France: Mass strikes, hardening mood

Mass strikes and demonstrations on Tuesday, 3 June, show a hardening mood of combativity and solidarity in the battle against pension reform.

On its web-site on 3 June, the French newspaper, Libération announced that, like all of France’s national daily papers, it was not appearing on the newsstands due to the strike action of the printworkers’ press branch! It reported that ’audiovisual workers’ (TV and radio) would also be on strike. In its 4 June edition, Libération gave wide coverage to the anti-government movement developing in France, from which the following points are taken.

According to the CGT trade union federation, 1.6 million strikers were on the demonstrations across France yesterday. (500,000 according to the Minister of the Interior!). (On May 13 it was 2.4 million according to the unions, and 1.1 million according to the police).

The government is trying to take comfort from a lower turn-out and are saying there will be no alteration in the pensions proposals – "The future of the Republic is at stake" (Raffarin).

But one electricity worker expressed the mood when he said, "We may not necessarily be more numerous but we are more determined and less divided up".

250,000 demonstrated in Paris and 250,000 in Marseille. There were very many local demonstrations as well. Libération notes a big desire of people to be out on the streets in their immediate locality, learning (or re-learning) how to produce placards, leaflets etc. and more of a "structured social movement" developing.

In both Paris and Marseille, transport workers are continuing the strikes today, Wednesday. (No trains from Charles de Gaulle airport!). Yesterday, 80% of air transport was grounded.

About half the teaching work-force were on strike, similar to 13 May, in spite of the promise of further consultation on the ’reforms’.

Postal workers were on strike and post was not delivered. For the first time there were some ’wild’ electricity supply cuts (against the advice of the unions). 2 out of 3 trains did not run nationally. Gas and Telecom workers struck and also tax inspectors and weather forecasters.

What Libération calls ’Extremely symbolic’ is the entry into the fray of workers in the private sector – "Citroen at Aulnay, Renault at Flins (Paris region), Alstom in Grenoble, Total (petrol) in Pau, Eurodisney and supermarket workers of Carrefour, Lidl and Intermarché".

Workers of the CFDT trade union federation, were on the demos in spite of the fact that their ’leaders’ have already signed an agreement on pension reform and said their members should not strike, or more than likely, because of that. In many places they were numerous and in Boulogne, they were the most numerous! In Le Havre, they were shouting, "Chéreque, (CFDT boss), we are not cattle!"

The next major mobilisation is on 10 June "for everyone" on the day that the pensions project is debated in the National Assembly. Tomorrow, 5 June, is a mobilisation in the Paris region. The trade union leaders are conveying the idea of "a social marathon" (leader of Unsa) rather than an extended general strike, but are forced to talk of extending and amplifying the movement.

"In Paris yesterday there was a special ’élan’ and enthusiasm". Libération reports demonstrators passing a hairdressing salon and shouting "Hairdressers are with us!" and out came the hairdressers, scissors and combs in their hands, and customers, one with her hair still done up in curlers!

"No-one is compelled to be here," said a postal worker, "But this (the pensions issue) hits us in the stomach".

Finance workers banging saucepans commented that the more things went on the more radicalised they were becoming…

A researcher ’exalted’:- "You have the deep feeling of participating in a popular uprising, a real something that is like the conquest of social rights at the beginning of the (last) century. So we’re not going to give up for a few peccadilloes".

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June 2003