France: Two million demonstrate against Macron’s pension ‘reform’

Striking demonstrators, Nancy, France

Thursday was been a huge day of mobilization in France. Close to two million people demonstrated across the whole country. In Paris, several metro lines were “striked shut”, and the unions had organized dozens and dozens of coaches to carry striking workers to the, at least, 300,000-strong demo. The streets were so packed that the demo had to be split into two boulevards. There were 140,000 in Marseille, 50,000 in Toulouse and St-Etienne, 25,000 in Orléans, 20,000 in Rennes, Brittany.
Many people liked our placard: “Macron out!”. In Nancy, Lorraine, 13,000 turned out.  It was the biggest demonstration in a very long time (bigger than the one on December 5, 2019, which had kicked off the previous successful battle against Macron on pensions).
In Rouen, Normandy, big demonstration of 18,000 people, very imposing. Slogans that revolved around “no to the reform”, but also ” back to retirement at 60″, and for “a good pension”.
There was much discussion about everyone’s personal situation and the importance of the demonstration, which gave everyone strength because no one expected such a large demonstration.
In Montélimar, Drôme (South-East), we heard, “6000 in Montélimar, compared to cities like Paris it’s very small, but it’s historic for this city!”.
Many smaller cities, like Gap (Alps) had several thousand demonstrators in a mobilization not seen for a long time.
And the vast majority of the population are supportive of the strike (two thirds, according to a poll), which indicates larger layers of workers might join the struggle if they can see that it will effectively challenge Macron and his pro-capitalist policy.
It is the same with young people, who also participated in demonstrations, but in smaller numbers. Before the strike, while leafleting and talking to young people, we found that they were very sympathetic to the mobilization but did not see yet the point in them joining the struggle. Many see the issue of pensions as a very far off subject. We have been discussing how they needed to fight along the workers for their own study conditions and a future. With demonstrations as powerful as that of yesterday, and 75% of 18-24 years old supporting the strike, no doubt that wider layers of youth will be electrified and will consider joining the next demonstrations. This could bring new waves of energy to further strengthen the struggle.
The first day of strike 
Many workers, both from public and private sectors, were on strike. Rail traffic was very disrupted throughout the country. The strike was very well attended at EDF; electricity production dropped by 7000 MW… and the CGT-Énergie announced that it would cut off the electricity to the MPs who would vote the reform! One in four workers were on strike in the employment agency. One in four in the public sector, as a whole, with sectors, in particular, who were more mobilized, like education, with a 40% strike rate. In the private sector, some big companies were out: car manufacturers Renault and PSA, in the metal industry, dockers in the ports, workers in retail companies like Carrefour, Darty, glass workers, cement workers, construction workers, “sans-papiers” (undocumented) precarious workers… too many to name!
The strike had been called barely a week before, which left little time to prepare for it and organize general assemblies in the workplaces and study places. Many workers then went on strike and came to the demonstration in small groups, not organized in a workplace contingent but with their trade-union federation. We spoke to workers who told us they had gone on strike, just two, three of them in their workplace, without even having talked to a trade-union rep.
So, why was this protest so important? It is important to note, first and foremost, that all trade-union federations, are opposed to Macron’s project, and this brings a sentiment of strength and unity.
But is also because the issue of pensions, in particular, is very important, because it affects the very functioning of society: the vast majority in France massively refuse an “every man for himself” approach to health, unemployment, retirement, and public services, in general, and want to keep a pension system based on inter-generation solidarity… because we want a society based on solidarity, where everyone has a quality job and where older workers can enjoy life without working, from 55 years old for jobs that demand drudgery, and 60 years old maximum, for all. It is because this is such a fundamental question that the mobilization was so massive, but not only. The new pension reform, once again, was the very big straw that broke the camel’s back.
It came in the context of many strikes taking place in various sectors for pay increases. As we underlined in our leaflet: “They are being successful, such as at the SNCF or GRDF (gas company), which have obtained 200 euros, for all. There have also been successes at many small companies in the private sector which have demanded wages to at least match the level of inflation.”
Yesterday’s mass mobilization was very clearly a reflection of the degree of anger and frustration that exists in the working class and the general population. This is why, along with demands on the pension, we had demands on wages, means for the public sector (the striking firefighters’ contingent received applause from other demonstrators in Paris), better jobs…
As we have been putting forward, what is needed is to build a determined, mass struggle against Macron and the capitalists.
La France insoumise, Mélenchon’s movement, and other organizations (some trade-unions but not the main confederations, joined the call) are calling for a national demonstration in Paris on the 21st against the pension reform. We will, of course, participate in it and discuss these demands and tactics to build the mass strike which is needed to defeat Macron.
Below is the leaflet that Gauche révolutionnaire handed out on the demo:
Pensions, wages, prices, destruction of public services…  
Let’s build a determined mass struggle against Macron and the capitalists! 
