“A reawakening of political discussions”. That is how revolutionary socialists in France describe the events of the last month.
Since 9 March, a series of big demonstrations and strikes have hit the Socialist Party government’s attempt to revise the labour law and workers’ conditions on the railways. Mobilisations have been wider than the 2010 strikes against pension cuts or other campaigns of recent years. They are compared more to the 2006 movement which defeated a move by the then right-wing government to introduce a new, worse-conditions contract for younger workers, or to the 1995 movement which defeated earlier pension cuts.
The next steps are a railworkers’ strike on 26 April, and a general day of strikes and protests on 28 April. The CGT union confederation plans further rail strikes for 10 May and 17-18 May, the second one open-ended. Many rank-and-file activists demand a move to open-ended strikes sooner and across the board. The official union schedule is more vigorous than some recent campaigns by British unions which often have intervals between strikes more like six months, but many French activists regard the 19 days which separate 28 April from the last demonstration, on 9 April, as a worryingly long gap, indicative of a lack of zeal from union leaders.
When the government announced the draft law in mid-February, the leaders of France’s nine “TUCs” (union confederations) responded critically, but with demands for amendment rather than flat-out condemnation. The CGT, the strongest of the confederations and usually among the most militant, talked only of a protest on 31 March. Widespread anger, especially among students, forced the CGT to call action on Wednesday 9 March. Something like half a million people were on the streets that day.
There were further protests, mostly by students, on 17 March, and a big turnout on Thursday 31 March, with something like 1.2 million people on the streets, and — a new thing in recent working-class protests in France — lots of strikes in private industry, including in small private firms where workers who strike run greater risks of losing their jobs. On 9 April there were new demonstrations across the country, with about 50,000 on the streets in Paris, and maybe 200,000-plus across the country. Nine friends of Workers’ Liberty went to Paris for the 9 April demonstration and for discussions on the movement with the French revolutionary socialist group L’Etincelle on 10 April.