France: Millions protest over weekend

United workers and youth strike action to defeat employment laws

Saturday 18 March saw a million and half protesters take to the streets through France in protest against the new CPE – the ‘youth employment contact’. In Paris, up to 400,000 participated.

The latest opinion poll says that the CPE is rejected by 73% of the population. At the time of writing, it is not clear how the struggle will develop. The government appears to be sticking to its course, and while the CGT and FO trade union federations have threatened a general strike, it is far from certain whether this will be simply a token protest or the next stage in a serious struggle against all the attacks of the right wing government.

Below is a translation of a statement by Gauche révolutionnaire, the CWI in France, distributed in France over the past week.

Millions protest over weekend

  • Youth and workers – Strike together!
  • Abolition of the CPE!
  • No to the so-called “equality of chances” law!
  • Withdraw the CNE!

The massive demonstrations on March 7th marked a turning point. The violent repression of the occupation of the Sorbonne (an important university in Paris) shows the government fears the strikes would expand even further. The statement by Prime Minister Villepin on television confirms two things: on the one hand, the government treat us like idiots, showing their contempt for youth and workers; on the other hand, it shows that Villepin hasn’t got a clue about what’s really happening. The strike will soon reach all universities, is spreading to the school students, and more and more workers say: “Why aren’t we going for it [resisting] as well?”

Everyone knows that the CPE is one aspect of a whole policy. The CPE will allow for the dismissal of young workers at any time and without motive, during the first two years they’re hired. This is already the case with the CNE for all workers in every workplace with less then 20 workers. Everyone also understands that all workers will become subject to this kind of contract. That is why a large majority of the population rejects the CPE: we’re all a target. In fighting against the CPE, we will aim to force a defeat on the government and against the whole policy aimed at making the life of all workers even more insecure.

Besides, the CPE is just one aspect of the law supposedly for “equality of chances”. This law will install the age to start apprenticeships at 14 years and make it possible to do night work from the age of 15 onwards! The “senior” contract allows temporary jobs of 18 months, which can be renewed a few times, for workers over 57, with a wage around the poverty line (SMIC). There will be no need to give decent jobs to “the old”: bosses can sack workers on a normal contract (because the bosses know that usually salaries are usually higher, the longer a worker is at the same workplace) and hire other experienced workers on an insecure and low paid contract! With Villepin-Sarkozy [Interior Minister] permanent insecurity is installed!

For a general strike of youth and workers!

Thousands of students are getting involved in struggle, thanks to the massive strikes at universities like Rennes and Poitiers. Bit by bit, all universities are getting involved in the struggle. And this continues to grow. It is necessary that thousands of students at every university go on strike. If blockades and occupations are necessary to obtain this result, these methods need to be used. But the aim still has to be that the movement becomes a massive, well-structured, and democratically-led strike: this is the way in which the student strike can become strong and resolute enough to expand to other sectors.

The 11 March violent eviction of students who peacefully occupied the Sorbonne shows once again the true face of Prime Minister Villepin. The violent repression reminds many people of the violence used in 2005 against different strike movements and against the people in working class districts. It’s a reflection of the social and economical violence of the government’s policy that drives more and more workers and youth into misery, leaving them without any perspectives for the future.

If the CPE today is concentrating all the discontent and unites us all, this is because of a more profound anger in society. We’ve all had enough of the kind of politics that only serves the rich, of the insecurity it engenders, of the daily ordeal to find a job or a place to live! It’s against this general background that the mobilisation is growing, step by step, in size.

Stop Villepin and Sarkozy!

For several years, we’ve seen numerous struggles. Last year, we saw the strike against the ‘Fillon law’ in the schools, the massive strikes in March and October, the strikes in Marseille (SNCM, RTM, etc.). It is obvious that youth and workers are ready to fight. Confronted, however, with the refusal of the trade union leadership to really work towards a generalization of the struggles, these workers found themselves isolated and thus defeated. The school students have been even totally abandoned by the trade-unions in education.

But, today, thanks to the determination of the students who’ve been on strike for weeks now, the situation is beginning to change. The days of collective action by youth and workers are beginning to become more important. But what is needed is a real joint strike. What has to be done is to hit where it will make the government and the capitalists really tremble, notably on the economic level. It’s the workers who can achieve this, by going on strike and by paralysing production.