Gauche Revolutionnaire leaflet for national day of protest on pension ‘reform’, 19 January 2023 
Macron has made France into a paradise for the rich. Once again, the all time record of dividends paid to shareholders was broken in 2022, with more than 80 billion! And he dares to lecture us about a so-called shortfall of €10billion for pensions. If you really want money for pensions, there are plenty of solutions: create public sector jobs, put up wages and salaries, establish equal pay for men and women or increase what the corporations pay.
The only effect the pension reform will have will be greater unemployment for young people and uncertainty for older people pushed onto state welfare – which is beginning to be conditional on being forced to work for 20 hours a week. The aim of the attack is also to do away with the special schemes for the redistribution system. They want to push us towards private pensions because having 43 years of contributions will become unmanageable!
We want to live, not just survive! 
Our living conditions are deteriorating all the time, inflation is pushing down our wages, which have anyway been stagnating for too long. We will not let this happen! Many strikes are taking place on the question of wages. They are being successful, as at the SNCF or GRDF (gas company), which have obtained 200 euros for all. There have also been successes at many small companies in the private sector which have demanded wages to, at least, match the level of inflation.
However, it is now also more and more difficult to get health care and the quality of education has deteriorated. It is becoming increasingly difficult for young people to get by on a day-to-day basis, with prices spiraling and energy bills skyrocketing. Even skilled trades people (bakers etc.) are going out of business. All this is the result of capitalist policies to destroy public services. Everyone is angry. We have to organize and fight! Workers must be at the forefront of the struggle to change things for the benefit of all!
How to build a mass struggle against Macron? 
Thursday 19 January 2023 has to be the first day of launching a major plan to fight back against Borne [the prime minister], the president, Macron, and big business. From today onward, the trade union leaders should call for an increase in militancy. And why not do what the chemicals branch of the GT in the oil industry is proposing? Organize two other days of strike action next week, then three afterwards. From now on there should be intensive discussions in the workplaces to mobilize for a massive ‘renewable’ strike movement.
For once, after more than ten years, all the unions are united against the extension of the retirement age, making it all the better for mobilizing.
On the other hand, there is no unanimity over the return to retirement at 60 and the maximum of 37.5 years of service to qualify. This shows that it is necessary for the workers involved to discuss their demands with eachother. Workplace assemblies and union meetings must be organized everywhere to allow discussion of the demands that are to be fought for and ensure the maximum mobilization.
These are the demands that ‘Gauche révolutionnaire’ (‘Revolutionary Left’) puts forward for discussion:
• Immediate increases in wages, at least in line with the rise in prices – €400 minimum  – €300 euros immediately.
• No income below €1,600 net per month.
• A massive drop in prices and their subsequent freezing.
• A massive injection of funds for good quality public services (health, education, transport, personal care…)
• Full retirement at 60 (and 55 in particular jobs) – after 37.5 years of service.
• Expropriation of the top companies and the creation of state monopolies under the democratic control and management of the workers in the main sectors of the economy (energy, transport, distribution, food, finance, etc.), in conjunction with the users, in order to satisfy our needs.
The question of pensions will perhaps be the spark that shows the importance of mass mobilization. But the majority of the working class and young people will not necessarily mobilize on this single question. It is a long way off for the young and for those in precarious jobs. Also, with the Hollande-Touraine reform in 2014, retirement is already at 63, and supposed to go to 64.
Since the last movement against the attack on pension rights in 2019, living and working conditions have clearly deteriorated and Macron and the bosses have attacked us on all fronts. This is why we need to mobilise at the same time on the question of wages, working conditions, public services and precarity to build the strike movement in the different sectors. France Insoumise has called for a demonstration on 21 January but other organisations in the NUPES alliance, such as the ‘Socialist’ Party and the Greens (EELV), are not doing so. We must use this date to build the struggle and develop a united front between the organisations that are really on the side of workers.
A workers’ government at the service of the people 
A mass movement will inevitably raise the question of power, of who runs society and in whose interests. It will be necessary to get rid of Macron and all his clique in the service of the capitalists, who are in a minority in society and in its institutions, and to replace them with a workers’ government born out of the struggles and organizations of the workers’ movement. This government will have to remove the capitalists’ control over the economy by nationalizing the main sectors. Democratic control and management by the workers will allow the needs of all to be met, not supplying only the profits of a few. Against capitalism, let’s fight for socialism!
For a new workers’ party for socialism! 
The voice of the workers and of the youth and the oppressed, is barely audible among all the politicians who are supporting, in one way or another, the capitalist system and its law of profit. Workers need a party of their own, which can organize and unify our camp, to discuss how to end this exploitative society and replace it with a democratic socialist society.
This would give a real political dimension to the current struggles. Gauche révolutionnaire is discussing the need for such a party with workers – especially in the trade unions – with anti-capitalists and other activists… Don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss and fight alongside us!
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