By KD Tait More than a million people marched in Paris in protest at the government’s attempt to demolish the Code du Travail [Work Law] which regulates labour rights, including the 35 hour working week, collective bargaining and overtime rates.
The head of the demonstration arrived at its destination, while those at the rear were still leaving the Place d’Italie, a 5km long assembly of trade unionists and young people from across the country, united in opposition to the Socialist Party government which is attempting to “increase employment” by making it easier to sack workers and replace them with part-time and precarious employees.
It has been a long time since the French labour movement has assembled a demonstration of this magnitude, with contingents representing all the most militant sections of the working class.
The first national demonstration since the movement against the Work Law reform began in March took place as rail and rubbish collection strikes cause mounting disruption. A ceremony to receive the Euro 2016 trophy in the Gare du Nord was cancelled when the station was occupied by protesting workers. Litter is mounting up in the streets as rubbish tips are blockaded.
President Hollande’s Socialist Party government was forced to abandon threats to use emergency powers to force people back to work. But the long delay in calling and mobilising for a national display of strength means that some oil refineries and workplaces are returning to work after having been on strike for several weeks.
Another day of action has been called for June 28, but unless the union leaders – the CGT in particular – convince their members that their strategy is a fight to win, then the war of attrition is one that the government has more resources to win. Therefore such a strategy is likely to wear down the workers before it wears down the government.
The CGT is due to meet with government representatives on Friday. The huge demonstration and industrial disruption will certainly put pressure on the government.
But having come this far, there can be no satisfactory compromise between the two sides. The government has already offered some concessions so now it is a question of the repeal or imposition of the Law.
If the unions don’t threaten the government with something worse, i.e., a general strike to force the government out of office, then the Socialist Party leaders will believe that they can survive another round of demonstrations.
Time is on the side of the government. The longer strikes go on, the more they will use the Euro competition, the disruption, as well as the climate of fear surrounding the latest terrorist attack which saw a police chief and his wife killed, to drain public sympathy away from the movement.
The French workers’ general assemblies need to prepare to initiate and coordinate the necessary action if their leaders are not willing.
In the space of a few months the French working class has tested its power against the French ruling class. In its response to the wave of anti-worker reforms sweeping across Europe and through the European Union (EU), it has shown the response is standing up, organising resistance and defying the attacks of domestic and international capital.
That is an example emulated by Belgian workers across the border fighting similar attacks. Unfortunately our own trade union bosses prefer to pretend that its the EU which guarantees rights, rather than workers who win them – and must defend them.
Those socialists in Britain arguing for Brexit will, if they get their way, be complicit in the growth of poisonous nationalism across Europe, which is seeping in and infecting the workers’ movement of every country. Whether they want to admit it or not, they will have played a small part in boosting the French anti-European chauvinism of Marine Le Pen’s Front National, masquerading as the “real” party of French workers.
Our aim should be a collective struggle against the reforms and institutions of the EU with the aim of replacing the unity and hegemony of the capitalist economy with the free unity and cooperation of all the peoples of Europe – a socialist united states of Europe.