of the key sectors of the economy.
The resilience of the French working class and youth against neo-liberalism and capitalism will, once again, be an inspiration for millions around Europe.