Dec 9, 2019
The following is a translation of the December 3 editorial from Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the revolutionary workers group active in France, about a planned general strike.
On Thursday, December 5, that strike came off with the participation of hundreds of thousands of workers in both the public and private sectors across France. The government estimated at least 800,000 people took part in massive demonstrations in every big French city, with the unions estimating 1.5 million on the streets. This strike movement continued in force on Friday and Saturday, with unionists joined by Yellow Vest protestors. Strikes are expected to continue into next week, with another day of demonstrations planned for Tuesday.
This strike wave was sparked by the government’s attempts to revamp France’s pension system, which workers assume will mean an attack on their retirements. It is fueled by anger at the long-running degradation of living standards for French workers. The attacks against the French working class should sound familiar to readers in this country.
Workers in auto, metal, food production, chemicals, retail, cleaning, the health system, the banks, insurance companies, train workers, teachers: if we don’t want to see another increase in the retirement age, we must mobilize now.
And it’s not just the problem of retirement. The low salaries, the lack of security, the sub-contracting, the extended work days, the constant surveillance and pressure from the bosses ... we must put all of this on the table, because it has become intolerable. With the salaries we earn today, it is impossible to see the end of the tunnel. Between paying for housing, the money we have to put out to educate our children, and the occasional extraordinary expenses that push us under, we don’t live—we just survive!
When we don’t mobilize, the big bosses and the government push us back. Thirty years ago, to have a job meant to be made permanent, soon after being hired. Retirement was at 60 years old, at the full rate, after paying into the system for 37.5 years. Today, the government says that this is impossible because there is no money.
But in 30 years, the big fortunes have increased ten-fold. In 30 years, the profits of the companies have flown into the stratosphere. Last week, the luxury company LVMH paid out 15 billion dollars to buy Tiffany, the jeweler. And there is no money? What a nasty joke!
We must take the money from where it is, in the coffers of the big stockholders, and make it serve the workers and the public services.
The more people on the street, the more pressure will be put on the government. And the pressure’s already there! It is there because the train workers did not let the government do what it wanted and because they disturbed a good part of the economy to some extent, at the times that they decided. And it is also there because the government fears the generalization of the anger we already see to the entire working class. And, good, that’s what needs to happen!
The government is trying to pit public opinion against the railway workers who are protected by special rules. But if it’s a question of “privilege,” look at the rich who don’t have to lift a finger and who live as parasites off the work of others.
Look at their fortunes, which outstrip the wealth of whole countries. They don’t ever have to worry about their retirements because they’re swimming in millions. Look at them, demand their wealth, and don’t let them sow divisions among the workers!
Of course, the railway workers are in the lead of this movement. They have the advantage of a fighting tradition and an important striking power. But alone, they cannot win for the whole working class, because we must make the big shareholders also fear us. Striking against the big privately-held companies hits at their hearts—that is to say, at their wallets. And tomorrow it will be the bosses’ organization that asks President Macron to back off.
This strike will create difficulties for everyone. But in the test of strength that begins on December 5, all workers have the same interests: that this strike is carried off, that it spreads, and that it is victorious. And that is possible!
If the workers in the private sector join those from the public, we can make the government and the big bosses fear us. If the strike continues in the days following and threatens to turn into a real movement, yes, we can make them back off.
In 1995, Juppé [the former French prime minister who also attacked the pensions and other social programs] was just as arrogant as Macron is now, and he had to eat his hat faced with the determination of the strikers. Today, we can do it again, if we put our confidence in our collective force.
Many of us distrust the union federations and the calculations of their apparatuses, who have regularly sacrificed the interests of the workers.
So yes, we must battle with the conviction that we can organize to control and direct our movement in a democratic way, with the conviction that we can decide and mobilize without waiting for orders from the union confederations.
It depends on each of us to make December 5 the beginning of a large workers’ movement. It depends on each of us to play an active role to make this strike movement really our own.
We have been waiting too long to mobilize and oppose the decline in our living standards imposed by the government and the big bosses. Starting Thursday, we launch the counter-offensive!