France: Workers and youth on the streets

Full-scale struggle with ‘Socialist’ government erupting

A new period of struggle has opened up in France. Until recently, the smouldering discontent amongst workers was finding expression in isolated but numerous workplace battles – over threatened closures, redundancies and the growing repression against workers’ representatives. Secondary school students had been holding walk-outs, especially on the issue of racism. Now, everything is coming together but bold organisation is vitally needed to mobilise and put forward a strategy for winning.

Workers have been taking strike action and joining demonstrations together across the country against changes in the labour law. The ‘Socialist’ government of Francois Hollande is trying to introduce legislation which does away with limitations on working hours and makes sacking and tightening the screw on workers easier. The last day of action on 31 March saw at least 1.4 million marching in cities across France (despite appalling weather!). Along with the workers, have been angry Lycee students, fearing there will be no jobs for them, even if they get to university and acquire qualifications.

Last Saturday, 9 April, workers and young people demonstrated again in their hundreds of thousands at the call of their trade union and student organisations. In Paris, many workers and students decided to join those who have been staying overnight in the Place de la Republique. The idea of ‘Nuits Debout’ (nights standing up) – voicing discontents, discussing ideas and what to do – has caught on and spread to other cities (including across the border to Brussels).

Although there have been quite serious attacks by the police on occasions, and attempts to close down the occupations, there have been regular general assemblies and ‘open mikes’ for any of the ‘enraged’ to have their say.

The movement, while not as large, has been compared to the ‘indignados’ in Spain and the ‘occupy’ movement in the US. While revolution cannot simply be ‘detonated’, France has in its history the experience of 1968 which showed student protests sparking a movement of workers that threatened the very survival of capitalism. There is a clear rejection of a society run by the rich and contemptuous elite. In France there is even more anger and feeling of betrayal that pro-business policies are being driven through by a so-called Socialist government.

Situation rapidly developing

Hollande’s popularity ratings are “already the lowest of any serving president in modern French history” (Reuters). The government’s tiny concessions on the labour law reform and an offer of money to students are unlikely to assuage the protesters. On the contrary, they can even act as a spur for taking more and bigger action. The situation is rapidly developing in which many workers feel that a renewable (indefinite) general strike must be engaged.

The trade union federations have named the day – 28 April – for a new day of strike action and battle is being joined by almost every layer in society. The wind may be blowing the tops of the trees first – those who are prepared to spend their nights on the street. But the major force for change is the still-powerful working class of France. Linked to real socialist ideas, and not the neo-liberalism of Hollande and Valls – they can force a political struggle which can have huge repercussions throughout Europe.

The members and supporters of Gauche Revolutionnaire in France have participated in many of the actions around the country and street stalls. Reports and analysis from them will be carried on

For historical background on France, see also " Month of Revolution" by Clare Doyle.

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April 2016