The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Struggle in France against pension cuts

Jun 23, 2003

We reprint here a translation of an editorial appearing in Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the newspaper put out by Trotskyist comrades in France. The French government, headed by President Chirac, Prime Minister Raffarin and Social Affairs Minister Fillon, is pushing to pass a bill requiring all state-employed workers to work more years for their pensions and to accept lower benefits. Behind this bill lies the threat that all workers, public and private, will have to work even more years in the future.

In addition, the government is proposing to decentralize the education system, turning it into a replica of what we have here – which means wide disparities in the amount of money spent educating children.

In response to their proposals, public sector workers throughout France have organized a series of demonstrations, strikes and other actions. Among those striking have been teachers, railroad workers, subway and bus drivers and mechanics, post office and telephone workers and bank employees. Teachers have organized community meetings to gain the support of the pupils and their parents.

Public sector workers have gone to workplaces in the private sector to discuss their common problems.

Despite intense governmental propaganda, the protest movement against the anti-worker measures of the Chirac-Raffarin government continues. Blackmail on the question of exams didn't prevent teachers from remaining on strike and protesting. Bank workers joined the Tuesday June 17 protest, against the closing of Bank of France branches and the elimination of jobs. Public transit workers remain on strike in many areas. The unions called for a new day of strikes and demonstrations on Thursday, June 19.

Polls show that a majority continue to say they are against the Raffarin-Fillon bill. The right wing, using its enormous financial means, may have mobilized a few thousand demonstrators with fat savings accounts against the strikers on Sunday June 15, but the protest movement still benefits from the sympathy of the majority of the population, which means the overwhelming majority of workers.

What most upset the government during the first weeks of the movement was its tendency to get bigger and the possibility that it would threaten the private sector, in particular the biggest firms. That hasn't happened, but the simple continuation of the movement, supported by the majority of workers, is a formidable rejection for the government and a source of anxiety. As long as the embers remain alive, the fire can be rekindled and rise up in flames!

It's proof that this government governs against the aspirations and interests of the working majority of the population. Those workers who think that the struggle isn't over and who continue it are right. Their tenacity shows that the actions of the past weeks aren't a flash in the pan. After several years during which the working class received blow after blow, it has begun to raise its head and the government has to take this into account.

That's the principal result of the movement. It's all the more important for the future, since the government has no intention of stopping its anti-worker offensive. Chirac proclaimed just the opposite when he spoke of "modernizing" the health care system. We know that when the government speaks of "reform" or "modernization," it is preparing new attacks against the workers. Under the pretext of the Social Security deficit, the government and the bosses are seeking to impose deep cuts in health care expenditures and in Social Security payments.

They wish to force workers to work longer, for smaller pensions and with less health care of a poorer quality. The government, responding to the wishes of big business, has decided to force us backward. For big business, the money going for pensions, medical payments and prescription drugs for working people, like the money paying for public services useful to the population, is wasted money – costs to be eliminated so the bosses' share of the national income can be increased.

For the workers, there's nothing to be gained from the parliamentary debates and the battle to amend the government's proposals. The government has a servile majority in Parliament, ready to vote anything, including the worst. Only strikes can force it to withdraw its current anti-worker plans.

So, facing this government which bets on the end of the movement, it's necessary to show on Thursday June 19 and the days that follow that the movement isn't over and that those who remain on strike enjoy widespread support. What the government has done up to now is only a warning. If it continues its anti-worker offensive, it will end up convincing all the workers that only a general counter-punch by the world of labor can block the arm that strikes it. Workers no longer accept to be strangled simply to increase the wealth and privileges of a tiny minority of big bosses and their stockholders!