The Struggles against Pensions “Reform” in France

The French ruling class, like the ruling class everywhere has been forced to step up its attacks on the working class in order to reduce their budget deficits. In France the attacks in 2010 took the form of a reduction in pensions rights.

At first union formal protests in the spring (there were three days of “action”) seemed to be the extent of the resistance.

However as the consequences of the reforms for everyone sank in the workers increasing anger forced the unions to unite in an Inter-syndical and to call for 7 more days of action in September and October. Unlike in the past, these mobilisations (which attracted 3 million people) have done nothing to assuage the anger of the working class. Indeed more and more workers (although still a small minority) have gone on to organise their own general assemblies open to all workers. At first these started in the streets at the end of the union demonstrations as in the case of Toulouse where the first assembly was formed in Avenue Jean Jaures (or as in the case of the example given below, with an introduction by one of the participants, on the platforms of the Gare de l’Est station in Northern Paris). All the assemblies in all the towns have as their common thread the idea that only by relying on their own autonomous strength rather than on the tired bureaucratic procedures of the unions. One of the strengths of it is the attempt to link the demand to reject the pensions “reform” with all the other miseries which the capitalist system has inflicted on the working class over the last two or three decades. Poverty, increasing job insecurity, and increasing exploitation have all stimulated the anger of the working class.

The Sarkozy regime must have thought it was dealing with one issue and one group when it began the attacks on pension rights but even school students and university students have made common cause with what they can see is the loss of a future. In some ways the insurrection of the students has caused more panic since they are not constrained by union manoeuvres. Today students are not just the privileged elite of society’s future managers as in the past, but make up a substantial sector of society being the sons and daughters of the working class [eloquently expressed in the leaflet by FIAT workers which we reproduce in the section on students in this issue].

For the moment though the General Assemblies have not yet given birth to a wider autonomous movement (and the Christmas holidays have given the Government a breathing space) but the sense of solidarity both within and without the country will not vanish quietly. If the movement is to go forward in 2011 it will be through the creation of more strike committees controlled by the strikers though general assemblies. The Assemblies themselves should remain open to all workers whatever their job or situation and these should draw in the population of whole areas. Real revolutionaries will also have to fight to ensure that the Assemblies remain open and not get dominated by the usual suspects of the Trotskyist or Stalinist varieties who will try to settle things in the old union way with secret committees behind closed doors.

These are prodigious demands but they could provide the basis for a struggle out of which a new wider working class consciousness can emerge into a new party, and ultimately a new programme for getting rid of capitalism, and replacing it with the collective producer class controlling just how the resources of society are to be used.

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