On Wednesday evening, socialists and trade unionists picketed the French Embassy in London in solidarity with the resistance to the Macron government’s attack on pension rights.
This ‘reform’ is a central component of President Macron’s programme to increase the competitiveness and profitability of French capital by attacking the pay, working conditions and pensions of workers.
Since taking office, Macron has won significant victories, deregulating employment protections, and imposing a savage cut to unemployment benefits. The president has staked his presidency on breaking the resistance of the French labour movement to the neoliberal agenda, and the pension reform will prove the decisive test.
Trade unionists and students recognise that the fate of Macron’s neoliberal programme rests on the outcome of this struggle. The strike wave is the most sustained mobilisation by the French labour movement since the victorious fight against the CPE in the 2000s, and the massive general strike of 1995.
More than a million people opened the campaign with demonstrations across the country in support of transport, health and education workers who will pay the highest price. Strong public support and a militant campaign by students has helped the movement defy the government’s divide and rule tactics – which include stoking Islamophobic tensions by threatening further attacks on Islamic dress.
An attempt by the government and leaders of some of the trade unions to organise a ‘truce’ over the Christmas period was foiled by general assemblies of workers voting to continue the strikes.
Learning the lessons of previous defeats, railway and health workers have rejected the trade union leaders’ preferred strategy of occasional one-day protest strikes, instead conducting indefinite strikes controlled by democratic mass workplace meetings of strikers and a rank and file network.
However, the absence of a national framework for coordination leaves the initiative in the hands of the government and control of any negotiations with the trade union leaders. The practice of ‘renewing’ the strikes workplace by workplace without a strategy for moving from coordinated to general strike action, means less militant sectors may drop out, paving the way for piecemeal agreements, isolating militant workplaces and fatally weakening the movement.
The pension fight, and the rest of Macron’s neoliberal programme, has international importance for the working class. The rights and protections of French workers are a benchmark across the continent. If Macron is successful in bringing Europe’s most powerful and militant labour movement to heel, it will be a green light for other states to intensify their own attacks in a race to the bottom. Their fight is our fight.
This dynamic has been made more acute by Brexit, which threatens the emergence of a rival to European capital, threatening a bonfire of regulations to become a low-tax, deregulated competitor across the channel.
Although Brexit is now inevitable, we must redouble our efforts to establish the basis for opposing attempts by our ruling classes to use Brexit to deepen competition and the chauvinist justifications.
At the solidarity demonstration in London, trade unionists from the RMT transport union pointed out that transport workers in Britain are preparing to resist the new Tory government’s threat to impose minimum service rules on public transport – further tightening the noose of the most draconian anti-union laws in Europe.
The British labour movement should organise meetings and demonstrations in solidarity with French workers, exchanging delegations to explain why a defeat for workers in France will intensify competition in Europe and help the Tories in their plans to further deregulate working conditions and destroy the remnants of the welfare state in Britain.
More generally, the working class across Europe should take inspiration from the resistance of French workers and prepare for the fresh attacks our rulers are preparing under the hammer blows of the oncoming recession.
The hundreds of thousands of school climate strikers, the women’s strikes in Spain, Poland and Switzerland, the movements in solidarity with refugees and against the rising far right, must be coordinated on the European level.
Concretely, that means turning calls for solidarity into proposals for assembling the rank and file of the labour and social movements into democratic and decision-making forums that can overcome the inertia and passivity of the reformist and trade union leaders.
Just as the French AGs help mobilise and initiate the action and then hold leaders to account, so such forums of the labour and progressive movements can spread the experience, coordinate action and revitalise the international movements against the war, austerity, racism etc and become a centre for organisation around an internationalist programme to overthrow the neoliberal EU and replace it by the Socialist United States of Europe.
If you agree with this article join Red Flag, the revolutionary socialist tendency