More voices are expressing themselves in this way. [More militant action] is discussed in the general meetings of the students. The national student coordination brought this forward in the declaration they’ve adopted at Poitiers, on Saturday 11 March: “The next decisive day will be March 16: we call on workers and their organisations to demonstrate and to use their most effective weapon, strike. It is also necessary to start from now to give a follow-up to the days of action on the 16th and the 18th by placing the standard even higher: we urge the trade unions to call for an all-out strike on 23 March and a central demonstration in Paris.”

The regional trade union department of Bouches du Rhône (CGT, FO, SUD, etc.) has also adapted a joint text that says: “The next phase of the mobilisation has to be situated in the perspective of a united appeal for a national general strike, which will allow us to stress the joint action with the youth. “

All the activity developed by thousands of students and school students over the last days pushed different trade union and youth organisations to appeal for strike action and for trade unions in the public sector to announce strike action for the week of 13 – 18March. But this won’t be enough. The demonstration on the 18th has to be the last stage before a genuine strike. In coming together on that day, school students, students, casual workers, unemployed, workers, etc., we will show our strength and our determination. But we will also have to have a big demonstration on that day to organise a united strike of youth and workers against the CPE, the CNE, the so-called ‘law for equality of chances’, and the general polities of Villepin and the French Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Continue to develop and structure the strike to win!

The strike started slowly in most of the universities. Often a blockade was necessary to allow students to participate in the assembly meetings, to inform themselves about the real nature of the CPE, and to see that they could build the movement and that the government is far from invincible.

The aim must remain to build a massive, democratically run strike with clear objectives and genuine structures. That’s what the members of Gauche révolutionnaire call for. Thanks to the strike, hundreds of students and school students are available for action and for the organisation of the struggle. We need mobilisation committees everywhere to assure democratic control of the strike by the strikers themselves. The lack of such a structure means we risk ending up in a situation in which in between rallies or demonstrations it’s always the same people who take the decisions.

Some political groups, trade unions and youth organisations are against mobilisation committees. Some of them say, “We don’t need any chiefs”. Others think that organising the strike better will stifle it. It is, however, the other way around: if the strike remains at a disorganised level, there will only be a small minority that can effectively take part in its organisation and its development. What’s more, if we want a real mass movement, we can’t pass over [some crucial aspects of] organisation. We can’t keep on going to meetings for hours to finally only take one or two decisions, while, at the same time, some structures say to the media that they are the ‘spokespersons’ for the movement. Without a national student co-ordination, there cannot be a common date for all cities to take action to strengthen the strike.

A lot of students and school students wonder how they can participate concretely in the organisation of the strike, in protest actions, etc. They also wonder how to make sure a decision taken in the meetings is actually implemented. In short, they have understood it’s through collective struggle and collective decisions that we can strengthen the strike and win. With strike committees in each university and school, elected to implement the decisions taken by the assemblies, responsibilities will be clear and strikers will be able to really control their struggle.

A few days ago, the youth organisations most deeply involved in the mass struggles called for a strike. Up to now, the trade union leaders (notably the CFDT and CGT) refused to clearly call for a strike. If they were obliged to say that they will not negotiate anything until the withdrawal of the CPE, it is only because of the pressure of the student strike. We should not hesitate to adopt at our assembly meetings appeals to the trade unions to prepare a national strike day for, at the latest, 23 March. We should also continue to spread information about the CPE, the other aspects of the so-called law for “equality of chances”, notably to the work places and to the working class and poor districts, because we’re all involved. And because a defeat for Villepin-Sarkozy would be a victory for all future struggles!

The scent of May ‘68?

A strike that started in the universities, after the last year of strikes, and a revolt of the youth in the working class districts…workers largely favourable towards the movement, common demonstrations of youth and workers…It’s been a long time since we’ve seen such a political and social development. It’s been clear for years to everyone that the huge unemployment rates and the endless and growing misery for millions of people living below the poverty line can’t go on for much longer.

The anger has been there for years and it has to express itself! We’ve had enough of policies that serve the rich and the bosses. The profits of the multinationals grow but more people are without proper housing or a stable job. The unity between youth and workers is necessary to stop this!

It is even more important as the leaders of the parliamentary ‘left’ (PS (Socialist Party), the Greens, etc.) try their best to profit from the movement, with an eye on the elections of 2007, without, however, proposing a policy that is favourable for workers and youth. The PS tries to have the CPE annulled by the Constitutional Council: if this goes ahead, it will save the law supposedly on the ‘equality of chances’, and it will take away the legitimacy of the current student strike to claim victory.

