The enormous French strike movement of this autumn has ground to a halt. But reports suggest workers do not feel defeated, and their organisations have emerged strengthened.
Sarkozy, on the other hand, although he has got away with the pensions reform for the time being, is under pressure to be less ambitious in his cuts programme.
Yvan, a leading activist in the French New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) told Solidarity that the mood among workers is that they are “proud of what they have achieved” and that “no worker is coming out of this movement feeling defeated.”
The movement arose because of a combination of two factors: Sarkozy’s refusal to negotiate with union leaders shook them, and pushed them to call action. The calls for action co-incided with an upsurge of popular anger among the French working class, and this was channelled into mass strikes.
But movement floundered for two major reasons.
Firstly, because the newly reactivated French workers’ movement was not capable of building up grassroots organisation that could keep the strikes going when union leaders took their foot off the pedal.
Second, the Sarkozy government was clear that the strikes were a matter of either overthrowing the government or accepting the reform. The young strike movement did not feel confident enough to take the action to a high enough pitch to win. There was no victory: the pensions law was passed. But there has been no defeat either.
“The movement has not shot its bolt”, Yvan continued, “but has deepened its reserves”. Forms of grassroots self-organisation have been built up over the course of the struggles, with the most active section of the French working class setting up co-ordinating bodies of delegates from workplace meetings, strike committees, and carrying out other initiatives, such as visiting neighbouring workplaces to bring them out on strike and organising blockades with local supporters’ groups and students.
Some grassroots co-ordinating bodies are still meeting, such as those who produced the Tours Appeal, available in English on the AWL website. These skills and these grassroots co-ordinations mark a re-discovery of methods of struggle by a new generation of French workers. They are a weapon which will be used in the next confrontation.