French workers defy government

25 May 2016

By KD Tait

French Trade unions have staged two nationwide days of action in response to the Socialist Party government’s use of emergency powers to impose its reforms to the Work Law without a vote in the National Assembly.

This reform is the most serious attack since the pension reform carried out by the right wing government of president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010. It makes it easier for bosses to sack workers, bypass national agreements and undermine strict overtime payment regulations.

It has provoked months of strikes and protests by trade unions and the youth-led ‘Nuit Debout’ movement, inspired by the 2011 ‘Indignados’ protests in Spain.

The bill will now go to the Senate, France’s upper house, for approval. Many trade unionists and activists are hoping that an escalation of the strikes can deliver a repeat of 2006 when mass protests forced the government to repeal the CPE law, which attacked the employment rights of young workers.

On Thursday, 100,000 marched in Paris, with large demonstrations in the regional centres. Strikes have spread amongst railway workers, in the oil refineries and the postal service. Petrol stations in the west are starting to run out of fuel as trade union activists use blockades and pickets to tighten the screws.


The use of emergency powers to force through the bill means the government has staked its future on facing down the movement. Both sides know that there can only be one winner in this test of strength.

There have been over 1000 arrests amid some of the most violent confrontations in recent years. MPs voted to renew the state of emergency, giving the government’s authority to ban demonstrations – a power they have not hesitated to use.

The Socialist Party leaders have threatened to send in the police to break the pickets and “restore order”. The violence of the ruling class, with water cannons used against pickets blockading oil refineries has forced the CGT leadership to support the strikes.

Agitation for a general strike has spread beyond union militants and is gathering widespread support amongst workers and youth.

Tous ensemble

The movement needs to arm itself against both the forces of the state and its agents in the working class.

This means the election of local and regional coordination committees of delegates, drawn from the workplaces, from the schools and universities, but also from the banlieues (the outer suburbs with a high proportion of youth from families of North African origin).

Uniting these young people with the workers movement and the youth of the lycées (high schools) and universities would be, at one and the same time, a blow against islamophobic racism and against the dead ends of fundamentalism and terrorism.

Such bodies at local, regional and national level can prepare and launch an all-out general strike to force the withdrawal of the law.

What is also needed is creation of services d’ordres (stewards) from the unions and the youth to defend the movement against the repression of the cops and the riot squads, and avoid provocations.

An earlier version of this article appeared online before being edited and updated for print

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