The PS hopes to profit from the present anger against the government to get itself re-elected in 2007, without defending a programme in the interests of workers and youth.

Prime Minister Villepin declared last Sunday evening that “For over 20 years nothing was done to stop the insecurity with which youth are confronted”.

In fact, over the last 20 years, ‘left’ and right governments have multiplied insecure work contracts, from the ‘Work for Collective Use’, of Fabius, in 1984 (low paid and part-time contracts for a year), to the ‘youth jobs’ of Jospin (contracts of maximum 5 years, but renewable every year: you’d better keep your mouth shut with such a contract!). And let’s not forget the insecure contracts which have been added to by all governments. At the same time, the ‘Plural Left’ of Jospin privatised more that the two right wing governments (Balladur and Juppé) that preceded it.

The present proposals of the PS amount to contracts in which education and social contributions are paid by the state (in other words: by our taxes!): it’s one more present to the bosses! We know who bosses will choose to hire if the choice is between an older worker and a much cheaper young worker. The PCF (French Communist Party), while espousing more radical rhetoric than the PS, is certainly not thinking of breaking its ties to the PS because it wants to keep its [alliance with the PS at local government level and to keep its] council seats.

Insecurity, misery, exploitation…it is capitalism!

The attacks of Villepin are no accident and the same goes for the ultra-repressive measures of Sarkozy and his new racist law. They’re two aspects of the same neo-liberal policy, which wants to satisfy the capitalists. As the economy is stagnating, as competition between the multinationals is rampant, attacks are carried out, not just in France, but all over the world, to facilitate the exploitation of workers and to increase bosses’ profits, by lowering the wages in one way or another, increasing working time, flexibility, wage freezes, redundancies, etc. The result is clear: the big corporations made a profit of 65 billion euro in 2005, against 44 billion euro in 2004, whereas the number of people living on subsistence level (RMI: minimum integration income) have increased by 4.7% from 2004 to 2005.

Capitalism only knows the law of profit. As long as this system remains in place, misery and exploitation can only continue growing. Only a democratic society can change this, a democratic society in which the economy is run and controlled by the workers themselves, by nationalising, under their democratic control, the principal means of production and exchange for the needs of the population and not for the profits of a handful, as it is today. It’s for such a system – socialism – we fight for.

The struggle can be an occasion to regain confidence in the capacity of youth and workers to change society and to end capitalism. To do this we need a new party of youth and workers, a party for struggle against capitalism and for socialism. That’s the party we want to build. The official, traditional ‘left’ has totally converted to the management of capitalism. Even it they pretend to be the ‘lesser evil’, when compared to the right, in the end, the results are the same. The PCF (Communist Party) does not want to break its alliance with the PS for electoral reasons. And the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (LCR) does not want to take any initiative that would cut it off from the PCF. The LCR’s latest proposal, following police repression of students in the Sorbonne, was to address all forces of the left (the PS included) to, “organise a big meeting putting together all forces of the left, represented at the highest level, to bring support and solidarity to the mobilised youth, to hold a meeting, as soon as possible, to organise a unified response to make the government retreat and to obtain the withdrawal of the CPE.” (Declaration of Olivier Besancenot, March 12 2006).

Such an attitude can only add to the confusion! We don’t need politicians like Fabius, Hollande or Strauss-Khan, who only think of 2007, to fight! Even more, the strike is against the law on the ‘equality of changes’, the CNE and the CPE.

It’s not with this kind of tactic that we will build a strike, which remains the most important thing to do today, nor will we create a real alternative to Villepin and Sarkozy, and to the ‘left wing’ politicians that want to manage capitalism.

Gauche révolutionnaire defends the idea of a massive and democratic strike. We think, as well, that we need a real alternative to capitalism, a new party that can be a key tool in struggles and to resist capitalism. Such a party can be born out of the present strike, if campaigning or strike committees, while building the struggle, extend their demands to unite workers and youth against capitalism.

For victory, for a united strike of youth and workers, against the CPE, against the “equality of chances” law, against the CNE!

Liked this article? We need your support to improve our work. Please become a Patron! and support our work
Become a patron at Patreon!

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.