France: Mass struggle forces major government retreat

But union leaders refuse to seize opportunity

Just over a week after signing the CPE into law, mass opposition, led by workers and young people, forced President Chirac to abandon the CPE, on 10 April. Faced with the prospect of a major political crisis, and the possibility of a general strike, Chirac backed down.

Both in France, and internationally, this is correctly seen as a major setback for the continuing neo-liberal offensive on working peoples’ living standards. However, Chirac has only partially retreated. The CPE meant that all workers under the age of 26 could be sacked, without warning or reason, at any time during their first 24 months. The CNE, a law passed last year, lays down exactly the same conditions for all workers in workplaces with less than 20 employees, and this is still in force.

The trade union leaders declared that Chirac’s retreat is a big victory, but they are not using this opportunity to push forward with other demands. The French government is in disarray and deeply split. Now is the time to go onto the offensive against both the CNE and other neo-liberal measures, and to demand proper, well-paid jobs for young people and the unemployed.

However, the union leaders want to demobilise the movement, and ultimately redirect it towards supporting the opposition in next year’s elections. A chance to create a wider movement against both Chirac and capitalism, in general, is being thrown away.

New generation tastes first victory

But whether the trade union leaders can prevent further struggles erupting in the next 12 months is a different question. The huge majority support for the anti-CPE protests illustrated the profound anger in France and the opposition to the attacks of the ruling class. The combination of this victory over the CPE, and many workers’ bitter experience of the last ‘Socialist/Communist’ government, that was defeated in 2002, could mean that new battles break out in the coming months, as sections of the working class and youth decide not to wait until 2007.

Since the end of January, a new young generation in France participated in struggle for the first time and now has won a first victory. Many have already begun to question the entire system and, as they start to draw socialist conclusions, this can help to create a movement that can end capitalism, once and for all.

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