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France: Workers Still Angry At Bosses' Plans
TRADE UNION organisers say 1.5 million workers struck in France against government attacks on state pensions on 10 June, when the plans were presented to the National Assembly (parliament). The privatisation issue has also fuelled workers' anger.
EDF electricity workers responded to government attacks by cutting power to a meeting of the ruling UMP addressed by prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin!
Along with transport workers, public-sector workers and some private-sector workers, France's 800,000 teachers closed schools for the eleventh time this year to go on strike. This was despite the government making concessions over the education decentralisation bill.
However, the movement appears to have peaked although strike action in cities like Marseille remains firmer. Workers understand that the unions' national days of action are insufficient to defeat the government.
The leadership of CGT and the smaller FO trade union federations have not met the workers' demands to escalate the action into a general strike, even though the FO leadership has paid lip service to such a demand.
And despite some sympathy action with public sector workers, the increasing insecurity of private sector workers (whose union leaders have not organised a fightback) also acted as a brake on generalised action.
But the strike movement could easily resume as the French government vigorously pursues a 'neo-liberal' agenda of cutting social spending and privatising state industries in order to benefit big business.
ON 12 June 260,000 workers marched through Marseille - Bernard Thibault (CGT) and Marc Blondel (FO) addressed the rally. MANNY THAIN reports.
CGT GENERAL secretary Thibault's main criticism of the government was that it refused to negotiate with the unions. But instead of outlining the way forward given this intransigence, he side-stepped the issue by stressing the justice of the unions' case. Throughout his speech the audience demanded a general strike.
Marc Blondel was greeted with calls for a general strike. "OK, OK, at least give me a chance to speak", he spluttered.
He said the FO national executive "recommends a general strike" but added the caveat that "we also need to maintain a united front" i.e. hide behind the other trade unions' inaction.
A young postal worker from the Sud union told me that workers were simply waiting for a general strike. "If it had been called after the first big mobilisation we would have won by now," he said.
ON A recent trip to Toulouse, on a strike day, traffic was at a crawl. Workers had blocked all three lanes with highway maintenance vehicles the previous night. TERRY ADAMS reports from France.
Police made no attempt to move the blockade. It was a dramatic expression of workers power. Red flags were everywhere as workers' leafleted the crawling traffic, to a largely receptive audience.
In the Tarn region, south west France, the union movement announced a period of activity, including a demonstration on 15 June in Albi, the principal town of the Tarn.
Several thousand attended from the four unions involved. I was invited to address the demonstration and deliver a message of support from the PCS civil service workers' union.
The message from Janice Godrich, PCS president and Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, referred to the common cause uniting public sector workers in France and Britain. This message was enthusiastically received, despite my poor French.
Workers on the demo recognised the critical stage that the battle had reached. A repetition of one-day strikes will start to lose support. A major escalation is required, that seems the general view.
The customs section of the CGT has unanimously adopted a demand for a national general strike and occupations to stop production. Similar demands have been voiced by the other unions and other sections.
Clearly only a major escalation into generalised indefinite action, linking the public and private sector workers, will force a government retreat.
In The Socialist 21 June 2003: